One of the most memorable classes I took in college was with Professor B. He was one of the old guard, and beloved at our school: a white-bearded, broad-shouldered fellow, deep-voiced and slyly charismatic. He took great delight in winding his students up over thorny issues and then letting them go. It was a rambling and highly opinionated circus of a class, and at the end of the semester we decided to celebrate by taking Professor B out to dinner as a group. The twenty or so of us packed into a local restaurant and crowded the table with wine and beer and sake (and food, of course). It didn’t take long for the conversation to loosen.
Professor B shared a lot of wisdom and opinions with us that night, about geography and traffic patterns and the state of public education. But the thing that stuck with me most was his advice about dinner on a date. “This is very important. If you’re going to eat garlic on a date, make sure you’re both eating it,” he exhorted us. “But if you can’t get your date to eat garlic, all you have to do is eat parsley. Just eat some parsley. It cancels it out.”
I haven’t been able to eat parsley since without thinking of Professor B. I have no idea if it’s actually the remedy he claimed it was–I haven’t done a controlled experiment, shall we say. But the idea of parsley as a romance-enabler stuck with me. Every time I nibble a parsley spring from a garnish on a restaurant plate, I imagine I’m doing my date a favor. And when I found myself with most of a bunch left after cooking mussels, I decided to try a full-on Valentine’s Day parsley blast, and turn it into a salad.
I would never have guessed that parsley leaves make great salad greens, but they really do. They’re fluffy and flavorful, but without the bitterness that most lettuces and greens have. And unlike delicate and fancy salad greens, parsley doesn’t wilt when dressed; the leaves keep their shape for a long time, even overnight, with no detectable difference in texture. I shaved the parsley leaves off the stems, added some seeded and drained cucumber, and drizzled the whole thing with lemon vinaigrette, for a salad that was bright, crunchy, and feather-light. I could easily imagine this as a palate-cleanser (and garlic-cleanser) alongside any number of rich and romantic main courses.
Forget chocolate. Thanks to Professor B, this is my ultimate Valentine’s Day food.
Parsley and Cucumber Salad (serves 2 generously, or 4 daintily)
1 large cucumber
1 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice (about half a medium lemon’s worth)
1/2 tsp honey
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Leaves from 1 bunch of Italian (flat-leaf) parsley (or most of a bunch of parsley)
Trim the ends off the cucumber, and peel about half the peel off in alternating strips. Cut the cucumber in half lengthwise, and use a spoon to scrape out the seeds. Thickly slice the cucumber, and transfer to a strainer or colander. Toss the cucumber with a large pinch of salt, and let sit in the sink for about 30 minutes to drain.
In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together lemon juice, honey, salt, and pepper. Drizzle in olive oil in a slow stream, whisking vigorously the whole time. You should end up with a thick, creamy vinaigrette. Taste and adjust the seasoning.
Pat the cucumbers dry with a paper towel, and transfer to the bowl with the dressing. Add parsley leaves, and toss to coat. Let stand for a few minutes to let the flavors meld. Serve at room temperature.
The salad can be made up to a day ahead, and refrigerated in a covered container. Bring the salad to room temperature before serving.