Fresh parsley is one of the most versatile herbs in the culinary repertoire. Although it has a distinctive flavor of its own when consumed whole, it is usually chopped or minced in culinary use. When the leaves are chopped the parsley flavor subsides, leaving behind a fresh, green flavor that plays a supporting role behind other herbs. Although nothing else tastes quite like parsley, various other leafy plants may be used in its place.
Chervil is closely related to parsley and has a similar appearance. Chervil is more delicate, and has a faint aroma of anise. It is one of the traditional "fines herbes" of French cuisine, along with tarragon and chives. Chervil's primary drawback as a substitute for parsley is that it is much harder to find in North America, limiting its usefulness. Cilantro is also closely related to parsley and similar in appearance, but is a less-suitable substitute because of its distinctive flavor.
Spinach and Other Greens
Spinach and other greens may be used in small quantities to replace parsley as a green element in soups, salads, or sauces. Minced finely, these greens give a similar appearance and fresh, leafy flavor. They are less insistent than parsley, so it may be necessary to use more than the amount of parsley called for. A mixture of mild greens like spinach or chard with more pungent ones, such as arugula or endive, is better than either type on its own.
Celery leaves are often overlooked or discarded by home cooks, but they have a fine flavor of their own. In appearance they are similar to parsley, though their color is a lighter shade of green. Celery leaves have the same sort of pungent and fresh green notes found in parsley, as well as a light celery flavor. Although less neutral than parsley, celery leaves are otherwise a very close substitute. In some instances, their delicate flavor may make them the better choice.
Chives have a mild but distinct onion flavor, and a cylindrical shape, which differentiates them from parsley. However, they share parsley's fresh, green character and its knack of supporting the flavors of other herbs. A modest quantity of finely-chopped chives is an equally acceptable garnish in most dishes. In cooked dishes, where the appearance is welcome but the onion flavor is less so, chives may be blanched for a few moments in boiling water to mellow their flavor.