Parsley is best known as a garnish. Most people think of it something green that you chop and sprinkle onto your food to add contrast and not much else. The reality is that parsley is a versatile herb that can do as much for the flavor of your food as it can for its looks. As with many herbs, you will need to use parsley fresh to get its benefits; however, you may not keep your refrigerator stocked with it at all times. This means that you may find yourself needing some in an emergency. If you have no parsley and need something to stand in for it, there is a whole range of parsley substitutes that you might find useful.
Your best bet: Chervil
Chervil belongs to the same family as parsley, which is also the family of carrot and celery. Both chervil and parsley are popular in French cooking; in addition, chervil is one of the fines herbes of French cuisine. It resembles parsley enough that it can stand in as a garnish.
Chervil’s flavor is often likened to that of anise, but it is much milder. It is unlikely to distract from the other flavors in your dish and may actually complement them in many cases. Despite being subtle, the flavor of chervil releases slowly making it better than parsley at standing up to longer cooking times.
A decent second choice: Cilantro
While cilantro and parsley have very different flavors, cilantro looks almost exactly like flat-leaf parsley. They are so similar that even experienced cooks sometimes have trouble telling them apart. Cilantro’s pungent, unique flavor also pairs well with many of the foods that you would garnish with parsley.
When you are using cilantro in place of parsley, use it in moderation unless you are positive that it will pair well with other flavors in your dish.
In a pinch: Carrot greens
As noted above, carrots are in the same family as parsley. Contrary to myth, carrot tops are not poisonous at all. Furthermore, they are full of nutrients in addition to being tasty. Simply chop up some carrot greens as you would parsley and sprinkle it on as a garnish.
Carrot tops also provide some of the bitterness that you would expect from parsley, so they are a good stand-in when it comes to flavor as well. You can use them in dishes that focus on parsley’s herbaceous brightness like salads, pesto, and chimichurri.
Celery is another member of parsley’s family and one with an arguably similar taste. To create a garnish with a similar look to flat-leaf parsley, use only the celery leaves. Chop them up and sprinkle onto your dish. For deeper herbaceous flavor notes that may be even closer to those of parsley, consider yet another member of the Apiaceae family: lovage. Lovage is not as easy to find as celery but it could be described as a cross between celery and flat-leaf parsley, both in terms of appearance and flavor.
Basil can also replace parsley in some dishes. It does have a more noticeable and distinctive aroma when compared to parsley but it also provides a similar striking green flourish when chopped and sprinkled on food.