Green garnish alternatives that aren't an allium?
August 22, 2022 7:27 AM   Subscribe

Also not parsley or coriander or mint. Am I doomed to beige food forever?

This question brought to you by getting excited at a pad thai recipe and then realising without the garlic chives, I'd once again be eating a monotone brown bowl.

All alliums (except weirdly garlic) make me ill, so no onion, spring onion, shallots, leeks, chives, any of the things people sprinkle over their ramen to make it fancy.

I also can't stand the taste of parsley, mint or coriander. I have tried, I really have.

I have strong feelings about/around colours and green leafage makes me happy, which I kinda desperately need right now (or I'd just eat the brown or red or orange plate, because the lack of these things aren't making my meals any less delicious).

At the moment I'm sticking baby spinach as a main ingredient in anything I can, and basil as a garnish on things Mediterranean.

I'm open to all cuisines, but mainly cook anything that involves a noodle or a bowl of rice (bastardised Japanese/ Chinese/ Korean/ Italian/ Mexican mostly).

Am I overthinking it and should just throw basil on top of everything??
posted by Adifferentbear to Food & Drink (34 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Thai basil would be perfect for this! I've seen in some nicer grocery stores on occasion, but would make a good windowsill plant. Haven't tried this version but could be an easy/cheap way to try it: Link
posted by monster_a at 7:29 AM on August 22, 2022 [7 favorites]

Best answer: What about seaweed flakes? Nori and so on?
posted by jquinby at 7:30 AM on August 22, 2022 [12 favorites]

How about arugula/baby arugula? That peppery taste can add a nice zing.
posted by BlahLaLa at 7:33 AM on August 22, 2022 [8 favorites]

Best answer: Shiso/perilla. Lemon balm. Lemon and all the other "flavored" basils.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 7:35 AM on August 22, 2022 [10 favorites]

Best answer: What greens do you like?

I often use salad-able greens as a garnish - baby spinach finely chopped sprinkled on, or baby arugula. (edit oops you already mentioned that)

Another thing that's pretty easy to do is to take kale, apply oil and salt until it's evenly coated, bake it until it's lightly crispy, and then crumble/sprinkle (or just eat as is, it's really nice like that).
posted by entropone at 7:37 AM on August 22, 2022

Best answer: Sorrel is lemony and interesting. Easy to grow and, for some reason, hard to find in stores.
posted by argybarg at 7:37 AM on August 22, 2022 [5 favorites]

Also watercress has a good strong flavor and cooks quickly.
posted by argybarg at 7:38 AM on August 22, 2022 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Am I overthinking it and should just throw basil on top of everything?

Well, why not? But without touching alliums, mints, parsley, the vegetable world is pretty green. You mentioned spinach, but beyond that, try kale, broccoli leaves or chopped-up broccoli, brussels sprouts, mustard greens and other brassicas. Also try beet greens, radish greens, collard greens, bok choy, chard, etc. Chop up asparagus, green beans, peas, green peppers, savoy cabbage, etc etc etc.
posted by beagle at 7:39 AM on August 22, 2022 [4 favorites]

We put a lot of chopped dill on things. Subtle flavor but necessary in some dishes.
posted by JoeZydeco at 7:43 AM on August 22, 2022 [9 favorites]

Best answer: Your options get much broader if you're up for growing herbs that are hard to find commercially. Persicaria odorata is sometimes called "Vietnamese coriander" but it doesn't taste like cilantro to me, more like pepper with a bit of a cilantro smell. Hyssop and anise hyssop are garden staples of mine. Same with bee balm, which can bring you citrus or basil or any other number of flavor notes depending on variety. Wander through nurseries' "weird hebs" sections and see what you find.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 7:45 AM on August 22, 2022 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I throw basil on lots of things! (On preview 2nding Thai basil). For a lot of things where I could use mint, my husband prefers basil (like Pho or in Spring rolls). I also like dill and rosemary.

I soups I'll also add swiss chard for a pop of color. I think of it as a sub for spinach.

I like adding the seaweed salad you get from sushi places to rice bowls sometimes.

Is cabbage ok for you? Either fresh and shredded or as a quick vinegary (or creamy if you prefer) Cole slaw. That gets you green and purple options.

And does it have to be leafy? Would shredded carrots or julienned cucumbers and peppers be an option?

Another long shot. Chimichurri or pesto? I'll add either to a bowl of rice+protein+veggies. I'm not the biggest fan of cilantro, but I like it in chimichurri. If you make your own you can leave out the onion/shallot.
posted by ghost phoneme at 8:03 AM on August 22, 2022

If you've get any Caribbean greengrocers near you, culantro (Eryngium foetidum) is green and has an interesting flavour. Despite its common name being Mexican or long coriander, it's quite unlike cilantro.

(now I'm craving a channa double with culantro sauce, dammit ...)
posted by scruss at 8:06 AM on August 22, 2022 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I see nothing wrong with throwing basil on everything, if you like it. I have a tendency to treat it as a topping in its own right when I make pizza.

Chervil is one of my favourite herbs. Subtly aniseedy. Frustratingly hard to come by where I am, but if you can get hold of it, give it a try? I'd happily sub it in for coriander or parsley. (Mint I'd substitute with basil instead.) Dill is a bit more strident but could also work in those contexts.

I second the sorrel recommendation. It's a fantastic leaf. Another favourite: pea shoots, which are lovely, fresh and green-tasting. You can get them here (UK) in stir-fry mixes, but I think they're better not cooked at all, just added at the table.

Sage, rosemary, thyme? All delicious with meat. Sage also goes very well with pumpkin and other types of squash. I probably wouldn't put them in anything citrussy, but (at least according to my palate) dishes that rely heavily on alliums usually have a flavour profile that suits them. Which means that although they're definitely not a substitute for onion or leek, they should taste good with whatever's left after you've taken out the allium.

Japanese cuisine you can often scatter shredded nori over without it distracting from the core flavours. Different texture from herbs, admittedly, and perhaps a darker green than you're looking for.
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 8:09 AM on August 22, 2022

If you can eat garlic, try garlic scapes? You could also try sprouts of various kinds, they all have unique flavours. Curry leaves may be hard to find where you are, but they have a pretty unique flavour (though you definitely need to cook them in oil) and are used in Malaysia, including some Malaysian Chinese dishes (eg kam heong style). I also second sorrel, dill, rocket and peppery cress.

This may or may not work for you, but you could also try some something like a chutney of mint, coriander and green chillies and treat it like a salsa (just blend the three fresh ingredients with lime juice, add salt and balance to taste). I think it's quite different in flavour from the individual herbs and might be worth a try. I have been known to have it on rice with a bit of white fish, for example. On preview, I see ghost phoneme had the same idea.

Generally, I belong to the Ottolenghi school of cooking, and think you can often get lovely new flavours from mixtures of herbs. If you haven't tried that already, perhaps see how you like it?
posted by tavegyl at 8:10 AM on August 22, 2022 [2 favorites]

Best answer: If I were you, I'd get into microgreens. Radish microgreens in particular could be a nice allium replacement.

Also consider tarragon!
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 8:11 AM on August 22, 2022 [5 favorites]

I put peas into or on top, as a green topping, instead of herbs. I need something green and am not so fond of alliums. I found there is hardly a dish that cannot have peas added. I keep a large bag of frozen peas in the freezer and either add them at the end, they only need a couple of minutes, or put some in a small bowl, pour over boiling water and let them sit for maybe 5 minutes. Drain and add on top.
Also, i have Vietnamese coriander and it is nice with a lot of dishes, tastes not at all like cilantro. But distinct. That is why i like peas, the added flavour is mild, and the green attractive.
Thai basil is a bit odd, not like basil to me
posted by 15L06 at 8:13 AM on August 22, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Basil is a traditional Thai ingredient. Spinach, arugula, celery leaves, very finely shredded kale, esp. marinated. But also, try some sliced red pepper.
posted by theora55 at 8:14 AM on August 22, 2022

Seconding dill,nori and Thai basil.Check out these recipes.

Dill Rice

Nori in Rice

Thai basil rice
posted by SunPower at 8:16 AM on August 22, 2022

Lettuce leaves lining the bowl so the frills show around the edge, and the little heart of the lettuce trimmed as a garnish?

I was thinking of homegrown micro greens and baby leaf too - with rainbow chard you get lots of bright colors.
posted by clew at 8:40 AM on August 22, 2022

Fenugreek (more for Indian food than Thai).

You're just asking about garnishes, right? Because if color is the point more than garnishes then there's always brightly colored vegetables like peas, green beans, green peppers, broccoli, unpeeled zucchini or cucumbers, beets, cherry tomatoes, and so on. I guess you could chop the bigger ones up fine and sprinkle them like a garnish. Or do something like use saffron or turmeric or beets etc. to die white rice bright colors.

You can also try fruits for more color variety - they can go really well with savory dishes even if they're not normally used that way, and the sour ones especially can add a good note of flavor.
posted by trig at 8:48 AM on August 22, 2022 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Wow, I thought about getting one of those tiny grow lamp herb things before and you're all making me think I should. Micro greens and every flavour basil!

I am talking specifically about leafy greens here. I use broccoli, capsicum, beans, etc and they do help but it's not the same feeling as a leafy green.

Unfortunately I don't seem to get along with dill either, or kale or arugla/rocket (although I think I'm going to try roasting the kale now). Not sure if any of these share a flavour profile or if I just have the palate of a five year old.
posted by Adifferentbear at 8:57 AM on August 22, 2022

Thai basil is a much better fit for Asian food than Italian basil. I have a pot of it so I can just snip some off as needed.
posted by showbiz_liz at 9:01 AM on August 22, 2022

Nth-ing Thai basil or lemon basil. Makrut lime leaves show up in some Thai dishes. Carrot greens are edible. I've seen shredded Brussels sprouts used as a garnish. Soybeans, maybe? When we make instant ramen we steam frozen peas over the pot, but those go beyond garnish into ingredient territory.
posted by fedward at 9:30 AM on August 22, 2022

Best answer: The suggestion above to use celery leaves is a good one, they pack such a pleasant flavor punch. And if you like that, grow some lovage. It's like celery turned into a huge leaf vegetable (and I mean it can get huuuuuge if you let it) with the flavor multiplied 100 times. It's an excellent addition to soup stocks and used as a general flavor "enhancer," even in very small amounts.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 9:41 AM on August 22, 2022 [3 favorites]

Came to also mention celery leaves, the tender little inside hearts of a basic grocery bundle. Celery stalks can be sliced diagonally thin for crunch.
Or, if you're thinking of growing stuff, look for cutting celery , which isn't the fat-stalked grocery store kind but the deep spicy green leaves mostly. I make pestos and sauces with it, much like everyone above mentions, also it plays very nicely with basil, rosemary, garlic.
posted by winesong at 9:56 AM on August 22, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Nthing the herb suggestions: between sage, thyme, shiso, basil, savory, etc. there should be something to fit pretty much any dish you might make! It was briefly mentioned as an ingredient above, but I'd also note that green chiles (jalapeño, serrano, hatch...) are totally viable garnishes in their own right, especially for something like pad thai. Add in some julienned cucumbers, serve in lettuce cups, and you've got a pad thai salad, baby!

(I do not recommend lettuce cups for soups.)
posted by the tartare yolk at 11:06 AM on August 22, 2022

Oh, also, as a really out-there garnish, maybe something like pickled grape leaves? (You can buy them in a jar at most Southeast European or Middle Eastern markets—they're mostly used for dolmades in my experience, but you could probably shred some to add some leafy zip to your meal.)
posted by the tartare yolk at 11:09 AM on August 22, 2022

The grow lamp thing we had was so convenient! Definitely get one if you have the room. We moved and didn't have space for it, but my aunt and uncle send me pictures all the time and I get jealous.

Another long shot: Fresh fennel? You can use the dill-like (in shape, not taste) leaves and get the added bonus of the bulb (not as pretty, but tasty).
posted by ghost phoneme at 11:26 AM on August 22, 2022 [1 favorite]

Furikake / rice seasoning, is dried seaweed, sesame seeds, sugar, salt and a few other things that vary per mix. Could give you that last minute green garnish/ seasoning.

Definitely check the labels, since ingredients do vary between brands. Wikipedia says dried fish can be included, but I haven't seen it in any of the brands I have tried.
posted by TheAdamist at 11:53 AM on August 22, 2022

I had chrysanthemum greens at a fancy pants restaurant recently and they were surprisingly delicious, but possibly to close to arugula for your mouth comfort
posted by itesser at 12:47 PM on August 22, 2022

Lovage, fennel fronds, purslane.
posted by bluebird at 2:09 PM on August 22, 2022 [1 favorite]

Nasturtium leaves? They're pretty spicy/peppery; not sure if that works for you.

There are a lot of edible wild greens (or weeds). Here's one pocket zine that I like the look of. I favor lambsquarter, common mallow, and amaranth. They're all pretty mild in flavor.
posted by sibilatorix at 2:15 PM on August 22, 2022 [1 favorite]

Haven't seen tarragon mentioned yet - it's another green rare herb with such a unique flavour profile that suits strong savoury flavours. I love it in infused water too.
posted by I claim sanctuary at 2:12 AM on August 23, 2022 [1 favorite]

Not green but colorful: what about edible flowers? I sometimes pick wild violets in my garden for a garnish, here they have a very mild, fruity taste. I also use berries as garnish in savory salads or other dishes.
posted by mumimor at 7:21 AM on August 23, 2022

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