My Love Affair with Cilantro

CilantrobannerIt’s been said that there are two types of people in this world: those that love cilantro and those that hate it.  This division of stances on the merits of cilantro has in fact been debated for centuries. The 16th century herbalist John Gerard described it as a ‘very stinking herbe.’  While the Chinese continue to refer to it as the ‘fragrant plant.’

I think the title of this blog post shows which side of the debate I stand on…however I will concede that those who ‘hate’ cilantro might have a biological basis for disliking its taste.

Remember those lab tests done during high school science class?   The ones that labeled participants as either PTC tasters or non-PTC tasters?  Apparently PTC perception results in filling the mouth with something akin to rotten eggs…yucko.  Thankfully, I am not a ‘taster.’

It seems logical to conclude that cilantro ‘haters’ perceive a different flavor component than cilantro ‘lovers.’  Not the same thing as a picky eater’s dislike for certain foods or stubborn disinterest in trying anything new or spicy.

Cilantro_CoranderWhat I love about cilantro is that it provides a two-for-one punch as it’s both an herb and a spice in the same plant.  The leaves are the herb ‘cilantro’ with the seeds being the spice ‘coriander.’

In addition, each contribute different flavor profiles:
Cilantro leaves - a) haters: soapy, hand lotion taste; bitter
b) lovers: parsley-like, citrus, peppery, refreshing.
Coriander seeds - citrus peel, especially lemony, and sage flavors.

My first introduction to this addictive herb was years ago* in the fresh salsas served at local restaurants in New Mexico and healthy cuisine restaurants in Colorado.  I especially loved its freshness in the pico de galla served alongside traditional burritos, tacos, beans and rice.

Once the delicate herb found its way into mainstream groceries, I began to search in earnest for ways to incorporate such fresh salsas into my every-day dishes.  I found those involving mango, pineapple, black beans and corn paired well with fish, but my craving went beyond such meals.

I devised several non-salsa based recipes to help in my constant craving for cilantro.  My fav go-to is a simple rice vinegar cilantro vinaigrette for use on my lunchtime salads.  Simply whisk together chopped handfuls of cilantro with rice vinegar, olive oil, s&p and douse over a bowl of spinach, baby kale, peppers, green onions and garlic…yum!

One summer, I tried my hand at growing fresh cilantro and was very disappointed because of its tender and short lived life…bolting quickly.  Even in the grocery store, its ‘shelf life’ is extremely short and must be used soon after purchasing.

In order to allay those obstacles I have experimented with the tubed cilantro paste offered in the produce aisle alongside the fresh cilantro bunches. It is useful as a pesto-type of paste that can be easily rubbed on salmon along with lime juice, garlic and ginger to make yet another fish dish.

What follows are two non-salsa, non-fish recipes that I have created incorporating liberal doses of cilantro into the mix.  Each packs a powerful cilantro punch fix.

Tell me, are you a cilantro lover or hater?

Sliced Beets with Lime & Cilantro

2-3 fresh beets, cooked, peeled and sliced OR 1 can plain sliced beets
1 fresh lime
1 bunch fresh cilantro
splash of white vinegar
splash of olive/vegetable oil
salt and pepper, to taste
pinch of red pepper flakes, opt.
1 head Butterleaf lettuce, torn, opt.

If using fresh beets, remove tops and save tender leaves for use in raw salads and tough, ugly leaves for use in Scrap Soup.  Place in pot filled with water to cover and bring to boil.  Simmer until tender, then cool; peel should slide off easily.  Slice and place in mixing bowl.  If using canned beets, be sure to drain before use.  Slice lime in half and juice both halves into bowl.  Add the white vinegar, oil, salt and pepper.  Rinse cilantro, shaking off excess water.  Chop up the entire top of the bunch.  Keep the leafless stems to go into Scrap Soup, compost pile or discard.  Place chopped cilantro in bowl.  Toss all together until totally coated.  Allowing the warm beets to absorb the lime/cilantro vinaigrette intensifies the flavors immensely!  Serve as is or over a plate of torn Butterleaf lettuce.  Yum!  Note: if using red pepper flakes, think in terms of what else is being served.

Jasmine Rice with Ginger, Garlic & Cilantro

1.5 cups of jasmine rice
2-3 T veg oil
1-2 inch nub of fresh ginger peeled and minced
3 large garlic cloves, minced
half cup of leftover white wine (opt)
2 cups of chicken broth
garlic salt to taste
1 large bunch of cilantro, coarsely chopped

Heat oil in large heavy saucepan over medium heat.  Add ginger and garlic, stir 30 seconds.  Add rice, stir a few minutes.  Stir in wine (opt)and let evaporate a bit before adding the broth and salt.  Stir, sprinkle half of the chopped cilantro over top, bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium-lo, cover and cook about 18 minutes or so.  Remove from heat, add rest of chopped cilantro and let stand covered about 10 minutes.  Fluff rice with fork and serve. Note: the white wine adds a different flavor to the jasmine rice…don’t use if you want a stronger jasmine flavor.

*full disclosure- in the mid ’70′s I dated a dear Chicano man who introduced me to this herb called cilantro…and to my future husband…!VIVA!

 

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