Every week we get Down & Dirty, in which we break down our favorite unique seasonal fruits, vegetables, and more.
Today: We're talking about everyone's favorite (or not) herb -- cilantro. Love it? We’ve got fresh ideas for working cilantro into your meals. Hate it? There might be hope for you yet.
Cilantro is one of those items that quickly breaks people into two camps -- you either love or hate it. Cilantro haters often complain of its metallic or soapy taste, and blame genetics for their aversion. We’re into tough love though, because although studies have shown a genetic component, a recent one has found that the heritability of cilantro preference is low. This means that only a small percentage of cilantro dislike can be blamed on genetics -- so give it another chance. Harold McGee suggests starting with pesto, because crushing the leaves can help reduce the offending odors.
At least in the United States, the name cilantro refers to the fresh herb, while the dried fruits (what we refer to as seeds) from the same plant are called coriander. Elsewhere, coriander can refer to both the fresh leaves and the seeds -- and the fresh leaves are also sometimes called Chinese parsley.
What to Look For and How to Store
Choose bunches of cilantro that are perky and vibrantly green (2) -- pass on any that seem overly wilty, bruised, or yellowed (1). Once you get it home, store it like basil -- in a glass of water with a bag over the top. But unlike basil, cilantro can then be put in the refrigerator for a week or two. If you’d like yours to hang around longer than that, Elizabeth Schneider recommends freezing cilantro roots (the entire plant is edible!), as she finds that freezing puréed cilantro leaves renders them tasteless and bitter. And before you cook with it, make your life easier by washing it like greens (3) with just a big bowl of water and a tea towel -- no salad spinner required.
How to Use
Cilantro is a member of the parsley family (along with parsnips and fennel); and in Vegetable Literacy, Deborah Madison suggests pairing cilantro with other members of the family, too, like carrots and celery. Cilantro complements fish, lamb, or chicken; and punches up would-be-basics like rice, naan, and socca. Cilantro is begging to add zip to your sauces -- gremolata, chimichurri, or mojo. And what would salsa, guacamole, and quesadillas be without it? Yes, cilantro even works in desserts and beverages (try a watermelon or mango margarita). Ready for more ideas? We've got you covered for the week:
Friday: Corn Salad with Cilantro & Caramelized Onions
Saturday: Southwestern Spiced Sweet Potato Fries with Chili-Cilantro Sour Cream
Sunday: Veggie Masala Burgers with Cilantro Chutney Aioli
Monday: Paula Wolfert's Herb Jam with Olives and Lemon
Tuesday: Corn and Feta Pizza with Cilantro Lime Pesto
Wednesday: Sautéed Spring Mushrooms, Chiles + Cilantro in Caramelized Coconut Broth
Thursday: Tamarind Glazed Swordfish with Lime, Cilantro and Tamarind Sauce
Photos by James Ransom