You either love it or you hate it. There is very little in between. Deniers call it soapy and say that it tastes like dirt and metal shavings, while supporters savor it with words of bliss like pungently fresh, bright and citrusy.
In which cilantro camp are you? Most likely you’re a supporter because cilantro deniers would have already departed at first sniff. (Deniers might want to check out www.ihatecilantro.com.)
Deniers (about 10 percent of the population) aren’t to blame for their reactions: it’s in their genetics. Many have a variation in a group of olfactory-receptor genes that cause them to identify aldehydes in cilantro as intensely repulsive (and don’t allow them to perceive cilantro’s delightful flavors).
Aldehydes can also be found in soap, hence the soapy flavor that deniers report tasting. There is some hope for deniers. Researchers have found that perceptions of cilantro flavor can vary between deniers and may change with a denier. Crushing cilantro releases enzymes that convert and diminish the evil soapy flavors. For example, if cilantro is puréed and and mixed in a cooked dish some deniers can’t taste it. Indian curry often contains cilantro but some won’t notice because of the strong seasonings. Some deniers just grow out of it.
Needless to say I’m a cilantro lover. I liberally shower salad, soup, stew and any manner of meat and vegetables with the stuff. I am, however, sensitive to my friends and relatives who are deniers. I discreetly leave cilantro off dishes and have a bowl of it for my cilantro compadres. I seat my denier friends on the far side from the cilantro so as not to offend.
Many cultures adore cilantro including Indian, Thai, Chinese, Mexican, Caribbean, Mediterranean, African, German, Arabic, Japanese, French and Eastern European. Despite its relatively new popularity in the United States, cilantro is an ancient herb with a culinary history dating back millennia. Archeologists have found coriander (cilantro) seeds in 8,000-year-old Israeli caves and there are references to it in ancient Sanskrit and biblical texts. (Cilantro seed, aka coriander, is a delightful, earthy-flavored spice with a warm citrus tang. Most deniers like it.)
It’s best not to chop this herb; it bruises easily. Instead, lay sprigs on a cutting board and slice the leaves and tender stems. Stir cilantro leaves in when a dish is finished or as a garnish; prolonged heat dulls and weakens its fresh flavor. Finely chop thicker stems; they hold up well for long cooking. Stir chopped stems into onions when sautéing for a base to a soup or curry.
Cilantro, like its sister herb parsley, has a cooling flavor and balances dishes with heat. It pairs well with avocado, beans, cheese, chicken, eggs, fish, lamb, lentils, mayonnaise, peppers, limes, pork, rice, salads, salsas, chilies, shellfish, tomatoes and yogurt.
Cilantro is available year round at the market, and has its best flavor in spring and fall. Look for bunches of vibrant green leaves (avoid any with yellow) with firm stems. Wash cilantro well by immersing in cold water to remove sand. Drain well. Store lightly wrapped in paper towel in a resealable plastic bag up to a week.
Cilantro and coriander may help lower blood sugar and blood pressure. Cilantro has potent anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, antifungal, antimicrobial and significant chelating properties. WebMD reports that cilantro might remove (chelate) heavy metals like mercury, lead and aluminum from our bodies and possibly eliminate infectious bacteria. This in turn may help antibiotics and antivirals to increase effectiveness.
Another good reason to add this agreeable, delicious herb to your kitchen repertoire.
Carrot-Coriander- Cilantro Soup with Coconut Milk
Yields 4 servings
2 T. coconut oil
1 large onion, 1-1/2 cups peeled and finely diced
3-1/2 to 4 C. scrubbed and diced carrots
2 t. ground coriander
2 to 3 t. canned Thai red curry paste
4 C. chicken stock
1/2 cup or more packed cilantro sprigs, lightly sliced
Optional: 1 T. maple syrup
1 t. salt
Cilantro for garnish
1/2 C. coconut milk
Heat oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add onion and sauté until soft and translucent, about 3 minutes. Add carrots, ground coriander and curry paste. Sauté 2 minutes.
Add stock and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, partially covered, until carrots are very soft, about 45 minutes.
Use and immersion blender or carefully transfer soup solids to bowl of food processor or blender. Add enough of the liquid to purée easily. Add cilantro sprigs. Purée until smooth. Return soup to pot. Stir in optional sweetener, salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. Gently warm over low heat. Serve soup warm garnished with cilantro and a drizzle of coconut milk.
Arroz Verde (Mexican Green Rice)
Yields 6 to 8 servings
2 C. long grain white rice
1 mild green chili like poblano or Anaheim
3 T. olive oil
1/2 C. finely diced onion
3 C. boiling water
1 t. salt
1 C. sliced cilantro (with stems)
1 C. chopped Italian parsley
3 large romaine leaves or 1 cup packed spinach
1 large clove garlic, peeled
Place rice in strainer and rinse well. Drain until ready for use. Roast chili over gas burner or grill. Peel, seed and dice chili. Set aside.
Heat olive oil in a heavy pot over medium heat. Stir in onion and cook until soft. Stir in drained rice and cook, stirring frequently, until rice begins to color. Pour in 3 cups boiling water and salt. Bring to a boil, lower to a simmer and cover. Simmer 15 minutes.
While rice cooks place reserved chili, cilantro, parsley and romaine or spinach and garlic into blender and purée until smooth.
Add a little stock or water if needed. Pour purée into rice, but do not stir rice. Cook 5 minutes over low heat.
Rest rice 10 minutes off heat with lid ajar. Fluff rice with fork to incorporate green purée. Serve immediately.
Serve this with rice, dal, or deep-fried pakora as a dipping sauce.
Adapted from “Discovering Global Cuisines” by Nancy Krcek Allen
Yields 1-3/4 C., 6 to 8 servings
4 C. packed cilantro leaves and tender stems
1/2 C. lightly toasted, unsweetened (desiccated) or fresh grated coconut
2 T. stemmed, seeded and chopped jalapeño chili
2 T. peeled and chopped gingerroot
3 to 4 T. jaggery or maple syrup, to taste
4 to 6 T. freshly squeezed lime juice
In blender, purée cilantro, coconut, chili, ginger, 1 teaspoon salt, sweetener and 4 tablespoons lime juice, scraping down as necessary. Pour in 3/4 cup water and continue to purée until very smooth.
Taste chutney and adjust flavors. Scrape mixture into a container or bowl and chill 20 minutes—to give chutney time to develop flavor.
If necessary, stir in more water to adjust consistency to a thick soupy consistency. Taste chutney and adjust flavor with more salt, lime juice or sweetener.
Cilantro-Cashew: Purée 3-3/4 ounces dry-roasted cashews (3/4
- cup) in with cilantro. Adjust with more water to achieve thick soupy consistency.
- Coconut Milk: Substitute coconut milk for half the water.
For a creamy dressing add a couple tablespoons coconut milk or yogurt.
Yields about 6 servings
1/2 C. sliced cilantro leaves and tender stems
Pinch ground coriander seed
1/4 C. freshly squeezed lime juice
Optional: 1 small clove minced or grated garlic
Optional: 1/4 to 1/2 seeded and diced jalapeño chili
1/4 C. extra virgin olive oil or avocado oil
In a food processor or blender, combine cilantro, coriander, lime juice, optional jalapeño and garlic. Blend well. Season with salt. With machine running slowly pour in oil. Taste and adjust seasonings and consistency with lime, salt or water.