All About Cilantro
by Sandra Bowens
Do you love it or hate it? Cilantro evokes strong feelings, one way or the other. Some people would not eat fresh salsa without it while others maintain cilantro tastes like soap and avoid it at all costs. Apparently, the lovers win because we see piles of fresh cilantro year round at the grocery store.
This member of the parsley family may be somewhat confusing. Two parts of the plant, Coriandrum sativum, are referred to as a different herb and spice. The herb, cilantro, is the leaf and the spice is the round tan seed known as coriander. To complicate matters even further, every part of the plant is edible. Many cuisines consume the clusters of pale pink flowers and the tender root right along with the leaves and stems. We will discuss coriander in another column, concentrating on the leaf here.
Delicate bunches of cilantro are available in nearly every produce section all year. Look for fresh looking leaves, avoiding any bunch that has begun to discolor or wilt. When you get it home to your own kitchen, wash it well and dry it gently. To store, place the bunch, stem end down, in a small glass of water, much like you would display flowers. Cover with a plastic bag and secure a rubber band around the glass. Change the water every day or so and your cilantro will last much longer.
Native to the Mediterranean, cilantro has found its way into recipes all over the world. It has become popular in recent years as a component of Tex-Mex foods but it is also used in Indian and Thai cooking. The Chinese use so much of the herb that it is also referred to as Chinese Parsley. They often add the root to stir frys.
Cilantro and coriander have been known through the ages. It is mentioned in the Bible. Ancient Romans used it to preserve meat. Steeped as a tea, cilantro is said to have stomach soothing properties. And consumed in large quantities, cilantro will offer Vitamins A and C.
On the outside chance that you are one of those who cannot stand the sight of the shiny round herb leaves in your food, consider this tip the next time you find it on an ingredient list of a recipe you would like to try: Sprinkle a little ground coriander over fresh parsley equal to the amount of cilantro called for and chop fine. You will get a hint of the flavor without the soapy taste.
Whisk together vinegar, lime juice and olive oil. Set aside.
In a layer of cheesecloth or a thin dishtowel, squeeze the jicama, cucumber and carrots to remove excess juices. In a large salad bowl, combine jicama, cucumber and carrots with the bell pepper, shallot and cilantro. Add salt and pepper to taste then toss with the vinegar mixture to coat well. Allow to sit for 15 minutes. Toss again and taste for seasonings; adjust if necessary before serving.
Yield: Six 3/4 cup servings
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