Cilantro's leaves and stems add a bright, fresh taste to cooked and uncooked dishes. Also called coriander leaves and Chinese parsley, cilantro holds its own with spicy Asian, Latin American and Indian food. Although some people carry a gene that makes cilantro taste and smell soapy and unpleasant, they can overcome that aversion if they acclimate themselves to the herb by eating small quantities or eating the herb blended into pesto, according to two studies cited in a 2012 NPR article.
As a Garnish
Used either as whole leaves or chopped, cilantro balances the flavors and adds liveliness to a range of foods. Chop the herb to sprinkle over creamy soups or rich pasta sauces and egg dishes to help lighten the heaviness in those dishes and on fish to add a vibrant, fresh flavor. Strew whole leaves on Thai or Chinese stir-fry, Mexican enchiladas and Middle Eastern stews to give those dishes an extra flavor dimension.
In Soups and Stews
Recipes that incorporate cilantro at the end of cooking allow the herb to retain its flavor and freshness, while recipes that give the herb more cooking time gain earthy undertones of flavor. Use chopped cilantro, on its own or with a bit of minced garlic, in the last few minutes of cooking for vegetable soups or spicy stews. For deeper flavor, add from 1/4 cup to 1 cup of chopped cilantro to fish, chicken or beef stews at the beginning of cooking.
Fresh, uncooked cilantro works best for salads. Chop the herb for grain salads such as tabbouleh, made with bulgur or cracked wheat, or for a cold, Asian-inspired rice salad along with red onion, grated carrots, and cucumber. The herb also brings freshness to chicken salad, with or without curry, and to Tex-Mex taco salad, where you can use either chopped or whole leaves.
Sauces and Salsas
Although it has a different flavor than parsley, cilantro substitutes for that herb in most recipes. For a chimichurri sauce to top grilled beef or lamb, mix finely chopped cilantro with olive oil, vinegar, oregano, finely chopped onion and garlic to make a paste similar to pesto. Stir a tablespoon into your favorite guacamole recipe, and substitute cilantro for parsley on a one-to-one basis in a pesto sauce for meat, fish or chicken.
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- Fine Cooking: Cilantro
- The Deluxe Food Lover's Companion; Sharon Tyler Herbst and Ron Herbst
- NPR: Love to Hate Cilantro? It's in Your Genes and Maybe, in Your Head
- The Flavor Bible; Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg
- My Recipes: Cooking Light: Southwest Cilantro Fish Stew
Susan Lundman began writing about her love of cooking, ingredient choices, menu planning and healthy eating after working for 20 years on children's issues at a nonprofit organization. She has written about food online professionally for ten years on numerous websites, and has provided family and friends with homemade recipes and stories about culinary adventures. Lundman received her M.A. from Stanford University.
POHIAN KHOUW/Demand Media