Cilantro: An acquired taste worth acquiring


In all the years of writing this column, I realized today that I have never written about cilantro, even though it is a staple in my kitchen and in my garden. Now, some people are muttering, “OK by me,” as they turn up their noses at what they perceive as a pungent-smelling, soapy-tasting herb. In that sense, cilantro can be called an acquired taste. Hopefully you can find something here to encourage that acquisition.

I have always liked the fresh, lemony scent and clean flavor of cilantro, as well as its light, airy texture. Often used in Asian and Latin American cuisines, cilantro leaves add a pop of color in dark-sauced dishes and a pleasant, palate-tickling texture against rich ingredients. A member of the parsley family, cilantro is also known as Chinese parsley and coriander, though I prefer to use the latter name for the seeds. Coriander seeds are used in pickling. When ground, they emit a pleasant lemon aromatic and taste great in curries, soups, dry rubs and baked goods.

When storing a fresh bunch of cilantro, put the bunch, stems down, in a glass of water and cover the leaves with a plastic bag. Refrigerate and change the water every couple of days. Store the whole seeds in a tightly lidded glass jar, away from light and heat, and grind as needed.

Cilantro mayonnaise

I love this recipe because it uses cilantro more creatively than just as a topping. Try mixing this mayo with ahi to make a salad topper or sandwich, or serve on chili rellenos. Recipe from “Coyote Cafe” by Mark Miller; makes enough for 4 servings.

1 bunch cilantro plus 2 tablespoons chopped cilantro

1 tablespoon water

2 eggs, at room temperature

1 cup light olive oil

Juice of 1 lime

2 serrano chilies, minced

In a blender, puree the bunch of cilantro with the water, then push through a strainer, reserving the liquid. Pulse the eggs until light and frothy, then add oil drop by drop until mixture becomes very thick. Add the reserved cilantro liquid, lime juice, chilies and chopped cilantro; mix well. Store in refrigerator until ready to use.

Mexican fish and chips

Cilantro adds bright color and freshness to this easy 30-minute recipe from “How To Boil Water” by Food Network Kitchens; makes 4 servings.

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

3/4 cup tomatillo salsa

3 green onions

Large handful tortilla chips

1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese

Four 6-ounce skinless mahimahi fillets

Kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper

Handful fresh cilantro

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. In a medium skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil over medium-high heat. Add salsa; cook, stirring, until thickened, about 3 minutes. Pour salsa into a 9-by-13 baking dish and cool slightly. Slice green onions into small rounds. Crumble tortilla chips by hand in a medium bowl to yield about 2/3 cup. Add green onions, cheese, and remaining tablespoon oil; mix gently. Lightly season each fish fillet with salt and pepper. Turn fish in salsa to coat. Arrange fish, skin side down, in pan. Pat chip mixture evenly on top of fish. Bake until fish is opaque and topping is lightly browned, about 20 minutes. Chop cilantro, sprinkle over fish, and serve immediately.

Vegetables a la Grecque

Pickling is back in fashion, and these vegetables are great served at room temperature as part of an antipasto platter or a side dish. Recipe from “Mediterranean the Beautiful Cookbook” by Joyce Goldstein; makes 8 servings.

1/4 cup olive oil

2 cups dry white wine or 1 cup each: dry white wine and water

1 heaping tablespoon cracked coriander seeds

3 bay leaves

1 tablespoon peppercorns, bruised

2 fresh thyme sprigs

4 thin lemon slices

1 clove garlic, smashed

Salt

One of the following vegetables:

1 pound pearl onions

1 pound carrots, peeled, halved lengthwise, and cut into 2-inch lengths

1 large bunch celery, trimmed and cut into 2-inch lengths

4 to 5 cups cauliflower florets

1 pound fresh mushrooms, stems trimmed

In a saucepan, combine oil, wine (or wine and water), coriander seeds, bay leaves, peppercorns, thyme, lemon slices, garlic, and salt to taste. Bring to a boil; reduce heat to simmer. Add vegetable of choice to pan and cook just until tender. Onions and carrots will take about 20 minutes; celery and cauliflower about 4 to 6 minutes; mushrooms about 3 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, remove vegetables to a serving bowl. Reduce marinade by half over high heat; strain and pour over vegetables. Let cool to room temperature, then serve.