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Cilantro, You Either Love It Or Hate It.

Cilantro, You Either Love It Or Hate It.

Chef Clyde Serda | Chef's Blade

Around 4000 B.C. the Sumerians as well as the Babylonians left a list of herbs used for medicinal purposes on clay tablets. On the list was Coriander. Hippocrates used Coriander as part of his botanical treatments and prescriptions, as an antispasmodic as well as an appetizer and applied it to the flesh for rheumatism or for painful joints.

Coriander is probably the most commonly used herb in the world. What! You say. Yes, it is used throughout Asia, India, North Africa, the Mediterranean, South America, the Caribbean, Mexico, and throughout our own Southwest. However, the Coriander I’m talking about is the leafy green plant associated with the hard seeds we think of as Coriander; these leaves are called Cilantro-Yes! That’s right, Coriander is the seed of Cilantro. Today, we find Cilantro in our Southwestern salsas and in Chinese cooking as a garnish. Cilantro is a flavor people either love or hate—I have never found a neutral person in response to the taste. I have heard of the “Cilantro Gene”, which supposedly causes Cilantro to taste like soap to those who have the gene; there is, however, no scientific evidence of this gene just a strong hypothesis that that is what causes the extreme difference in taste among individuals.

Coriander (Coriandrum sativum) is more commonly known as Cilantro (fresh coriander) or Chinese Parsley. Coriander is also a member of the same family as carrots—Umbelliferae. In addition, a lot of Corianders flavor comes from its “seeds”, which are not actually seeds at all but complete fruits even if they are dry. The “seeds” are round and yellowish to light brown and about 1/8 to 1/4 inch in diameter. The seeds are what we know as Coriander, and, as most chefs know, the best way to release the essential oils of spice seeds is to slightly toast them, then grind them up. Coriander seeds are also used in pickling spice for meats and vegetables and are found in sausages, salads, soups, and pastries. In India the seeds are used in Garam Masala (dry spice mixture) and in various Curry Powders. In Mexico they are used in Moles and sauces and as flavoring to main dishes. Here in America, we found a slightly different use for the seeds: They are often at the center of Jaw Breaker candy used to be put in the middle of the little red candies that once were found in penny or nickel machines that us baby boomers remember so well.

However, Cilantro is most commonly used. Fresh Cilantro is now readily available at all produce vendors and in most stores. When using Cilantro, it is best when used fresh rather than in the dried form. It should always be added at the end, and if possible, slightly chopped to release the volatile oils in the leafy green. Here, it is found in many Mexican / Southwestern dishes and salsas. It is used in the Thai Green Curries and in Jerk Seasoning from the Caribbean and is used as a garnish in dishes throughout Asia. In Morocco, a spicy marinade/sauce know as Chermoula (Sher mo la), fresh cilantro is a prime ingredient. In some Thai dishes, the root of the cilantro plant is called for in various recipes. However, when I tasted these roots, it brought back immediate childhood memories of corporal punishment and a bar of soap in my mouth, a taste that one definitely has to grow into.

Cilantro is such a versatile herb and spice. It is our duty as culinarians to take advantage of it. Try using it in place of parsley or even basil in dishes.

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