2010-04-18

CILANTRO, OUR HERB OUR FLAVOR


The Italians have their basil, the Greeks have their Rosemary, the French have their Thyme, the Scandinavians have their Dill, the Spaniards have their Parsley and us Latin Americans have our Cilantro and its cousin Culantro. In Latin America I can not think of any typical  dish without some Cilantro, every time we need to spice something up, we will chop some fresh Cilantro and throw it in.


Cilantro originated in the middle east and has been used since pre-historic times, it still grows wild in that area. Cilantro seeds have been found and dated to pre-historic time inside caves located in Israel where pre-historic men lived, so it seems our ancestors had a taste for it. Cilantro first arrived in the Americas at the British colonies of North America where it was one of the herbs commonly used by the early colonials, from there it spread south and conquered the palate of Latin America. There was not much to conquer really, since the natives were already great consumers of Culantro, the native American cousin of Cilantro. Culantro is native to the Caribbean and has a similar, but stronger, flavor to Cilantro even though the plants have completely different shapes.

Cilantro/Culantro do not cook well so they should be consumed raw or added at the last moment to any cooked dish. The leaves, seeds and roots have different applications; the chopped leaves are the main flavoring agent; the root has a similar, but milder, taste appropiate for grating into a sauce or spice paste; the seeds have an anise like sweet flavor and are better used in spices mixes or desserts.

Cilantro/Culantro are very easy to grow from seed, just spray the seeds over some loose soil and cover them with some more soil to avoid birds picking them. Keep the soil moist and you soon will see something sprouting; in a month you will start harvesting leaves. Culantro even grows wild in humid locations, very often you will find it around your garden or in the plants you buy from a nursery.

SCIENTIFIC NAME: Coriandrum sativum (cilantro), Eryngium foetidum (culantro)


ENGLISH NAME: Coriander, Cilantro, Culantro

LOCAL NAMES: Cilantro, Culantro, Recao (Culantro), Coentro (Brasil, cilantro), Coentro-bravo (Brasil, culantro)

NUTRIENTS: Cilantro/Culantro are a very potent cocktail of vitamins, minerals and anti oxidants, so its regular consumption is good for you. Medical studies in Japan have shown that regular consumption of Cilantro/Culantro helps the body excrete heavy metals such as mercury. For a more detailed analysis of nutrients follow this link: Cilantro's nutrients

PROCESSING: Cilantro/Culantro are used after finely cutting them with a sharp knife or kitchen scissors. The root is better processed by grating it with a lemon zester. The seeds should be coarsely crushed using a mortar.


STORING: Cilantro/Culantro dehydrate very quickly once they are harvested. If you have them in your garden pick only what you are about to use. If you must keep them in the refrigerator place them in a sealed bag with a little water for moisture.


CILANTRO RICE: Very common side dish for saucy beef recipes in Central America. Make a sofrito with 1 finely chopped small onion and clove of garlic with 3 tablespoons of oil, cook over medium heat until aromas are released, add 1 cup of rice, salt and pepper to taste, stir well and add 1 cup of finely chopped cilantro, add 1.5 cup of water, stir well and bring to boil, then lower heat to minimum and cover, cook until all liquid is absorbed (about 15 minutes), turn off heat and let rest 10 minutes before serving. To serve mold with a cup of coffee and spray with finely chopped green onions or fresh Cilantro.


 
 
CILANTRO MILK BROTH: Very typical for breakfast in dairy farms across Latin America and very easy to make at home. Per person take 1 cup of milk, 2 tablespoons of fresh finely chopped Cilantro/Culantro, 2 tablespoons of coarsely chopped green onions, 1 egg, 6 small cubes of pressed white cheese, this is the common white cheese found in markets; over medium heat bring the milk to boil and add green onions, salt, pepper and stir, with the milk boiling add eggs and let harden, turn off heat and add Cilantro; place cheese cubes in soup dish and serve hot broth with 1 egg per dish.


CILANTRO PESTO: in a food procesor or blender place 1/2 cup of oil, 2 cups of packed Cilantro/Culantro (stems and leaves), 1/4 cup of salted peanuts, 1 clove of garlic, 2 sweet green chilies de-seeded, chilies can be hot if you like some heat in your pesto, process to a paste adding more oil if necessary, add salt and pepper to taste and a few drops of hot sauce. You can eat the pesto with bread, chips, vegetables, with pasta, or over fish, chicken or pork seared on a hot pan with a little oil.


 
 
 
 
CREAMY CILANTRO DRESSING: 1/2 cup of mayonaisse, 1 tablespoon of mustard, 1/4 cup of tighttly packed cilantro/culantro (stems and leaves), 1 teaspoon of sugar, juice of 1 lime, 3 tablespoons of white vinegar, salt, pepper and drops of hot sauce to taste, process with a blender to liquefy. Serve over a fresh garden salad that has some avocado slices in it.


 
 
 


2 comments:

  1. I love cilantro, but I've come to learn that lots of people hate, no detest, it. There's a theory that it tastes different so some unlucky few due to genetic roots: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB123446387388578461.html?mod=ITPWSJ_1

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  2. In my research I came across many I HATE CILANTRO groups, however I also came across many more I LOVE CILANTRO groups. I was surprised by the controversy on this herb. The only scientific evidence I found was a study on the perception of the many compounds found in Cilantro, it has the most complex mixture of chemicals compounds of any herb, some in their pure form smell and taste disagreeably to humans, however most compounds in Cilantro in their pure form, taste and smell very agreeably to humans, the study detected in a small sample of humans that hate Cilantro, the lack of receptors to the compounds that are agreeable to humans, so they only taste and smell what is disagreeable to humans. The controversy has only stirred the interest in Cilantro; those who never tasted it now want to try it to see what all the brouhaha is about. Cilantro is the most consumed and produced herb in the world, the populations of Cilantro culture countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America are growing the fastest, so you will see more Cilantro everywhere, the Scandinavians are eating Cilantro, the Inuit in Greenland are eating Cilantro; so Cilantro haters are going to have a difficult time, who knows maybe this is mother nature applying some natural selection. Regards Chef Juan

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