Add a mild, aromatic ethnic flavour to your meals! Cilantro (the seeds of which are called Coriander) is a cooking staple in Mexico, the Caribbean, Thailand, as well as in Asian, where Cilantro is called Chinese Parsley. It is considered both an herb and a spice since both its leaves and its seeds are used as a seasoning condiment.
Its lacy leaves show a strong resemblance to Italian flat leaf parsley because they belong to the same plant family – Umbelliferae. Cilantro’s pungent fragrance and sharp, peppery flavour is like a combination of citrus peel, grass and sage.
HOW TO CHOOSE
Like many herbs, cilantro is available throughout the year.
Choose leafy bunches with thin stems. The leaves should appear very fresh and coloured in an even, deeply bright green. They should be firm, crisp, and free from yellow or brown spot that indicate wilting.
If looking for dried, whenever possible, buy whole coriander seeds instead of coriander powder since the latter loses its flavour more quickly, and coriander seeds can be easily ground with a mortar and pestle.
Cilantro loses its flavour quickly and develops a harsh, unpleasant taste, so use it as quickly as possible after being harvested. Best kept fresh by placing the stems (or roots, if possible) in a container of water, loosely cover the greens with plastic, and refrigerate for 4 to 7 days. Another method is to wrap the stems with a damp cloth or paper towel before refrigerating the whole bunch in a plastic – preferably perforated – bag.
Cilantro may also be frozen, either whole or chopped, in airtight containers. Remove from freezer immediately before use since thawing will eliminate much of its crisp texture.
Place the Cilantro in ice cube trays covered along with water or stock for convenience when making soups or stews.
Do not rinse the leaves until just before using. When ready to use, plunge into a sink holding cold water. Swirl around a few times and let sit for a while if sand, dirt, and other debris needs loosening before sinking to the sink’s bottom, and the leaves will float to the top, ready for scooping out. Spin or pat dry. Cilantro stems are edible. It is your choice whether you would prefer to these thick stems or remove and discard them. Either way, use the leaves either whole or coarsely chopped.
Heat destroys the herb’s aroma. Keeping this in mind, use the leaves as a garnish or add at the very end making of hot food dishes. Experiment making Indian curries, Mexican salsas and Indian chutneys, and Asian soups and stews. In strongly flavoured sauces and salsas, Cilantro can be used in larger quantities.
Complimentary Seasonings Coriander blends well with garlic, cumin, oregano, onions, ginger, and chile peppers.
Substitute The fresh herb may be used like parsley, both as a garnish, as flavouring and even for juicing.
Fresh cilantro contains an antioxidant called coriandrol that Indian researchers are learning may help stop the progression of liver cancer by preventing a particular toxin from damaging the liver’s DNA. Another cilantro phytochemical, dodecenal, could prove to safeguard against Salmonella poisoning.
The health benefits of Cilantro are known worldwide:
Europe – an “anti-diabetic” plant
India – anti-inflammatory properties
United States – cholesterol-lowering effects.
Like parsley, fresh cilantro is very rich in Vitamin A and potassium, as well as being naturally low in calories, fat, and sodium.
However, Cilantro wins out in calcium and dietary fibre levels. It is also moderately rich in Vitamin C and folate (folic acid).
Coriander (seed), 1 teaspoon (2g)
Total Fat: 0.4g
Cilantro (fresh), 1/4 cup (4g)
Total fat: 0g
- Historic records show that Cilantro was used by 5,000 BC, making it one of the world’s oldest spices and native to the Mediterranean and Middle Eastern lands.
When grown in ancient Egypt, it was mentioned in the Old Testament. Coriander was used as a spice in Greece and Rome, to preserve meats and flavour breads for example. The Hippocrates and other historic physicians discovered its benefits as an aromatic stimulant.
Around the year 2000 AD, this zesty herb was rarely available in North American. Now, however, the increasing influence of both Asian and Latin American cooking has popularized cilantro to the point of becoming a staple in our kitchens.
To make matters a bit confusing, cilantro may be referred to as coriander, but cilantro is actually the entire plant including the roots, leaves, and seeds. As the cilantro plant grows beyond the leafy greens it goes to seed, forming small fruits that are dried. In North America, Coriander refers to this dried seed, which is mainly used as a curry, sausage, and pickling spice. This Coriander fruit is available in whole or ground powder form – most flavourful when ground just prior to use.
The plant grows from either seed or seedlings to about 12 to 18 inches in height.
Cilantro is related to the carrot family.