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Spice Girl: Cilantro

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By Lorette C. Luzajic


Cilantro is also known as coriander.

Got too much time on your hands? Hate cilantro? Then you, too, could join over 1,900 others at ihatecilantro.com. You can even order a hoodie making your loathing of this herb clear to any doubters.

As for me, I’m with Michael Jackson when he purred, "I’m a lover, not a fighter". It’s true that cilantro is an acquired taste, but then again, so are most of the best ingredients in life including wine, coffee, chili peppers and asparagus.

Few herbs inspire the love/hate camps more than cilantro (aka coriander outside of North America). Detractors find the sharp, astringent, soapy taste too bitter, but fans are addicted to these exact qualities. Mexican and Thai dishes use the herb liberally, and Indian and Portuguese cuisine is not complete without it. I find that cilantro adds distinctive, unusual flair to all kinds of dishes in my kitchen, but if you don’t like the flavour, there are plenty of reasons to add it to your diet anyways- this herb is extremely nutritious and healing. Its medicinal qualities are wide-ranging, including promoting urinary tract health, boosting the immune system, fighting allergies, aiding digestion, reducing gas and nausea, soothing inflammation, balancing blood sugar, fighting salmonella, alleviating arthritis symptoms, detoxifying the liver, and killing viruses and bacterial infections. In addition, the fresh herb is a good source of thiamin and zinc, Vitamins A, B6, C, E, and K, riboflavin, niacin, folate, pantothenic acid, calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, copper and manganese.

Cilantro is unique in its ability to help eliminate toxic metals like mercury and aluminum from the body. It is so efficient and swift at chelating (or binding with)  metals that they can be found in the urine directly following ingestion! Many naturopathic doctors recommend chelation therapy even though it is time-consuming and introduces a chemical compound called ethylenediamine tetraacetic acid (EDTA) into the body to get rid of metals, because lead, arsenic, and mercury are highly poisonous and cause severe symptoms in metal-sensitive people.

Coriandrum sativum is a hearty annual with vibrant green, fan shaped leaves. It resembles flat-leaf parsley, and is sometimes called Chinese parsley. Asian cookery uses the root as well as the seeds, more commonly called coriander, and the leaves, called cilantro in North America. Keep in mind that the seeds and leaves are two different ingredients. Seeds can be powdered and added to dishes to help marry flavours together. They have a warm, nutty taste with a hint of lemon. Do not interchange these ingredients when following a recipe! Also, do not use the flavourless dried cilantro, though this may be useful to those who don’t like the taste. The dried herb retains some of the health benefits, but does not pack the medicinal punch of fresh leaves. Most recipes call for cilantro to be added at the end of cooking because heat removes much of the flavour- this may be desirable if you are adjusting your taste buds to this tangy wonder herb. It’s also a good idea to freeze the herb rather than letting it go rotten- a fresh bunch keeps for a few days in your fridge and a few months in your freezer, retaining much, though not all of its flavour.

The best way to begin exploring this amazing plant is to head out for some Vietnamese, Thai and Mexican cuisine. Or impress your friends with a killer Mexican-style hors d’oeuvre that is easy and spectacular- melt a bit of butter and lemon juice with piles of chopped cilantro leaves and garlic, then grill shrimp in the mixture. Everyone will ask for the recipe!

Few dishes excite me as much as my recipe for Summer Soup. Its warm lemony chicken broth contrasts with a dollop of ice-cold but spicy hot cilantro salsa, and makes a perfect appetizer or light meal. Sautee two chopped leeks in butter with a pinch of cinnamon. Add about eight cups of chicken broth, juice from two lemons, salt and pepper and a beaten egg. Use a hand-blender on the mixture, but leave a few chunky leeks, then toss in a few egg noodles. In the blender, mix a cup of chopped cilantro, a tomato, half a red onion, lemon juice, a red and green chili, 2 tbsps olive oil, cumin, chili powder, and salt and pepper to taste. Refrigerate until cold. Spoon into piping hot soup with a bit of yogurt or sour cream just before serving.



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