Cilantro is exotic, fun, and a little strange. So what is it exactly? And what makes it so great?
It sounds kind of exotic. But, what is cilantro? Cilantro is actually a fresh herb used in Southwest and Mexican cooking. It's a unique herb – many studies show that about half of people who have tried cilantro find it delicious while the other half finds the taste soapy and the smell disgusting. Curiously enough, people of European descent will often fall in this second group even though cilantro is found natively in Southeast Europe. For those who can like it, cilantro is like a blend of caraway, lemon, and sage.
Cilantro is the Spanish name for the leaves harvested from the coriander plant. The leaves are small, green, and sold fresh—they resemble veined clovers with frayed ends. Cilantro has seen a lot more attention in modern cooking, but the coriander plant it comes from was cultivated and harvested in Israel before pottery was even created. Cilantro's biggest audience, the American Southwest and Mexico, uses it for a lot of things like salsa, salads, burritos and meat dishes. You’ll even seen it in Brazilian-style steakhouses where it is used in a pesto as a dipping sauce for cuts of meat.
Keeping It Fresh
Cilantro is found fresh in most grocery stores and is available year-round. When selecting your cilantro leaves, you should be on the lookout for tender and aromatic leaves that are very green. Avoid wilted bunches and leaves without a strong smell. No aroma when you pinch the leaves mean the cilantro will have no flavor – and what's the point of that? Storing cilantro is a lot like storing parsley – keep it in an airtight container or wrapped in a bag and use it or lose it within a week (or less).
You may also find dried cilantro in the spice rack, but the flavor doesn't hold up very well, if at all.
Cilantro is an herb that everyone should try at least once—experiment with it to help brighten up a salad or add a rich and flavorful taste to cooked meats.
If you have any cilantro secrets or would like to share your own experiences with Mexican parsley, leave a comment!