If you have never heard of cilantro (sih-LAHN-troh), you may know it by its other name - coriander (KOR-ee-an-der). Most of us are more familiar with coriander seeds that are not seeds at all but the dried fruit of the coriander plant.
Coriander goes way back in history. In fact, the seeds have been found in Egyptian tombs dating back as far as 960 BC. I know whole coriander seeds are used today for pickling, but I wonder if they had anything to do with those mummies.
Coriander seeds look like tiny little balls and don't smell that good until dried. As they dry, they develop a more agreeable scent that resembles a combination of lemon, sage and caraway.
Besides whole seeds, you will often find ground coriander sold at your supermarket. It is frequently used in baking, and many curry and soup recipes call for it. It is really popular in Chinese and Thai cooking to add a little citrus quality to the dishes. The leaves from the plant are called cilantro but you may have heard them called Chinese parsley. They have an extremely pungent smell and the taste is one you either like or dislike. I happen to love the flavor of cilantro and will often substitute it in recipes that call for parsley. But that's me.
Before I suggest how I like to use cilantro, I wanted to ask about buying fresh herbs and what to do with leftovers. How many times have you purchased fresh herbs for a recipe that calls for 2 or 3 tablespoons and then are left with a bunch of herbs that ends up sitting in your refrigerator? At any given time, I can find several of those little plastic containers of fresh herbs at the bottom of my vegetable drawer. And if you don't use them right away, they don't last long.
It always seems that when I get around to needing them, they are a little moldy or completely wilted and I have to go buy some more. Sure, it's more economical to use dried herbs, but for most of my recipes, they just don't cut it. I want the real thing, the freshest ingredients I can find.
So what's a home cook to do?
I think it comes down to planning and using your imagination. The other day my wife decided to make some gazpacho, a delicious uncooked soup that is served cold and features tomatoes, onion, cucumbers and some other fresh ingredients. I like it because you can change the recipe to suit your own tastes. If you did a search on the Internet, you would find dozens of variations. Just pick the one that has the ingredients you like best.
Since we didn't use all the cilantro for this recipe, what did we end up doing with the rest? Used it the next night to make a simple mango salsa to serve on some grilled fresh tuna that was on sale. If we didn't use it to make mango salsa, we could have made my favorite Homemade Salsa that is a more traditional Mexican style salsa that you can find here.
Another way I like to use up left over fresh herbs is to make your own herb butter. It's not hard to do and you can use it to serve on grilled steaks, chicken, fish or vegetables. It's an easy way to add an additional layer of flavor to your meal. Here's a simple recipe for a quick Cilantro Herb butter that you may want to try.
Because of all the great email I received from my cilantro newsletter, I wanted to share with you some additional ideas. First, I received several emails from home cooks who had a great idea for leftover cilantro...freeze it. Here's what one of them said,
"I am a huge lover of cilantro and use it on fish, chicken, pinto beans and oodles of other things. For years I have been freezing it then chopping off just what I need. It has worked great!! All I do is leave it in the plastic bag I put it in from the grocery, stick it in the freezer then use it as needed. Doesn't work so well for salsas but for anything you cook it's great."
Secondly, my wife reminded me of another of her favorite recipes featuring this herb, Cilantro Shrimp. It's a recipe I adapted from a local restaurant when I lived in Park City. You can find it here at Cilantro Shrimp.