also: chinese parsley, coriander, coriander leaf, Coriandrum sativum, dhania, kothimbir
shelf life: can last a week or two in the refrigerator if stored properly (see special notes)
flavour profile: green, herbaceous, potent citrus zest, some people interpret the flavour as “soapy”
pairs well with: all. Another universal flavouring component, it pairs especially well with avocado, chiles, citrus, corn, cucumber, fresh herbs, legumes, melons, and tomatoes
cuisines: again, almost universal, used heavily in Indian, Latin American, and Thai cuisines in particular
special notes: the best method for keeping cilantro fresh is to cut the bottoms of the stems and place in a jar with just enough water to cover the stems, but not touch the leaves, place a plastic bag over (to keep the humidity up) and place in the fridge. Change out the water daily to every other day. The chemicals responsible for the “soapy” taste some experience are diminished or eliminated by bruising and/or heating.
The fresh green parts of the Coriandrum sativum plant probably need little introduction for most people, whether speckled about in your favorite salsa, piled into a bánh mi, chopped and sprinkled over a delicious rich curry….it’s found in use all over the world. Green and herbaceous, with a strong bright citrus punch, it’s a flavour best described as “clean”, with the irony being that some people in the population are genetically inclined to perceive the flavour as “soapy.”
Nomenclature here can be a tad confusing, known more commonly around the world in english as “coriander” just as the dried seed, but as “cilantro” in the US, latin america, and canada…i find this naming to be a tad less confusing than referring to both the fresh herb and dried seed by the same name, mostly because they are very different flavours and are most definitely not interchangeable. Here on the site i’ve chosen to use “cilantro” for any part of the fresh green herb, unless specified as stems and/or root, i’m talking about the leaves alone.
Cilantro’s popularity is easy to understand, it brings an intense bright green element to dishes, able to hold up to strong, rich flavours and providing some lightness and balance. Unlike parsley, with a richer, heavier, more savory “green” flavour, cilantro has an almost unparalleled ability to bring vibrance and completely transform a dish, elevating foods which could easily be too heavy..It is especially good in dishes using tomatoes, for which the herb shows a particularly strong affinity with an incredible, almost magical ability to bring forth the fresh flavours of tomatoes, even in cooked tomato dishes.
Cilantro should always be used fresh, the aldehydes responsible for its flavour quickly dissipate upon drying, as well as, to some degree, when heated. However, the erroneous notion that cilantro is never cooked is absolutely ridiculous, it is found cooked in many Indian dishes, used extensively in Thai curry pastes, and found in all manner of cooked sauces from Latin America, so if someone tells you it should never be cooked or heated, you just smile and nod and back away slowly.
As a final note, all parts of the plant are edible, typically the leaves and tender stems are used for fresh use, such as topping dishes, in salsa, on bánh mi, in summer rolls, etc. The stems, either alone or in combo with the leaves are often used for broths, chutneys, sauces, and the like. The roots are most commonly used in curry pastes, or pounded and used in the beginning sautee portion of a dish. The dried seed (technically the dried fruit) is also a universally adored spice, with its own unique flavour and properties.