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Cilantro is one of those foods that people either love or hate. Interestingly, the regions of the world where it is most cherished are not where it originated. Cilantro’s genesis can be traced to the Mediterranean. The Romans spread it to Asia while the Spanish conquistadors introduced it to Mexico and Peru. Subsequently, cilantro is a primary herb in Indian, Asian, and Latin American cuisines while Europeans and Americans have given it a lukewarm reception. Nevertheless it is touted as the world’s most popular herb.
Cilantro’s nomenclature is somewhat confusing. The entire plant and the seeds are properly named coriander, while the leaves alone are cilantro. Colloquially, the entire plant and leaves are referred to as cilantro and only the seeds as coriander. Cilantro is also referred to as Chinese parsley.
Cilantro has been used for thousands of years. Coriander seeds have been found in ancient Egyptian tombs. The Chinese believed it to be an aphrodisiac and to produce immortality. Coriander, like many foods throughout the ages, has also been credited with a number of medicinal properties.
Cilantro is available year round. It is a delicate herb that fades quickly. Most supermarkets carry it but finding fresh, non-wilted specimens is the challenge. Choose bunches with bright green leaves and a fragrant aroma. Store it in a plastic bag or place the roots in a container of water with the tops covered by plastic wrap or a bag. Either way, in a few days it will be a shadow of it’s original self. Coriander seeds and/or ground coriander can be found in the spice aisle of most supermarkets. As with all spices it is best to purchase the seeds whole and grind them yourself for the best flavor. Cilantro stems are also edible and provide a bright crunchiness to your dish. Add cilantro leaves toward the end of cooking or just before serving. Its fragile flavor is easily dissipated by heat.
Americans are most familiar with cilantro in their salsa and guacamole. However, cilantro and coriander are used all over the world in countless preparations. It is used with meat, chicken, fish, sauces, marinades, chutneys, you name it. Coriander is even used in baking.
Try cilantro in your crabcakes or shrimp salad. Or chop cilantro and garlic, add a little oil and spread this mixture on your meat, fowl or fish. Skip the oil to save calories. For a creamy low fat dressing with diverse uses, mix equal parts of buttermilk and plain yogurt with salt, pepper, and a good amount of chopped cilantro. (Remember, buttermilk is made from low fat milk). Ground coriander is a great addition to dry rubs. It pairs particularly well with cumin, curry, paprika, garlic, and chile powder.
If you’re more decadently inclined, make cilantro oil or mayonnaise. There are two ways to make the oil. In the first, add two cups of cilantro to a jar with an airtight lid. Warm up a bland oil like canola, sunflower, safflower, or a light olive oil. Add it to the jar, seal the lid, and wait two weeks. Leave the cilantro whole if you wish to remove it or chop it and leave it in the oil. A quicker method is to blanch 2 cups of cilantro in boiling water for five seconds and then submerge in ice water. Squeeze out the water and puree it in a blender with one cup of oil. Strain it through cheesecloth if you wish to remove the solids. You can sprinkle various dishes with the oil or use it for cooking. For cilantro mayonnaise, simply chop some cilantro, garlic, and an optional jalapeño pepper and then mix with mayo, lemon juice, salt and pepper.
6 poblano peppers, roasted, skins & seeds removed
¼ cup cilantro
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon coriander
1 tablespoon white vinegar
½ cup of water
Cayenne powder, salt, and pepper to taste
4 pork chops
olive oil, as needed
onion, 8 ounces, chopped
6 cloves garlic, chopped
1) Puree two of the roasted poblano peppers, cilantro, cumin, coriander, vinegar, water, salt and pepper in a blender. Add additional water if necessary.
2) Brush the chops with olive oil and season with salt, pepper, and cayenne powder.
3) Sear the chops on each side in the oil. Do not fully cook the chops. Remove them as soon as each side is seared and set aside.
4) Roughly chop the remaining poblano peppers and sauté with the onion in the same pan you sautéed the chops until the onions start to soften. Add extra oil if necessary.
5) Add garlic and sauté one minute more.
6) Return the chops to the pan and add the sauce. Simmer until the chops are cooked. About 3-5 minutes for half inch chops.
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