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I Spice: Cilantro and Coriander

David Leite's green olive dip uses cilantro. Read on to get the recipe. (Nuno Correia)

To all those who find cilantro soapy, I have one request: Please return next week.

I am not being mean. Apparently, there is a scientific reason some people hate cilantro: genetics. Who am I to fight that? But if you love cilantro, read on, because there is much to learn.

I grew up cooking with and eating cilantro (whose seed is called coriander), a much-loved herb in my repertoire. Michael Ruhlman, author of the new “Ratio: The Simple Codes Behind the Craft of Everyday Cooking” (Scribner) and other books, shares my passion. "I love it, I think because of the refreshing citrusy notes it brings," he told me. "There is no other seasoning like it. In fact, let your cilantro plants go to seed and use the fresh green seeds it will produce!” Fellow writer Don Lesser told me that he often described cilantro as “mint that took a sharp turn in a really different direction.”

Michael and I agree that coriander works wonderfully on just about everything, especially grilled meats, and in sauces and vinaigrettes. He loves it with red meat, tomato-based sauces and barbecue sauces.

Recipe Included

The herb and the seed cannot be substituted for one another. The best way to use the seed is to dry-roast it in a hot pan and then crush or grind it and add it to your dishes. The herb is best added as a garnish at the end of the cooking process, or during cooking for fantastic chutneys, pestos and gently simmered sauces.

While I am most familiar with the use of cilantro in Indian, Thai and Mexican cuisines, I learned from David Leite, editor of Leite’s Culinaria, about its use in Portuguese cuisine. David, whose first cookbook, “The New Portuguese Table” (Clarkson Potter), is hitting bookstores Aug. 18, told me he finds the fresh, grassy taste of cilantro irresistible. Cilantro is a staple of Portuguese cooking, which is what he grew up eating.

The herb is indigenous to southern Europe and to the Middle East; in fact, it's often called Arab parsley or Chinese parsley in French cooking. Whole dishes in Portugal are built around the herb, David said. Take Açorda Alentejana, named for the vast plains region that cuts a huge swath through the country. Traditionally a peasant bread soup, it starts with nothing more than a tureen of boiling water, handfuls of chopped cilantro, an obscene amount of garlic and pieces of day-old bread. Eggs are then cracked into the soup and poached by the residual heat of the broth. Ladled into bowls, it was an inexpensive way filling empty bellies. Sounds amazing, doesn’t it? And what a unique way to use cilantro.

Michael recommends buying the coriander seeds in small quantities and storing them in an airtight container. The herb is easy to grow in your yard (if you have one), but if you are going to buy it, David says, “I like to buy it with its roots still attached. At home, I rinse the herb in plenty of cold water — it can be tremendously gritty — changing the water often. I then wrap the bunch in damp paper towels and tuck the whole log into a resealable plastic food storage bag.” That way it will keep well for about a week.

-- Monica Bhide

Green Olive Dip (Patê de Azeitonas Verdes)
Makes 1 1/2 cups

This dip is made with whole milk that is whipped into a silky consistency along with garlic, anchovies and vegetable oil. It’s best not to make this in a food processor, which has too wide a bowl to ensure a proper emulsion. A blender or mini food processor works best.
Serve with crudites, crackers or bread, or as a topping for grilled fish.

Adapted from “The New Portuguese Table,” by David Leite (Clarkson Potter, to be published Aug. 18, 2009).

1/3 cup whole milk
6 oil-packed anchovy fillets (not drained or rinsed)
1 small clove garlic, smashed
Leaves and tender stems from 6 stems cilantro
Pinch freshly ground white pepper
3/4 cup vegetable oil
2/3 cup pitted green olives, such as manzanilla (rinsed quickly if particularly salty), coarsely chopped

Combine the milk, anchovies, garlic, two-thirds of the cilantro and the pepper in a blender; pulse until combined and coarsely chopped. With the motor running, add the oil in a slow, steady stream; blend for 30 to 40 seconds, until an emulsified, thickened (but still pourable) dip forms.

Transfer to a serving bowl and fold in the olives. Mince the remaining third of the cilantro leaves and tender stems; sprinkle on top and serve.

Per tablespoon: 66 calories, 0 g protein, 0 g carbohydrates, 7 g fat, 1 g saturated fat, 1 mg cholesterol, 46 mg sodium, 0 g dietary fiber, 0 g sugar

By The Food Section  |  August 7, 2009; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  I Spice , Recipes  | Tags: Monica Bhide, cilantro  
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I agree with Micheal Ruhlman that the fresh green seeds are incredible - and fleeting. You have to grow those as they keep fresh for only a few hours before starting to dry, a really short lived treasure as described here:

Sylvie Rowand

Posted by: rowandk | August 7, 2009 8:57 PM | Report abuse

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