By Dale Odorizzi, Master Gardener
Cilantro is a wonderful herb to grow because you actually get two herbs in one. It is know as the love it or hate it herb. When it is young and fresh, you have delicate lacy leaves with a pungent flavor. As it matures and goes to seed you have Coriander. Although the two herbs come from the same plant, their flavors are very different and one cannot be substituted to the other.
Coriander is also known as cilantro, Chinese Parsley. It is an annual herb in the family Apiaceae. Coriander is native to regions spanning from Southern Europe and North Africa and southwestern Asia. Its botanical name is Coriandrum sativum. Note: “Culantro” is an herb related to cilantro that is widely used in dishes throughout the Caribbean, Latin America, and the Far East.
Thsi herb is easily confused with flat-leaf parsley in appearance, so be sure to sniff carefully. Look for a bunch with unwilted leaves in medium green. It is found fresh year round in most markets. As soon as you arrive home with fresh cilantro, place the stems (with roots intact if attached) in a glass of water and cover the top loosely with a plastic bag. Refrigerate. Snip off leaves as you need them and re-cover. The water should be changed every 2 to 3 days. Do not wash the herb until you are ready to use it since excess moisture will turn the leaves to green slime during storage.
Depending on its treatment at the market, it should last up to a week in the refrigerator. It goes well with: avocado, chicken, fish, ice cream, lamb, lentils, mayonnaise, peppers, pork, rice, salads, salsas, shellfish, tomatoes and yogurt. Both cilantro and coriander are used extensively in Mexican, Greek and South East Asian Cooking. If you have a dish of Pad Thai, the parsley like sprig on top is most likely Cilantro. While there are parts of the world where no meal is complete, it tends to generate great love or great hate. In fact Cilantro is the only herb I know that has its own “I hate Cilantro” anti-fan club.
Tests are being done to see if there is some genetic mutation that makes people hate the delicious herb.
To freeze cilantro, place a small amount of dry leaves in a single layer on a cookie sheet. When frozen, gather into a zip-top bag, and return to the freezer immediately. Use within 6 months. Do not thaw before using. Cilantro may also be dried in the same manner as parsley, however, its flavor will be greatly diminished. Drying is neither recommended nor worth your time. Dried cilantro is available in most markets, should you have the need.
The seeds plant are known coriander. As with any spice, coriander seeds should be kept in a sealed container away from light and heat. The flavor will begin to diminish after about 6 months. Use within 1 year.
Cilantro grows easily and quickly in our gardens. It can be planted repeatedly throughout the growing season so that you can always have fresh tasty cilantro but be sure to let one or two plants got to seed so that you can have the seeds all winter long to flavor you Mexican and Asian dishes.
If you grow it in your garden, it will often sprout the next year from seeds that have fallen to the ground. This spring, I had an abundance of Cilantro plants. I bemoaned the fact that I did not have any parsley as it often sprouts too. A few days later, the deer visited my garden and ate a number of the cilantro plants but left a whole lot more. When I checked the partially eaten plants, I found they were all parsley. I guess that proves that deer are members of the “I hate cilantro club”.