Just as tomatoes are starting to grow, cilantro is sputtering out. Cruel, cruel world. Cilantro prefers cool weather, while tomatoes like it hot. And then there are the peppers, specifically jalapenos; those guys like it as hot outside as they are on the inside. How’s a person supposed to make fresh salsa when key ingredients aren’t ripe at the same time?
If I’m making salsa, it’s going to have cilantro. In order to use the cilantro I have growing now in future hypothetical salsa, it’s going to have to be preserved in a manner that will honor its clean, beautiful flavor. Swish the bunch of cilantro in a bowl of water to rinse off any unsavories. Pat it dry and freeze in a zip-top bag. Or chop it, stems and all, and place it in ice cube trays. Top each cube cell with water or olive oil (it depends how you plan to use your cilantro) and freeze. Don’t bother drying cilantro; it’s a dusty shadow of its former self when dried.
If you’re growing your own tomatoes and they’re almost ripe, good for you. Store your cilantro in the fridge, cut-stems down, in a glass with an inch of water. It will stay fresh for several days while your tomatoes take their sweet time ripening. However, cilantro and tomatoes can both be found at farmers markets now because farmers are magic.
Now, if salsa is not heavy on your mind when cilantro is in season, there are plenty of other fantastic ways to eat it. Replace fresh parsley with cilantro in any recipe while the gettin’s good. Puree it with garlic and olive oil for a different take on pesto or chimichurri. Put cilantro in every salad you make. While you’re at it, mince a little for the dressing too. Make street tacos with warm tortillas topped with grilled steak, onions, cilantro and a generous squeeze of lime. Toss a few sprigs in a margarita.
There is no wrong when it comes to cilantro.
Unless you’re in that 10% or so of the population who describe the taste of cilantro as reminiscent of shampoo, lotion or soap. A genetic mutation is responsible for those unfortunate souls’ distaste. They can’t help it. Try not to look down on them.
Celebrate cilantro season with these recipes.
Kale and celery tiger salad
2 red or green Thai chilis, lightly smashed
2 garlic cloves, lightly smashed
1/2 cup fresh lime juice
1/3 cup fish sauce
2 tablespoons palm sugar or light brown sugar
1 medium bunch kale, ribs and stems removed, leaves thinly sliced
2 celery stalks, thinly sliced on a diagonal
1 bunch small scallions, thinly sliced on a diagonal
3/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves with tender stems
3/4 cup fresh mint leaves
1/2 cup fresh basil leaves
1/2 cup unsalted, roasted sunflower seeds and/or pumpkin seeds
Chili oil (optional; for serving)
Whisk chilis, garlic, lime juice, fish sauce, palm sugar and 2 tablespoons water in a large bowl. Let sit 5 minutes; remove chilis and garlic. Add kale, celery, scallions, cilantro, mint and basil to dressing and toss to coat (salad should be very heavily dressed). Serve salad topped with seeds and chili oil, if using.
Recipe adapted from www.bonappetit.com.
Grilled corn with lime cilantro wasabi butter
1 stick of butter, softened to room temperature
Zest of 1 lime
2 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro
Big squirt of wasabi paste (1 tablespoon or so)
Corn in husk
Combine all butter ingredients to make herb paste. Use fork to mash and mix well. Lay a large piece of plastic cling wrap on counter. Spoon the butter on the wrap and fold plastic wrap over. Using your hands, mold and roll into a cylinder shape. Place in refrigerator (or freezer if you’re in a hurry) and let chill for at least 30 minutes. This can be made up to 3 days in advance.
Grill the corn on the cob: Preheat grill to 550 degrees. Carefully peel back some of the outer layers of husk and discard. Keep a couple of the soft, inner layers intact. If you have too many tough, outer layers, the corn takes longer to cook. Remove as much of the visible silky wisps as possible (which will burn on the grill). Grill for 15 to 20 minutes, turning every 5 minutes to evenly char all sides. Remove the grilled corn on the cob with tongs and carefully peel back the husk. Top with slice of lime cilantro wasabi butter.
Recipe adapted from www.steamykitchen.com.
Curried lentil, tomato and coconut soup
2 tablespoons virgin coconut oil or extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 3-inch piece ginger, peeled, finely grated
1 tablespoon curry powder
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
3/4 cup red lentils
1 (14 1/2-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
1/2 cup finely chopped cilantro, plus leaves with tender stems for serving
Kosher salt, freshly ground pepper
1 (13 1/2-ounce) can unsweetened coconut milk, shaken well
Lime wedges (for serving)
Heat oil in a medium saucepan over medium. Cook onion, stirring often, until softened and golden brown, 8 to 10 minutes. Add garlic, ginger, curry powder, and red pepper flakes and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add lentils and cook, stirring, 1 minute. Add tomatoes, 1/2 cup cilantro, a generous pinch of salt, and 2 1/2 cups water; season with pepper. Set aside 1/4 cup coconut milk for serving and add remaining coconut milk to saucepan. Bring mixture to a boil; reduce heat and simmer gently, stirring occasionally, until lentils are soft but not mushy, 20 to 25 minutes. Season soup with more salt and pepper if needed. To serve, divide soup among bowls. Drizzle with reserved coconut milk and top with more cilantro. Serve with lime wedges.
Recipe source: www.epicurious.com.
Amanda Stone works in educational services, marketing and special features at the Globe. Contact her at 417-627-7288 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.