Cilantro, the frilly, verdant leaves of the coriander plant, tends to evoke Shakespearean-level passions. For everyone who can't get enough of its bright, insouciant flavor, there's a naysayer who accuses it of tasting like soap. This pungent herb is so polarizing, in fact, that we're quite sure it's been listed under "irreconcilable differences" in more than one divorce suit. Even the name can be confusing: Elsewhere in the English-speaking world, cilantro is known as fresh coriander, not to be confused with the plant's astringent seeds, a spice in their own right.
Native to Greece and the eastern Mediterranean, cilantro is one of the oldest herbs in the world. The ancient Egyptians harnessed the medicinal and culinary powers of the coriander plant as far back as 5,000 b.c.; several millennia later, it had pride of place in the Hanging Gardens of Babylon.
Prized throughout history for its ability to aid digestion, coriander was a common treatment for diabetes prior to the development of insulin in 1922.
Green with Envy
Cilantro can't get out of the shadow of flat-leaf parsley, its mellow, crowd-pleasing cousin.
For a quick riff on pesto, combine 2 cups packed cilantro leaves with 1/2 cup toasted almonds, 1 chopped garlic clove, 1/2 cup olive oil, and a pinch of coarse salt and pulse in a food processor until smooth. Pesto keeps, covered and chilled, for two days.
Turks Do It
Cilantro is central to cuisines around the world, but its flavor profile changes dramatically depending on the ingredients with which it's paired.
- Cilantro + Aji Pepper + Garlic + Green Onion + Potation = Peruvian
- Cilantro + Avocado + Jalapeno Pepper + Lime Juice = Mexican
- Cilantro + Lentils + Turmeric + Mustard Seed + Cumin = Indian
- Cilantro + Rice + Pine Nuts + Currants = Turkish
- Cilantro + Fish Sauce + Ginger + Coconut + Lemongrass = Thai