Guide To Herbs Day 5: Cilantro

We are continuing our way through the wonderful world of herbs. We kicked things off earlier this week with a Prelude to the Food Republic Guide To Herbs, visited the not-just-for-garnis parsley, lavished some love on basil, remembered fragrant rosemary, and discussed why dill is not just for pickles.

Today we visit one of the more controversial and polarizing herbs: cilantro.

Did you ever run through the market with the idea of picking up a bunch of parsley and grab the cilantro? It's not that hard. They look frustratingly similar. (For the record, cilantro leaves are slightly rounder than flat-leaf parsley and can be paler.) To make things more confusing, cilantro is sometimes called coriander or Chinese parsley as well. When it comes to taste, however, there's no comparison between cilantro and flat-leaf parsley.

Parsley is slightly bitter and herbaceous; cilantro has a citrusy, lime flavor with a mineral quality that cilantro detractors call "soapy." When in doubt, roll the leaves between your fingers and smell before buying.

That light citrus feature, which provides a foil for spicy peppers, is what makes cilantro a favorite of Mexican as well as Thai chefs alike. There are few dishes in either cuisine that would not benefit from a sprinkle of cilantro... or a handful, such as in tomatillo salsa.

Cilantro is a multi-position player. It can be used fresh or dried; its stems, roots, and seeds (usually called coriander seeds, and used in whole and powdered forms) have numerous culinary uses. Try it today. Oh, unless you're a cilantro hater.

Which side are you on in the cilantro debate? Pro or con? Either defend cilantro or destroy it in the comments.

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