Prairie Fare: Have you tried cilantro?

Julie Garden-Robinson
Food and Nutrition Specialist, NDSU Extension

“I smell cilantro!” someone said.

I had been clipping the flowering tops from the cilantro plants at a community garden. I should have worn gloves. The scent on my hands was letting people know what I had been doing.

“I love cilantro, but my roommate can’t stand it,” another person commented.

I sniffed my hands, then washed them twice with soap. My hands still smelled like a bowl of freshly made salsa.

Next time, I will wear plastic gloves.

Cilantro often is associated with strong feelings of like or dislike. My daughter immediately can detect cilantro in recipes. She thinks cilantro tastes like soap. If I put cilantro in anything, she will pick it out.

Can you think of a recipe or ingredient that you like and other people cannot tolerate?

Some people are “super tasters.” Taste involves lots of sensory factors, including texture, aroma and even sound.

Researchers have noted that super tasters have more taste buds and an enhanced ability to smell things. While we may think of taste as sweet, salty, bitter, sour and umami (meaty, savory), others have noted new “tastes” such as metallic and carbon dioxide.

Often foods with strong tastes fall in the “love ’em or hate ’em” category.

Do you like cilantro? Cilantro is a bright green leafy plant characterized by a strong aroma and perishability. Cilantro is used widely in many ethnic cuisines, including Mexican, Chinese, South American and Vietnamese.

Cilantro and coriander refer to the same plant. When grown for foliage, it is referred to as cilantro. When grown for the seeds, cilantro often is referred to as coriander. Cilantro is an herb that commonly is used in salsa, soup, salads and potato dishes.

The flavor of cilantro is best when the plant is fresh. The flavor decreases when it is exposed to heat or dried.

Before any sort of preservation, be sure to rinse the herb under running water and pat dry with paper towels.

The fresh leaves can be wrapped loosely in a slightly damp paper towel and then placed in a plastic storage bag and refrigerated. Cilantro can be preserved by air-drying, oven drying, microwave drying, dehydrator drying or freezing.

To air-dry, cut the cilantro plant when it is about 6 inches tall. Tie the stems to create a small bundle. Place the bundle inside a brown paper bag. The bag will protect the plant from dust and other irritants. Additionally, the bag helps prevent any herb from falling onto the ground. Put the bag in a cool, dark room for approximately two weeks. The plant will fall apart easily once fully dried. Store in an air-tight container.

To oven dry, cover a baking sheet with parchment paper and place the herbs on top of the pan. Put the herbs in a conventional oven set at 100 degrees and bake until the plant is brittle and crumbles easily. Be sure to check the herb often while heating to prevent burning. If you have a food dehydrator, follow the manufacturer’s directions.

To dry in a microwave oven, place the cilantro between two microwave-safe paper towels and microwave on high for about one to three minutes, testing every 30 seconds. Allow time to cool and be sure to check if the plant is dry and brittle. Continue microwaving in 30-second increments until the plant becomes brittle.

To freeze, place the cilantro in an air-tight freezer bag and freeze. Alternatively, chop the herb and place in an ice cube tray. Cover with water and freeze. Put the cubes in a labeled plastic freezer bag for use in soups or stews.

The seeds and dried leaves can be stored in an airtight container. Be sure to label the container with the contents and date. Use the herb from one year of storage for best flavor.

When using herbs in cooking, remember to add them at the right time. For best flavor, add the fresh herb near the end of cooking to preserve the enriched flavor. In a cold dish, add the herb several hours ahead of time to allow the flavors to blend. This is the equivalent to use: 1 tablespoon fresh equals 1 teaspoon dried.

Here’s a recipe you can use with fresh, canned or frozen corn as a creamy side dish. If you do not like cilantro, the recipe will taste fine without the herb.

Parmesan Cilantro Corn

2 Tbsp. butter

4 c. frozen corn

1 garlic clove minced

1 Tbsp. lime juice

1 tsp. cumin

1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper

1/3 c. grated Parmesan cheese

3 Tbsp. Greek yogurt

3 Tbsp. milk

1/2 tsp. salt

1/4 tsp. black pepper

1/2 c. cilantro, chopped

In a large skillet over medium-high heat, melt butter. When butter is melted, add the garlic and corn, stirring to coat with butter. Cook, stirring frequently, for two minutes. Add lime juice, cumin and cayenne pepper and cook for two more minutes. Stir in cheese, Greek yogurt and milk. Add additional milk or yogurt as needed to make a creamy texture. Continue to stir so corn doesn’t stick to the pan. Add salt and pepper.

Cook corn until most of the cream has been absorbed, about five minutes more. Remove from heat, stir in cilantro and serve hot.

Makes eight (1/2 cup) servings. Each serving has 120 calories, 4.5 grams (g) fat, 4 g protein, 18 g carbohydrate, 1 g fiber and 210 milligrams sodium.