What's that smell? If it's taco night or falafel night, it's most likely the smell of me chopping cilantro. To me, it smells amazing, but other folks may have a different opinion. If that's the case, please stop reading and leave my kitchen immediately. Now that we've got the cilantro deniers out of here, we can talk about this traditional Mexican garnish on a more personal level.
Fresh cilantro has a distinctive flavor that works perfectly with Mediterranean food, Thai food, chicken and fish marinades, cilantro lime pesto, and grilled veggies. Add a handful to your guacamole or anything with a jalapeno involved. Just between you and me, I may or may not have once garnished my Taco Bell Crunchy Taco Supreme with extra chopped cilantro and sour cream. Suffice it to say, I'm kind of a cilantro fan.
Coriander is sometimes used as an interchangeable name for cilantro, but coriander is actually the seed of cilantro and has a slightly different flavor and purpose. Coriander is spicier and is used in all that heavenly Indian food with other exotic spices. Cilantro is milder while still really flavorful and distinctive.
How To Chop Cilantro
After you've grabbed your bunch of cilantro in the fresh herbs section of the produce aisle, you need to wash away any hidden dirt or bugs. Rinse the sprigs of cilantro under cold running water, making sure that all leaves and cilantro stems get clean. You can also leave the sprigs to soak in a bowl of cold water for a few minutes before rinsing.
To dry, lay your cilantro on paper towels and blot gently. All leafy herbs should be treated gently so you don't crush them and release their oils before they reach your recipe. If you have a salad spinner, you can let centrifugal force do the work for you.
Grab a sharp knife. A dull one will just crush your cut cilantro, and that's the last thing we want. Next, chop off the thick, bottom part of the stems until only the tender stems are left. The stems are similar to when you chop parsley. If you don't want the tender stems in your dish, you can strip all the cilantro leaves off at this point by running your knife down the stem lengthwise.
To cut down on prep time, leave the tender stems in and mince them finely using a rocking motion with your sharp chef's knife. Continue bunching up your pile of herbs while using your best knife skills and that beloved cutting board.
Storing Unused Cilantro
Cilantro doesn't last more than a few days before getting icky in a plastic bag. There are herb keepers available on Amazon which will help you keep it fresh for about a week.
Chopped cilantro needs to be frozen to last more than a day. A fun and easy way to do this is to put it into ice cube trays. Add a bit of water or olive oil to form the cube. Freeze and then store the cubes in a plastic bag.
A fun and pretty way to keep a fresh bunch of cilantro for a few days until you're ready to cook is to put them in a glass vase or mason jar with a little water.
If you're going to keep your cilantro in the refrigerator, just remember that moisture is the enemy. Make sure the leaves are dry and change the paper towel if any moisture develops. Happy garnishing!