By Maria Price
Cilantro or Coriandrum sativum is a wonderful culinary herb, but people either love it or hate it.
It’s one of the most used herbs throughout the world. It’s used in the cuisines of the Middle East, the Mediterranean, India, China, Southeast Asia, Latin America, and Africa. The plant’s leaves are what we know as cilantro and the brown seeds are known as coriander.
The plant grows 1 to 2 feet tall and bears small, umbel flowers in white to pale pink. Cilantro is the Spanish word for the leaves of the coriander plant, which some people think smells like stink bugs.
The green fruits smell and taste of the foliage as they transition to brown and acquire a nutty-like taste.
It’s best to plant cilantro after a frost, but while the weather is still cool. You can use shade cloth or partial shade to extend the period of foliage harvest. I like to start cilantro in early spring by sowing it indoors in March and planting it outdoors by late April. You can also sow the seeds directly in the soil as soon as the ground can be worked after the danger of heavy frost is over.
Germination can be enhanced if you rub the seeds to separate the halves and soak them for three to four days and let them dry before planting. Early fall cilantro planting will produce leaves for several weeks. Harvest the outer leaves first.
Cilantro tends to bolt when it gets too hot. There are varieties that are slow to bolt such as Santo and Slo-bolt, with Calypso the slowest. Slo-bolt cilantro withstands the heat the best.
Cilantro is rich in antioxidants called polyphenolic flavonoids, and it contains the minerals iron, copper, manganese, magnesium, potassium, and calcium. It also contains significant amounts of vitamin A, C, K, folic acid, niacin, riboflavin, and beta-carotene.
Cilantro leaves do not dry well, but can be frozen in ice cubes.
Cilantro is great in guacamole for summer dishes. Coarsely mash four ripe avocados. Then add the juice from two limes, one clove of garlic, ¼ cup chopped onion, ¼ teaspoon cumin, and one chopped jalapeno. Add ½ cup chopped cilantro and don’t over-blend. It’s best left chunky. Yum!