Valley Bounty: Cilantro

The fruit of the coriander plant (though we often call them “coriander seeds”, they are actually fruit, botanically speaking) have a long history in human cuisine — Tutankhamen was buried with a pint of coriander, and some have been found in Neolithic sites predating the invention of pottery. Locally, we are more accustomed to seeing the fresh leaves of the coriander plant at farmers’ markets, which are commonly sold as “cilantro”—a name which shares the Latin root “Coriandrum” with the fruit, but with an etymological detour through the Spanish word “culantro”. By two different linguistic trajectories, we wind up with two different names for two parts of the same plant, which I’m sure is helpful for the 4-14% of people genetically predisposed to find that the leaves have an unpleasant soapy taste.

For those of us who quite enjoy fresh cilantro, its difficult-to-describe flavor is unmistakable for anything else. It can easily overpower other flavors, so it is best employed with restraint. In a supporting role to sweet, spicy, and sour ingredients, it lends a freshness, complexity, and vibrancy that can help keep strongly-flavored dishes from feeling heavy and overwhelming. Roasted sweet potatoes with chili powder, a squeeze of lime, and some fresh cilantro added after roasting is a simple side with some serious flavor.

Valley Bounty is written by Brian Snell of CISA (Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture)