The cilantro cuisines

I sometimes think of it as the "Cilantro belt" - the band of nations falling between 15 and 30 degrees north of the equator.  You know, Mexico, Cuba, Morocco, India, Thailand, and many many more.  It's not that all dishes from those countries use cilantro - they don't.  And it's not that other countries don't use cilantro- they do.  But they're all countries where you'd be surprised to go a week without tasting cilantro in your food, somewhere.   And if you look at a cookbook jacket from those cuisines, chances are that flash of green you see is cilantro.

Anyway, summertime is when I personally eat a lot of cilantro, and I've always figured it's because those subtropical nations have a way with dealing with cooking in warm weather.  But I don't really know that that's it - I mean, make enough salsas and curry pastes and layered rice dishes and you definitely get the feeling that staying cool and out of the kitchen is not all that high a priority.

For me, I think it's just that over many summers, that bright, fresh green taste of cilantro - and lime - and mint - has come to be associated with the sound of lawnmowers and the smell of sunscreen and the promise of ice cream more than twice a week, if not daily.  Cilantro on the garnish, cilantro root in the paste, coriander in the dry rub, cilantro bolting in the garden...it's all there in the culinary soundtrack to summer.

The frustrating thing is that whenever I do go to the garden for some fresh cilantro, it always seems to be between-times - either frondy and flowery and bitter and tall, or barely past the two-leaf seedling stage.  I try to remember to plant some at least once a month, but somehow it just doesn't always work out.

How about you?  Do you also have a fair-weather relationship with cilantro, or is it a year-round resident in your fridge, like the carrots?

9 Comments

  • raowriter  on  7/15/2014 at 6:20 PM

    It's interesting with cilantro, or coriander as we Aussies call it. It's considered a warm-season herb, yet plant it in spring and summer and it bolts almost the moment it germinates. This, whether you live in the sub-tropics or in a cool-climate region. In August (last month of winter) a couple of years ago I had some culinary coriander seeds that had lost their zing. Hated tossing them, so I planted them in several vacant containers - all in sunny spots - without adding new potting mix or (organic) fertiliser. Best-ever crop of coriander - in cool-climate Tasmania! So now I do this every year, starting in late autumn and going right through winter. It's worked every time. Frost doesn't affect it - we can get down to -2 or -3 deg C. Okay, still have to buy coriander in summer, but it's great to be able to use it in profligate abundance in winter! Rosemary

  • Cubangirl  on  7/15/2014 at 7:10 PM

    I noticed you included Cuban in the cuisines that use cilantro. I never had a dish that included cilantro as a child. True Cuban cookbooks don't use it either. Nouveau Cuban cookbooks do use because often they mishmash Cuban with Nicaraguan, Colombian and other Central or Latin American cuisines. Occasionally an original Cuban recipe will call for Culantro which, a different herb, but those are not common. I see the same trend in adding Jalapenos or other "hot" peppers to Cuban dishes. Never found, it is always sweet bell peppers. Sorry for the rant, it is a pet peeve.

  • Rinshin  on  7/20/2014 at 4:22 AM

    I use cilantro throughout the year but also struggle to get the plants from dying off quickly. Has anyone found a best way to keep cilantro in the refrigerator?

  • robinorig  on  7/20/2014 at 4:45 PM

    I love and use cilantro all year. I have had no luck growing it, no matter when or where I plant it. That and dill also. (I'm in Massachusetts). I don't know why as all my other herbs do really well. I've resigned myself to buying it at the farmstand and growing other things that do well instead.

  • hillsboroks  on  7/20/2014 at 5:49 PM

    When I was at the farmers market herb booth this spring I listened to the herb lady tell another customer how to grow cilantro. She said to plant it where it would get morning sun and afternoon shade. She also said to replant a new batch every six weeks so that as you cut the first batch more would be coming along.

  • Rinshin  on  7/20/2014 at 6:21 PM

    Thanks for tip hillsboroks. I had no luck with dill either.

  • hillsboroks  on  7/20/2014 at 8:49 PM

    Rinshin I cannot believe you are having trouble growing dill in California. I planted a small container of it in my herb garden here in Oregon about 5 years ago and now it comes up like a weed all through the herb garden. It just reseeds itself and comes back year after year. I grow my herbs in a large raised planter in full sun and rich well-watered soil.

  • tsusan  on  7/22/2014 at 9:46 AM

    robinorig and hillsboroks, just jumping in on the herb growing discussion - I'm in MA, and I have more trouble with dill than cilantro, but almost always when my herb seeds don't germinate it's because the soil's drying out during the germination period. If you're planting it in full sun and the top layer of soil is drying out (so that the seed is lying in totally dry soil for several hours of the day), it may not sprout. Or if it sprouts, it may dry out so fast the seedling withers immediately. You could try planting it in a shadier spot, or watering religiously for the first couple weeks till you see first the little two-leaf seedlings (pointed ovals), and then the next two true leaves (tiny cilantro-shaped leaves). After that it will be a little hardier. In the beginning, I used to accidentally weed out all my herbs because I didn't know what they looked like as seedlings! Dill and chervil look especially weedy to my eye. And cubangirl, thanks for enlightening me! I guess the "Cuban" recipes I saw with cilantro in them were not authentic. I am a big fan of culantro actually, though I've only had it in Vietnamese food. Think I tried it in a Jamaican or Trinidadian recipe once this summer too.

  • tsusan  on  7/22/2014 at 9:57 AM

    raowriter, I'm interested to hear about your success with cool-climate coriander. Here in New England, our winter temps can go down to -15 to 20 C (around 0 F), and nothing grows for a long time! I've found that coriander/cilantro dies off after a hard frost, but in the spring it will volunteer. It doesn't come back right after thaw, but maybe 4 weeks later when there's still a little frost at night. During the growing season, I try to remember to replant as soon as I start harvesting the previous crop because of the bolting. Sometimes the interval is as short as two-three weeks!

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