Cilantro is often classified as a savory herb though it actually belongs to the carrot family, being the leaves of the coriander plant. Cilantro, or Chinese parsley, is fragrant and pungent with a fresh, distinctive flavor similar to parsley but with a sweet zing. The flavor of cilantro is strong, so a little goes a long way in cooking, especially when using fresh cilantro. Cilantro is not pleasing to all taste buds, but certain foods pair especially well with this versatile ingredient.
Cilantro is frequently used in Spanish, Southwestern and Caribbean meat dishes as a seasoning or in marinades for chicken, pork and steak. Mix a pinch of dried cilantro with dried oregano, basil and parsley to turn up the volume on grilled steak or roasted chicken. Or, finely chop 2 tbsp. of fresh cilantro and add 1/4 tsp. lemon zest, ginger and minced garlic to 1/2 cup olive oil for a simple, but flavorful, marinade for grilled meats.
Vegetables and Salads
Cilantro makes a delectable addition to vegetable salads and dressings. Its most frequent use in this food category is in fresh Mexican salsa, but 1 tbsp. of finely chopped, fresh cilantro adds wonderful flavor to corn or cucumber salads. A simple cilantro-lime dressing also gives Cesar and mixed green salads a refreshing, island-inspired taste. Since cilantro has such a powerful flavor profile, it works best with light, mild vegetables such as yellow squash, beets and tomatoes.
Soups and Stews
Give chicken tortilla soup that signature Southwest flavor by adding 1 tsp. fresh, chopped cilantro per serving. Cilantro and pumpkin make an unusual, but sweet and savory, flavor combination. Add fresh cilantro to a pumpkin-based stew for a delicious fall meal with a warm, yet bright, flavor profile. Adding 1 tbsp. of dried cilantro to chicken soup gently enhances the taste of the other ingredients while bringing a pleasant, distinctive quality to this classic dish.
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Fruits and Beverages
Cilantro brings a refreshing taste to lots of good-for-you shakes and beverages. Combine one bunch of fresh cilantro with one cucumber, a juiced lime, a 1/4-inch piece of fresh ginger and five or six pineapple chunks in a blender with 1/4 cup of ice for a crisp, citrusy health shake that promotes healthy digestion. Try muddling cilantro instead of mint in your next mojito cocktail for an uplifting twist on this popular alcoholic beverage. Cilantro also adds mouth-watering flavor to banana shakes, orange sorbets and fresh grapefruit cocktail.
Debra Pachucki has been writing in the journalistic, scholastic and educational sectors since 2003. Pachucki holds a Bachelor's degree in education and currently teaches in New Jersey. She has worked professionally with children of all ages and is pursuing a second Masters degree in education from Monmouth University.