Thursday, June 4, 2015

Vegetable Feature: Cilantro

by Sarah Janes Ugoretz

This week we’re excited to feature cilantro, one of the most healthy herbs out there! Beyond its renowned fragrance and its bright, citrusy flavor, cilantro is a powerhouse when it comes to medicinal properties. In Sarma Melngailis’s cookbook, Living Raw Food, she cites some of cilantro’s unique nutritional properties including one of its most unique features in supporting chelation. This process refers to cilantro’s ability-as a “substance that has a great molecular surface area and a negative ionic charge”-to essentially remove various toxins, heavy metals, molds, yeast, and fungi from our bodies.  This is an especially important property for those of us who reside in urban areas and are exposed to a number of airborne pollutants on a regular basis. Beyond its work as a chelator, cilantro is also an excellent source of zinc, thiamin, dietary fiber, and vitamins A, C, E, and K--just to name a few.
Thought to have originated in Greece, cilantro’s culinary history spans millennia. According to Lynda Balslev, writing for a 2010 National Public Radio article, coriander seeds were found in 8,000 year old caves in Israel, are referred to in the Bible and in ancient Sanskrit texts, and were even sprinkled across the floor of King Tut’s tomb. It wasn’t until the 1600s that these seeds made their way to the Americas, but today, cilantro is widely used throughout the American Southwest, Latin America, and the Caribbean, as well as in parts of Asia and the Middle East. Here in the Midwest, you’re most likely to encounter cilantro in salsas or guacamole, but it is also an excellent addition to shakes, salads, and-as you’ll see in the accompanying recipe-in soups.
Outside of the U.S. and Mexico, cilantro often goes by other names--primarily, coriander, pak chi, or Chinese celery. Unlike most of Europe where the entire plant is referred to as coriander, in the U.S. we identify the seeds as coriander and the leafy part of the plant as cilantro. Though they come from the same plant, coriander seeds and cilantro have entirely different flavor profiles.
For storage purposes, cilantro keeps best if kept upright in a jar with water. Cover with a plastic bag and place the jar in the refrigerator. Keep in mind that you can use not only the leaves, but the stems as well since they are thin and tender enough to blend right in with any dish!

Spring Shiitake & Cilantro Soup
by Andrea Yoder
Serves 4-6

2 Tbsp Sunflower oil
⅔ cup green garlic, greens & bulb chopped finely
3-4 green onions, greens and bulb separated
1 Tbsp minced ginger
6 oz fresh shiitake mushrooms, sliced thinly (approx. 2 to 2 ½ cups)
1 ½ tsp salt
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Freshly ground white pepper, to taste (optional)
⅛ tsp crushed red pepper (optional)
4 cups chicken or vegetable stock
2 tsp soy sauce
2 tsp mirin or rice wine vinegar
⅔ cup asparagus, cut into ½-inch pieces
4 baby white turnips, tops removed, chopped finely
½ cup chopped cilantro
Toasted sesame or peanut oil, to taste

  1. Heat the sunflower oil in medium sauce pot over medium heat.  Finely chop the bulb or lower portion of the green onion.  Thinly slice the green onion tops and set aside to garnish the soup at the end.  When the oil is warm, add the finely chopped onion and the green garlic.  Sauté for 1-2 minutes and then add the ginger and shiitake mushrooms.  Sauté for 2-3 more minutes or until the mushrooms start to soften.
  2. Add the salt and season with black and white pepper and crushed red pepper if desired.  Add the chicken or vegetable stock, cover and return the soup to a simmer.  Simmer for 8-10 minutes.
  3. Remove the cover and add the soy sauce, mirin and asparagus.  Simmer for another 2-3 minutes.  Remove from heat and stir in the finely chopped turnip, cilantro and green onion tops.
  4. Adjust the seasoning to your liking with additional salt and pepper if needed. 
  5. Portion the soup into bowls and garnish with a drizzle of sesame or peanut oil.

Cocount Rice with Lemongrass & Cilantro
Recipe borrowed from Lorna Sass’ book, Lorna Sass’ Complete Vegetarian Kitchen
2 ½ cups water
1 stalk fresh lemongrass, cut into 1-inch pieces, or 2 tsp dried lemongrass, placed in a tea ball or tea bag
1 cup long-grain or basmati brown rice
½ cup unsweetened, grated coconut
¾ tsp salt
⅛ to ¼ tsp crushed red pepper flaces
¼ cup chopped cilantro
  1. In a heavy 2-quart saucepan, bring the water and lemongrass to a boil.  Add the rice, coconut, salt, and red pepper flakes.  Return to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer, covered, until almost all of the liquid has been absorbed, about 45 minutes.  Turn off the heat and let stand, covered, until all of the liquid has been absorbed, about 10 minutes.  
  2. Remove the tea ball or pieces of lemongrass.  Stir in the cilantro as you fluff up the rice with a fork. 

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