Saturday, March 6, 2010

The Enchantment of Cilantro

I lived in Anchorage, Alaska for a year and a half many years ago. The time was an adventure and truly something one should do in their 20's.  But as a foodie even then, I was a tad bereft.  At the time, there was not much good food to be had. Restaurant fare was generic, and raw ingredients, especially produce, were more than a challenge.  I do remember paying over $10 for a honeydew melon that I simply HAD to have.  The check-out clerk stopped with her hand on the melon after weighing it and seeing the price. "You sure?" she said. I was.

For some reason, I developed a craving for cilantro and there was none to be found.  I scoured the Mexican  and Asian grocery stores and occasionally found a sad, shriveled, muddy little bunch.  But not often.  Then miracle of miracles, I finally I found a Mexican dive - a hole in the wall, with the best mole I've ever had (even today) and a generous hand with the cilantro.

I grabbed my then boyfriend now husband and dragged him to this little place, gushing about the fantastic food, and wonderful mole.  We went on a very rainy, dreary night, good sport that he was.  This night, THIS night, the owner had taken the night off and had put the restaurant and the kitchen in the hands of 2 kids that I'm sure he just grabbed off the street.  The kids looked slightly hysterical with fear as the place got busy.  They had absoluteley no idea what they were doing.  No table got bussed, I can't remember how long it took to get served. And the food was a dim echo of what it should have been.  We finished, left, and quietly went out for a margarita somewhere else.  I was embarrassed and angry, and my sweet man never said a thing.

My friend Patricia Jinich a master Mexican cook and teacher does a lot of wonderful things with cilantro in her blog as does Monica Bhide in her blog on Indian food and spices  You will find many wonderful recipes using cilantro. I bow to these pros.  I just want to give you one of my favorites here.

Salsa Verde/Chimichurri
This is one of my very favorite condiments and once I've made a batch, slather it on anything that makes sense.  It's superb on a thinly sliced flank or skirt steak, wonderful on top of a vegetable frittata, and a spoonfull stirred into a bean soup is bliss.  As usual with my recipes, they aren't really recipes at all but suggestions - quantities will vary according to your taste.

Wash carefully parsley and cilantro in equal parts.  Chop to equal about 1/2 cup of each.  Add a clove of peeled garlic, and Tbsp or so of drained capers and 1/2 tsp of Kosher or course salt.  Continue chopping or transfer to a mortar if you have one, and smash to a rough paste with the pestle.  I have added anchovies in the past, but as much as I love them, I think it confuses the green flavor of the salsa.  Add enough good olive oil to make a thick sauce and taste for saltiness.  You may want to add a splash of vinegar to brighten it up. But the main flavor is an intense GREEN.  Lovely.


  1. Elyse, what a lovely post and photos!!! Made me laugh so hard about your special night out when the owner happened not to be there, oh... the ironies of life... Many thanks for your reference to my blog and cooking. I am deeply flattered. And I deeply agree on your beautiful and clear description of Chimichurri as: Green.Beatiful!

  2. Thanks for the mention! What a fun post