A duo of spices from a single plant
In the first article I talk about coriander. Now I would like to talk about the second spice from the plant, which is actually the plant itself, cilantro. Is cilantro and coriander so different that they need different names? Yes, they really have very few flavor attributes that they share. For centuries both the plant and the seeds were referred to as coriander. This caused much confusion when a lazy chef just wrote add coriander without differentiating between the seeds and the plant. Then a few years back the Mexican cuisine started to come into the National and then the International consciousness. Not surprisingly, since it is a big part of their cuisine, the Spanish speaking chefs used their word for coriander, cilantro. When they used it they most often were referring to the plant. Now it has become quite common to refer to the plant as cilantro and the seeds as coriander. This cleared up so much confusion that I really can’t see us turning back.
Cilantro grows wild in South East Europe and has been cultivated in Egypt, India and China for thousands of years. It is mentioned in Sanskrit text and the Bible. Spanish conquistadors introduced it to Mexico and Peru where it is now commonly paired with chilies in the local cuisine. It has since become very popular in the Southwest and Western part of the United States as well as in most metropolitan areas. An interesting note is that people of European descent frequently are reviled by the smell of cilantro. It has not gained in popularity in Europe as it has in many other parts of the world.
Cilantro has a lively, pungent flavor. It is sometimes referred to as Chinese parsley and is a member of the carrot family. Some perceive it as a blend hinting of flat leaf parsley, juniper berries, mint, and lovage; others find it a mix of orange peel and sage. It is widely used in Asian, Caribbean, and Latin American food. Its distinctive flavor lends itself to highly spiced foods.
If you are out of cilantro you may substitute flat leaf parsley for its shape or a spicy basil for its flavor.