ever in my wildest childhood dreams, did I ever think I would be writing for a food magazine. I was unapologetically, a picky eater. I would pick onions out of my mom’s homemade soup and turn my head at anything green. But kids will be kids, and it’s not uncommon to hear a kid recite their meal order with specifications, “I’ll have a cheeseburger with no pickles, no onions, no ketchup, no mustard.” With every picky eater comes exceptions. My exceptions always revolved around salsas and garnishes that involved herbs.
It never occurred to me that everyone does not love cilantro. In fact, not all people can tolerate the aromatic citrus taste due to a gene that makes them sensitive to the aldehydes organic compounds responsible for the odor characteristic. Eaten whole, cilantro can taste soapy which is understandable as to why someone would not want that in their food. But like most herbs, you cannot just munch on them like celery. You need to think of cilantro as a helper rather than putting the spotlight on it (at least for your first attempt at cooking with it).
The versatility of cilantro comes from its Earth-green color and delicate texture that does not come off as aggressive to picky eaters. It can be eaten whole, dried, crushed or chopped. It can be a decorative garnish, puréed and mixed.
Every household has their signature smell, just as much as they have their signature dish or ingredient. There are even smells that you can’t quite pinpoint where you know it from or what it reminds you of, but it feels familiar. The smell that takes you home, right in the kitchen where your tummy is warm with the heat of the sizzling pan.
Picking Out the Essentials
When it comes to tacos, my rules and meal order recitals were left behind on a dusty bookshelf. I would enjoy three carne asada tacos as they arrived. At your local taco shacks, they came with your choice of meat and sprinkled with chopped onions and fresh cilantro leaves. The green leaves were like a lucky clover pot of gold to me. Tacos and cilantro go together like peanut butter and jelly.
My love for tacos inspired the idea that they were the symbol of my cultural background and family name. I dug deeper into what about the tacos caused me to brush off my stubborn refusal to eat unfamiliar looking ingredients. I thought that perhaps, it was because of my family favorite Guatemalan-style salsa Chirmol. It did not occur to me that the smell that brings me comfort was cilantro. It reminds me that my heritage doesn’t just stop at rice and beef, but they add herbs and spices that don’t require a big deal of effort to make the feast memorable.
A Universal Herb
It is considered a universal herb because of its feasible usage and adaptability. Its versatility is the reason why most cultures use it in their cuisine, and you can’t argue with its importance and practicality when it is available year-round, and you can find it in most grocery stores. The bitter yet citrusy sting it vibrated on my tongue was the gateway to my growing tolerance and love for food. It created a spicy spark in me that reminded me that herbs are the cherry on top of a homey dish.
Here are Recipes My Family Enjoys and Would Love to Pass Along to the World
- One bunch cilantro, rough chopped
- One serrano chiles (charred in a pan)
- Two garlic cloves
- Olive oil
Gently pulse the cilantro, garlic, and chili in blender or processor. Slowly add oil until you reach a paste-like consistency.
- Plum/Roma Tomatoes
- White Onion, Fine Chopped
- Cilantro, Rough Chopped
First, grill tomatoes on a grill until charred all over. Let cool in a bowl to reserve juices. Next, mash the tomatoes until they become chunky and look like a saucy texture. Season with salt, pepper, and freshly squeezed lime juice. Stir in onions and cilantro. Garnish with cilantro leaves.
Cilantro Gin & Tonic
- Cilantro leaves
- Persian/hothouse cucumbers, sliced
- fresh lime juice
- Tonic water
First, muddle together cilantro, cucumber and lime juice. Next, add desired Gin and Tonic water ratio. Garnish with cilantro leaves.