Use plain cilantro sprigs to enliven fillings; or chop cilantro leaves with lemon zest to make a south-of the-border sort of gremolata topping; or try our preferred treatment of dressing the sprigs and laying them lettuce-like across a filling near the nipping edge of the taco. Dressed, cilantro is almost like watercress, dandelion, or spinach salad. It adds moisture, pungency, and crispness, and it blends—as the original taco makers of Mexico knew—with almost any filling.
Yield: Makes 2 cups
2 cups cilantro leaves
1 teaspoon cider vinegar or fresh lime juice
1 teaspoon peanut oil
Salt, to taste
Wash and dry the cilantro and place in a bowl. Sprinkle on the vinegar, oil, and salt. Toss to mix well. Serve right away, or cover, refrigerate, and use within 1 day.
Cilantro seems like everyone’s new favorite herb, but it’s no Johnny-come-lately. Cilantro is the leafy side of one of the world’s longest known spices-coriander. For whatever reason, we have always dealt with members of the carrot family-cilantro, parsley, anise, dill, cumin, caraway, and chervil-in a divided manner. Though all have both aromatic leaves and seeds, we have chosen to enjoy one or the other part, and not both. We nibble the root of carrot, but have the grocer guillotine the leaves. We toss parsley leaves into many a pot and dish, but do nothing with the seeds save plant them. Now thanks to the cooks of China. South America, and many Native American groups, we are no longer so narrow. We use both coriander’s seeds and the green leaves, with their marked taste, to make many dishes clearer and more emphatic.
TIP: You can make a similar but milder salad-like topping from parsley. Use the grassy Italian flat-leaf parsley, if you can find it, and dress it the same way.