I am a firm believer in “right place, right plant,” but there is also “right time,” which is especially true with edibles. Here in Virginia, Memorial Day Weekend brings down the curtain on Act 1, cool season herbs and vegetables. As the sunny days approach 80 degrees, the cilantro leaves the scene and the tomatoes enter stage right.
I love cilantro and I plant it every spring even though I am the only one in my family who likes it. It is a love it or leave it herb but it is used extensively in Asian, Mexican, Indian, African, Latin American, and Middle Eastern cuisines.
Cilantro, Coriandrum sativum, is a member of the carrot family. Because of its tap root, it is best to sow seeds directly in the garden bed or in a container in late March/early April. Often called Chinese parsley, the leaves do look like parsley but if you rub them you will smell a somewhat citrusy/woodsy scent. Cilantro is a cool weather annual; it will “bolt” or flower as the days get hotter, often in May or June. Mine are in morning sun and afternoon shade which tends to cool them down and delay bolting. I noticed a patch of blooming cilantro at Green Springs Gardens in Alexandria a few weeks ago. The plant sits in full sun in their vegetable garden, topped with tiny white flowers. It’s not bad that it is flowering because the flowers attract beneficial insects and the result are coriander seeds but the flowering causes the leaves to become bitter so they are no longer useful in the kitchen.
I like to harvest the leaves on a regular basis from April through June for fried rice pad thai, stir fry chicken, salsa, Mexican dishes, and any type of fish or shrimp. The trick is that you have to either add the leaves toward the end of cooking because they cannot take a lot of heat or use the leaves raw. Always use fresh cilantro leaves, don’t dry the leaves.
Last year, I made a point of letting some plants go to seed so I can start to use the seeds in cooking and baking. I simply put the head of tan seeds into a paper bag and let them sit for a few weeks. I then pulled the seeds off the stems and stored them in a glass jar. My first experiment with coriander will be to make cookies. If you have any other ideas/recipes for coriander or cilantro, please send them to me, I am always collecting recipes for herbs.
2 cups flour
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons ground coriander seeds
3/4 cup soft butter
1 egg beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon milk
Mix first 3 ingredients, stir in butter. Mix next 3 ingredients and add to first bowl, roll into 2 inch balls and place on cookie sheet, flatten with a fork. Bake at 400 F for 6-8 minutes, don’t overcook.