NEWS for North Dakotans
Agriculture Communication, North Dakota State University
7 Morrill Hall, Fargo, ND 58105-5665

August 26, 1999

Prairie Fare: Cilantro Makes My Work Easy

My wife Nicki recently returned from our garden bearing yet another bunch of fresh cilantro, an herb also known as Chinese parsley. My role, one complementary to Nicki's gathering, is devising various ways to eat this fresh-picked bounty. Mine is not exactly a difficult job.

The impression cilantro imparts to the senses is unmistakable. Fresh cilantro is wonderfully aromatic; its flavor is distinct but not overpowering, a palate-pleasing nuance to tame the robustness of garlic. The first time I experienced cilantro was in a very basic Spanish rice, and since that encounter, cilantro has become an essential ingredient in our garden-fresh salsas, both green and red. But make no mistake: cilantro is a multicultural ingredient.

My egg salad now contains chopped fresh cilantro, along with some ground cumin substituting for dry mustard, some grated Colby cheese, and scant amounts of sour cream and mayonnaise blended together for the dressing.

Cilantro is equally at home in dips and sauces, hot or cold, as well as in marinades. Likewise, cilantro enhances many baked vegetable dishes and salads--especially any that include corn.

Fresh lime juice is a worthy partner for cilantro too. The following recipe is a melange of several I've found recently, all of which featured the combination of cilantro, lime juice and seafood.

Grilled Shrimp Salad

Yield: 8 servings

8 tablespoons lime juice, divided
8 tablespoons rice vinegar, divided
9 tablespoons peanut oil, divided
24 large shrimp (about 1 pounds), peeled and deveined
2 tablespoons sugar
6 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
3 green onions, finely chopped
2 8-ounce cans sliced water chestnuts, drained and rinsed
cup chopped red onion
6 cups shredded iceberg lettuce (about 1 head)
2 cups chopped bok choy
cilantro sprigs (optional)

In a bowl large enough to hold the shrimp, mix together 4 tablespoons each of the lime juice and rice vinegar and 1 tablespoon of the peanut oil. Add shrimp, toss to coat and refrigerate, but continue to turn the shrimp in the marinade frequently. Meanwhile, prepare the salad dressing by combining the remaining lime juice, vinegar and oil with sugar, cilantro, red pepper and green onions. Ready the charcoals or the gas grill. Remove shrimp from marinade (discard marinade), thread on metal skewers and grill on an oiled rack set 5 to 6 inches over heat source until cooked through, about three minutes per side. While shrimp cooks, toss together in a bowl the water chestnuts, red onion, lettuce and bok choy. Remove shrimp from grill and slide the pieces off the skewers onto a plate. Set aside. Drizzle salad dressing over vegetable mixture, toss again, and divide among eight salad plates. Arrange shrimp on top of vegetables--three shrimp per plate. Garnish with cilantro sprigs, if desired, and serve immediately. Crispy cream cheese-filled wontons make nice accompaniments.

What's Your Take on This, Julie?

While the research is still being gathered regarding the safety and effectiveness of herbal supplements for medicinal purposes, herbs are certainly worthwhile additions to food. Herbs add flavor without sodium, so they can help people on sodium-restricted diets cut sodium without resorting to a bland diet.

If you've never ventured into the world of cooking with herbs, a few suggestions will help make your first trip a tasty one. Since dried herbs are much more potent than fresh, use only one-third as much dried as fresh. Also, add herbs during the last 15 minutes of cooking to avoid flavor loss. Most of the oils responsible for herb flavors are released at cooking temperatures from 80 F to 110 F.

To bring out the best herb flavor, try rubbing the leaves between your clean hands or soaking them in a liquid to be used in your recipe. Store dried herbs in a cool, dark place in airtight containers. For best quality, use dried herbs within a year.

If you like herb-flavored oils and are thinking of making your own aromatic oils, remember that herbs can contain spores that can grow in the air-free environment of oil and produce the deadly botulism toxin. Any homemade herb-in-oil product must contain 5 percent vinegar or another acid to keep growth from occurring, plus the mixture should be refrigerated. A safer bet would be to buy a commercial product. The same rules apply for garlic-oil mixtures.

This week's featured herb, cilantro, is typically used in Mexican and Asian recipes. Its seeds are known as coriander. If you have an herb garden, it's best to pick the leaves when they're young because they tend to develop a bitter taste after flowering. It's best to store fresh cilantro upright covered with plastic wrap in a jar of water. Cilantro is a good source of vitamin C as long as you wait to tear the leaves until right before using them.

A serving of Grilled Shrimp Salad (one-eighth of the recipe) contains 285 calories and 17 grams of fat, plus 17 percent of the daily recommendation for iron, 17 percent of the daily recommended vitamin A and 26 percent of the daily recommended vitamin C.

Do yourself a flavor. Add some herbs to your recipes.


Sources: Dean Hulse (701) 231-6136
Julie Garden-Robinson (701) 231-7187


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