Garden Fresh: Cilantro

Flowers in the garden are beautiful, but not in the herb section. That's the last step before herbs go to seed, and begin to fade.

It's been a good run for cilantro, which grows from the cooler days of October, until the soil temperature reaches 75 degrees. I'll let mine go to seed, and collect the pods for fall.

I didn't always love cilantro - it was an acquired taste. I first tried it as an adult and thought it parsley gone vile. As master food scientist Harold McGee points out, I was in good company, for sound reasons. Cilantro is like Miracle Whip -- if you acquire the taste as a child, you're a fan, but otherwise there's a chance you'll shun it.

The reason for growing cilantro in a garden or pot is the same as for any herb -- it tastes better. Herbs, like people, improve with a little stress, though not too much.

To plant cilantro, like its cousin parsley, I soak the seeds for 24 hours in water, drain and dry them for an hour, then plant several of them together in well-draining soil, ¼ inch deep. The plants grow well in a cluster, and sowing new seeds nearby, every month, keeps a steady supply of cilantro.

The plants like early-morning or late-afternoon sun, but not midday hot sun. I let them dry out occasionally, to give the leaves stress-flavor, and fertilize lightly once or twice.

Taking a cue from Harold McGee, when preparing this simple guacamole, I furiously chop the cilantro and let it rest for 10 minutes, to let the soap-smell chemicals fade.

Cilantro Guacamole

  • Pulp of 1 avocado
  • 1 Tablespoon (after it's chopped) cilantro
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed
  • ½ of a Serrano pepper, finely minced (optional)

Mash it all together, salt and pepper to taste, serve with Tia Rosa Megathin tortilla chips. No onion or tomato this time, and if someone asks, "Where's the lime juice?" the answer is, "In your margarita."

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