Cilantro: From Seedling to Salsa
(Editor's Note: This article was originally published on January 26, 2008.)
Cilantro will grow well in almost any soil as long as it gets plenty of sun and regular water. It can be grown in containers or in the ground, but doesn't transplant well, so be sure to plant it where you plan to grow it. If you are growing cilantro from nursery plants rather than starting from seed, try to find plants in peat pots that can be directly planted so that the taproot isn't disturbed. For container growing you'll want a container at least 12 inches deep to accommodate the taproot. Use compost-enriched potting soil and water regularly but don't let the roots stand in water. As soon as danger of frost has passed, sow seeds 1/4" to 1/2" deep. Germination generally takes 7-10 days at temperatures of 50-85 degrees F. Cilantro rarely encounters issues with disease or insects. You will be able to harvest cilantro 40-50 days after planting. To keep a steady supply, replant about every 2 weeks.
Harvest cilantro when the plant is 4-6" tall, taking the outer leaves first and allowing the smaller leaves close to the stalk to continue to grow. When the plant starts to flower it becomes very bitter. At this point it is no longer good for use as cilantro, but you can let it go and harvest the coriander seeds later in the season.
Cilantro is best used fresh as the dried leaves lose their flavor. To store, wash and blot it dry with a paper towel. Wrap it in another paper towel and place in a plastic bag or container in the refrigerator. It will keep refrigerated for up to a week.
Here's the best part--suggestions for using this delicious herb. One of my favorites is to use cilantro leaves in place of lettuce on sandwiches. Feel free to get carried away piling it on--9 sprigs will add a mere 5 calories, while providing you 27% of the RDA of vitamin A! You can also add fresh cilantro leaves to any tuna or chicken salad recipe to jazz it up a bit. Probably the most popular use for cilantro is in fresh salsa. We make a very simple fresh salsa at our house by chopping up a few tomatoes, part of an onion, a very generous handful of cilantro, a couple teaspoons of crushed garlic, and salt & pepper to taste. My husband likes to divide it into separate bowls and add a few chopped jalapenos or sometimes a habanero pepper to his salsa. You can get really creative and throw in some frozen corn and/or black beans as well. Following is a super-easy recipe (compliments of my mother-in-law) using fresh cilantro--and if you happen to be in that crowd of folks who don't appreciate the fresh burst of flavor cilantro provides, the chicken tortilla soup can be made without it and is still FANTASTIC!
Chicken Tortilla Soup
2 cans chicken broth
2 cans corn (drained)
2 cans diced tomatoes
2 cups cooked chicken
1 jar (8 oz.) picante sauce
3 small cans diced green chilis
1 1/2 cups pinto or black beans (drained)
Combine all ingredients and heat through.
When served in individual bowls, add sour cream, shredded cheese, chopped cilantro, and tortilla chips.
Credits: Michael Lehet--cilantro photo; Pamphile--salsa photo; Patty Ottoson--soup recipe
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