Cilantro is quite popular in Israel, and all over the Middle East and North Africa. It's part and parcel of Tex-Mex, Thai and Indian traditional cooking as well. But it's one of those things in the food world: You either love those pungent, sage-citrusy-tasting leaves or you hate them. It seems that there's very little middle ground.
Scientists explain that the minority of people who do claim that it tastes uh … soapy … lack a particular enzyme. I do feel sorry for them, because they are definitely missing out on a delicious, versatile product of nature.
There's a culinary quandary involved here, too. Sometimes called Chinese or Mexican parsley, the word "cilantro" technically refers to the plant's flowery green leaves, while "coriander" refers to the plant after it has gone to seed.
Cilantro is sold in Israel's open-air markets by the bunch, as well as in insect-free, specially grown sealed packages. Either way, it's a treat.
Since no one in my family is cilantro-sensitive, it's an indispensable ingredient. We chop it into fresh green salads, stir it into rice, use it as in integral component in hot and/or mild salsa, add it to stuffing and tuna patties — and even to chicken soup.
'Chermoula' Marinade for Chicken or Fish
1 cup lightly packed cilantro leaves
1 cup lightly packed flat-leaf parsley leaves
1 bulb garlic, cloves separated and peeled
1 tsp. salt
juice of 2 lemons
2 Tbsps. oil
1 tsp. sweet paprika
1/4 tsp. hot paprika
1 Tbsp. cumin
Combine all ingredients in a blender or food processor, scraping sides as needed.
Coat chicken pieces or fish with the marinade.
Place in a shallow container with a tight-fitting cover.
Marinate for at least 6 hours or overnight, turning at least once.
Makes 21/2 cups.
3 medium beets
2 Tbsps. olive oil
juice of 1/2 lemon
1/4 cups cilantro leaves, lightly packed
Scrub beets; cut off tops and cut in half.
Cook in boiling water for 30 minutes, or until fork-tender. Drain hot water. Let cool; skins will slip off.
Cut the beets into juliénne strips. Toss with olive oil, lemon juice and cilantro. Chill for at least 6 hours.
North African-Style Sole
1 bunch cilantro
1 bunch flat-leaf parsley
2 lbs. skinless sole, defrosted
6 garlic cloves, minced
2 Tbsps. canola oil
3 and 1/2 oz. tomato paste
juice of one lemon
freshly ground black pepper
Remove stems from cilantro and parsley. Rinse leaves and dry very well. Chop roughly. Rinse sole and dry well with paper towels.
Place garlic and oil in a shallow pan. Arrange fish on top.
Cover with tomato paste diluted with 2 cups of water.
Cook over low heat for a half-hour, checking periodically to see if additional water is needed.
Sprinkle with lemon juice, cilantro and parsley. Cook for an additional 5 minutes.
Season to taste with salt and pepper. Chill and serve cold.
Serves 6 to 8.
Rivka Tal is a food writer based in Jerusalem.