An Abundance of Cilantro

Before I grew cilantro myself this summer, I never understood why grocery stores sell it in such huge bundles. I mean, does anybody ever get to use the whole bundle before it goes all wilty and some of the leaves go slimy? But once I grew it (and I don’t think I’ll bother again unless I can plant a lot more of it) I understood. When cilantro is harvested, it’s completely hacked off and bundled all together. You’re getting a whole plant. Kind of wasteful, right?

See, cilantro bolts rather quickly, so once it’s reached an edible size, it really doesn’t stay that way for very long. Once it bolts (shoots up a little stalk and flowers) it doesn’t taste as good. Basil does this, too. Some gardeners will pinch back the flowers in an attempt to make the herb keep producing leaves instead of flowers, and I do this sometimes with my basil, but it’s never quite the same.

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Coriandrum_sativum_001.JPG
This cilantro has bolted, and even though it’s huge, you’d find relatively little edible cilantro. Now is when I start thinking of it as coriander.

Once my own cilantro bolted, I let it flower. It’s pretty and you can save the seeds for next time. If the planter is large enough or in a bed, it will reseed itself and you might not have to do anything at all. Last year a friend gave me an extra lemon basil. It went through its life cycle and this year I planted some wildflowers in the same pot, using the soil from the year before. Surprise!– up popped a lemon basil! It was like getting a gift twice! At the time, I marveled at how much that wildflower looked like a basil– until the penny dropped and I realized what must have happened.

Luckily, though, I live in California and can get cilantro any time I want. The ingredients for salsa are available 365/24/7 here because thank God for Watsonville! They are even able to grow strawberries there at ridiculous times. I’m sure I must be terribly spoiled living here, where we can grow nearly anything. In town I do have to be careful of the scorching heat (we can reach over 110 degrees for over a week at a time during the summer), but farmers have better equipment and yield better results, naturally. Anything that would fare well in the Mediterranean or Mexico does well here without a whole lot of fussing.

At any rate– what to do with all that extra cilantro so it isn’t wasted?

We tend to put it in our Engagement Marinara (that’s another post), or chop it up and toss it into a salad. Last night I made butternut squash soup, though… so I made a cilantro pesto! It came out really well, so here it is. It is probably the wheel reinvented, and some Greek or Italian island full of housewives dressed in black has probably been making it for hundreds of years. But it happened spontaneously in my kitchen last night, and I want to eat it all. I’ll never have leftover cilantro ever again!

1/2 a bunch of cilantro, chopped in half, stems and all

1/4 cup olive oil– but don’t dump it all in at once

1 clove of garlic

1/3 can of chickpeas

juice of 1/2 a lemon, to taste

salt and pepper to taste

In a food processor, blend the cilantro, some of the oil, and the garlic. Stir it a little bit, then add the chickpeas, the rest of the oil, the lemon juice, and the salt and pepper. Grind the heck out of it, until it’s pasty but has a little texture left to it. That’s it!

I put a dollop of this in our butternut squash soup (my daughter said it made our bowls of soup look like zombie eyeballs, but I thought it looked pretty…), but I’ve also been sneaking it onto sourdough bread. It would probably be really good stirred into some Greek yoghurt for a chip dip, too. Chopping it up so finely is forgiving to wilty cilantro (though this was fresh), and the oil and lemon will also serve to preserve it for a little longer than it normally would be good in the refrigerator. Problem solved!

Now I’m off to make these breadsticks, because do you know how much they cost at Whole Foods? I only get them to give as presents, that’s how much they cost.

UPDATE: I knew “my” pesto must have been made by a bunch of grandmothers somewhere– I just had no idea it was Yemen! They don’t add chickpeas, but other than that, it’s a match! Yay! I love recipes that have been around for eons. It’s like eating history, one dish at a time!

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