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Diet & Nutrition

Savoring Cilantro

Learn about the health benefits of this unique culinary superstar.

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Mention the word “cilantro” at any social gathering and you’re likely to get one of two responses: a rapturous “Love it!” or an emphatic “Hate it!” Those who love the fresh form of the annual herb Coriandrum sativum rave about its distinct herbaceous quality and unique flavor; those who disparage it will demean its “soapy” aftertaste and overwhelming pungency. There is even a Web site called! But no matter which camp you fall into, it cannot be denied that cilantro boasts definite health benefits.

Did You Know?
It’s easy to grow your own cilantro in the ground or in pots. Cilantro grows best in cool but sunny conditions, and should be shaded during the hottest part of the day.

There are two components to the plant, categorizing it as both herb and spice: the fresh leaves and stem-known variously as cilantro, Chinese parsley, or Mexican parsley-and the dried seeds, known as coriander or coriander seed. Coriander use is recorded as far back as 5000 BC, which makes it one of the oldest known spices. Over the centuries, coriander has been used in folk medicine for a variety of maladies. In Iran, it was employed as a treatment for anxiety and insomnia; in India, it was used as a diuretic; and holistic medicine in several cultures found it useful for curbing flatulence-always a benefit!

Modern medicine has identified a number of beneficial qualities in coriander. Studies have shown it to be helpful in controlling blood sugar, cholesterol, and free radical production. It appears that the volatile oils in cilantro leaves, which are rich in phytonutrients, may have antimicrobial properties as well. And according to some research, it may help detoxify heavy metals from the body.

Impressd with cilantro’s health benefits? Time to get cilantro into your daily diet. Here are a few tips for selecting and storing:

  • Cilantro should be fresh, perky, and bright green, with no wilting.
  • To store, trim the bottoms of the bunch, place in a jar of water, cover with plastic, and refrigerate.
  • For the seed, best to buy it whole and grind as needed-easy to do with a mortar and pestle; or keep a jar of ground spice tightly sealed in a dark place.

There are multitudes of simple ways to incorporate cilantro into your daily diet: sprinkle a little ground coriander on fish before grilling; stir some chopped fresh cilantro into a quick chicken-vegetable soup; make a dip for veggies with nonfat yogurt, chopped spring onions, and cilantro; or make a healthful, delicious meal of the sandwich and salsa recipe on this page.

Eggplant and Chickpea Pita pocket Serves 8

Pair this sandwich with a crunchy green salad for a quick and easy light supper on a warm summer evening.

½ cup olive oil
2 tsp. ground coriander
2 tsp. ground cumin
1 cup chopped onion
1 large eggplant,
cut into 1-inch cubes (4 cups)
1 15-oz. can organic chickpeas, rinsed and drained
½ cup mango chutney
2 Tbs. fresh lemon juice
4 pita breads, cut in half to make 8 pockets

Yellow Tomato Salsa
3 lb. yellow heirloom tomatoes, chopped and drained
¾ cup chopped onion
¾ cup chopped fresh cilantro
½ cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1/3 cup chopped
green onions
1 Tbs. olive oil
2 tsp. white vinegar
2 tsp. fresh lemon juice
2 tsp. fresh lime juice
1 tsp. chopped fresh jalapeño chile

To make Sandwich:

  1. Heat olive oil, coriander, and cumin in large heavy-bottomed saucepan.
  2. Add onion, cook over medium heat about 4 minutes, until just softened, stirring often.
  3. Add eggplant, and continue to cook until eggplant is soft but not soggy.
  4. Remove from heat, stir in chickpeas, chutney, and lemon juice. Allow to cool to room temperature.
  5. Spoon 2/3 cup of the mixture into each pita pocket; top with 2 Tbs. salsa, and serve.

To make Yellow Tomato Salsa:

  1. Combine all ingredients, and add salt and pepper to taste.
  2. Refrigerate for a few hours to let flavors blend before serving.