Ingredient Focus: Cilantro

Cilantro

Rarely does a food so definitively separate the lovers from the haters as in the case of cilantro. This herb, which is from the same plant as coriander seeds, is common across cultures, appearing sprinkled on enchiladas, folded into chili, and mixed into Middle Eastern Baba Ghanoush.

To some, cilantro actually tastes like soap. If that's what the herb tastes like, then maybe there's no sense in eating it. However, if you do like this vegetal ingredient, there are myriad benefits within its green leaves.

The essential oils in cilantro help the production of digestive enzymes, acids and juices, which in turn helps to stimulate digestion. A great source of iron and magnesium, cilantro helps remove toxins from the body.

Preparing cilantro to use in your cooking is easy. Just be sure to wash the leaves under water to remove all possible dirt and grime. Using the leaves as well as the stems will intensify the flavor. To prepare cilantro for your recipes, bunch the leaves together and cut uniformly in one direction using a chef's knife.

Many recipes call for cilantro in small doses, which means you have a lot leftover in your refrigerator. Plan ahead so that you're able to make the best use of it. Maximize cilantro flavor in a cilantro pesto, or fold a handful into scrambled eggs. The possibilities are endless to add flavor to a variety of dishes!

What is your favorite way to use cilantro?

Three Herbs That Are Key To Making Great American Food

Beginning herb gardeners fantasize about Herbes de Provence and Italian cookery. After all, crushing a sprig of basil between your hands immediately transports you to a rustic Italian kitchen. But don't forget that herbs are an essential part of the American culinary canon, too-from a bowl of Texas chili to a New England clam bake, the tastes of American depend on an herbal foundation. These three herbs are key to making great American food.

1. Oregano: When pizza and "red sauce" Italian gained popularity during the 20th century, oregano became a staple in American spice cabinets. The dried stuff lacks pizzazz, so try growing your own. Native to the Mediterranean, oregano requires full sun-try the Greek variety, an especially spicy version.

2. Sage: A key ingredient in many Thanksgiving recipes, sage brings an elusive, woodsy flavor to poultry dishes. Spread on simple roast chicken with butter, sage transforms an ordinary weeknight dish into fine cookery. Another hardy herb, sage just asks for sunlight and the occasional drink during dry summer months.

3. Cilantro: Not usually thought of as an "American" herb per se, cilantro is a critical element in Latin American cooking. Chopped up on top of tacos with a squeeze of lime, cilantro has a distinctive vegetal flavor-you're either a cilantro lover or a cilantro hater. More challenging to grow than many herbs, cilantro fares poorly in hot temperatures. Keep it in the shade for the best results.

When planting your first herb garden, think outside the Mediterranean and plant for American dinners. Try this Little Italy-inspired pasta dish for an American spin on European cooking.

Photo: cookbookman17 on flickr