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Wednesday, November 19, 2008

What To Do With… Cilantro

No other herb evokes a more emotional response than the citrusy, fruity cilantro. Some people loathe it so much that even the smallest bits can ruin a night. Others, however, would give it a hero's welcome by throwing a ticker tape parade. And most definitely, I belong to the latter camp.

Cilantro is also one of those vegetables with many names: coriander, Chinese parsley, or Mexican parsley. In fact, at the grocery store today, when the cashier inspected the bagged leaves, it prompted me to say, “It’s cilantro.” I caught tiniest huff under her breath when she replied, “Actually, it’s coriander.”

Either way, it's delicious.

Most recipes call for only the smallest snippets of cilantro, but it’s sold in these glorious bouquets. After it has served its original purpose and is only but a delicious memory, the remaining leaves wilt away in my crisper forgotten. Perhaps its human nature to forget about herbs after they have served their initial purpose. But is that any way to treat such a loyal, easy going friend? It seems like a downright shame especially when it is so easily paired with seafood, Mexican cuisine and citrus.

1. Cilantro pesto: This is truly a summertime delight when cilantro is bushy and brimming out its spot in the garden. I always have pine nuts and extra virgin olive oil on hand, so this is easy to whiz up in the food processor and put into tiny freezer bags for a later date. When I want to use it, I just defrost, shave parmesan on top and toss with hot pasta.

2. Cilantro vinaigrette: Another quick use for bits of cilantro (stems and all) is to throw it into a dressing. Whiz a handful of cilantro, with 1 part lemon juice, 2 parts olive oil, salt and pepper to taste. Pour over a fresh salad or over boiled new pototatoes.

3. Lime Cilantro Compound Butter: Mix 1 stick of room temperature butter with a handful of cilantro finely minced (no stems), a squeeze of lime juice and the zest of one lime. Mix until fully incorporated. Pack into a ramekin or turn mixture out onto parchment paper and roll into a thick log (about 1 1/2” log.) Return to the fridge until solid. Add a pat to a grilled steak or hot steamy brown rice. Store the rest in the freezer until needed.

4. Fresh salsa: Slice and seed 4 roma tomatoes, dice into smallish squares. Add a 1/4c of finely diced red onion, 1 tsp of cumin, 1 half jalapeno, seeded and diced finely and about 1/2c chopped cilantro, and juice from 1 lime. Grind salt and pepper to taste.

5. Tabouleh Salad: Substitute part or all of the parsley of a tabouleh salad with cilantro for a different and fresh note.

6. Cilantro rice: Cook 1 cup of rice as per instructions. Toss hot rice with 1 cup of chopped cilantro (leaves and stems) and juice of one lime. (I have done the same with vermicelli rice noodles as well, and it’s so good.)

7. Cold Avocado Soup: This recipe was a great use for leftover buttermilk and a ripe avocado and it goes the same for cilantro.

8. Tuna fish sandwich: Mix 1 can of drained tuna (I like to plurge at times and buy the Italian tuna), with 2 tablespoons of mayonnaise (or drained yoghurt), add ¼ c of chopped cilantro leaves, 1/8 tsp of cumin, and salt and pepper to taste.

9. Add to salad: Consider tossing in a handful of roughly chopped cilantro to your next salad. It adds another dimension in flavour to salads and you can use less dressing with this flavour boost.

10. As a garnish extraordinaire: when there is fresh cilantro in the fridge, a great way to get use out of it is to add it as a garnish: guacamole, Vietnamese pho, vermicelli rice bowls, stir frys, and curries.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Drunken Green Beans and My Weeknight Dinner Prep

Every weeknight on my way home from work, all I want to do is eat dinner and relax. I don't flick off my Louboutins, shake myself a vodka martini and politely nibble on pate and crackers while my husband regales me with tales from his day. No, that is not my life. I don't own Louboutins, except in my dreams, and I can't pour myself a vodka martini on a weeknight if I want to stay awake past 9pm. No, when I walk through the door, I am usually tired and very hungry. I just want to eat. Admittedly, a lot has to happen from that moment and when I sit down with my husband for dinner. I want something that's not fussy but at the same time, I also want us to eat something healthy. So how do I get dinner on the table quickly without popping something pre-made and processed into the microwave? With a little effort, a tad bit of planning, and a little team work.

Guiding Principle for Weeknight Dinner:
Keep it simple, there is no need to impress. But be organized, and have a well stocked pantry. A stop to the grocery store on the way home is not a detour I like to make after a long day at work.

The Plan:
My husband and I have a quick conversation in the morning about what we are going to have for dinner. If we're having meat, we take it out of the freezer and set it in the refrigerator to defrost before we head out the door in the morning.

In the evening, the first person who returns home first gets dinner started.
The first thing we get on the go is our starch which is usually rice. (This is partially because I grew up eating rice everyday and for practical reasons as it requires very little prep before cooking and it's low maintenance.) We have finally transitioned to brown rice and that takes a little while to cook. So we get that going before we start anything else.

We also try to plan out a couple veggie side dishes while we do our weekly shopping so that we don’t have to struggle on weekend nights with what to eat. This recipe is a great example of something we were able to throw together quickly based on what we had in the fridge. Although it's fast, it boasts great flavour.

The Pre-Work:
If you want to do a little weekend prep to facilitate weeknight meals, toast the almonds and wash and prep your vegetables when you're cooking on the weekend. Store in a sealable container. This is an unbelievable time saver.

Green Beans in White Wine with Toasted Almonds

Serves four

1 lb green beans, trimmed and washed
2 garlic cloves minced
1 tbsp butter
1/2 c white wine*
pinch of red pepper flakes
salt to taste

toasted almond flakes

1. Heat large saucepan over medium high. Add butter, garlic, and red pepper flakes.
2. Add green beans and coat in the melted butter.
3. Saute until the green beans turn bright green. When the butter seems absorbed and the pan looks dry, add the white wine to de-glaze. Simmer and allow white wine to reduce.
4. Remove off of heat and place and garnish with almond flakes.

*not recommending you open a bottle of wine for this. This is strictly a way to get rid of leftovers. If you don’t have an open bottle of wine, you can use vermouth, chicken broth, or water. (If you’re using water, add a squeeze of lemon j for a bit of tang, and throw in some lemon zest if you're so inclined.) And don’t worry about the alcohol, if you’re simmering it down, the alcohol burns off and flavour is all that remains.
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