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Chinese parsley is a leafy green herb also known as coriander or cilantro. It is a popular inclusion in the cuisine of many nations, much to the woe of consumers who loathe it. Like many herbs, Chinese parsley is used both fresh and dried, and it is readily available in most markets, due to its enduring popularity. It can also easily be grown at home in most climates, for cooks who like the convenience of fresh herbs.
The plant is probably native to the Mediterranean, where it was historically used in Greek and Roman cooking. With the exploration of Asia, Chinese parsley quickly spread, and it was embraced by Thai, Indian, and Chinese cooks, among many others. The diffusion of Chinese parsley was so extensive that the plant was actually re-imported back into Europe later, leading some people to associate it with Asia rather than its native Europe, hence “Chinese parsley” as a common name. As the name would suggest, the herb is related to parsley, along with carrots and anise, and all of these flavors can be tasted in fresh Chinese parsley.
When used fresh, the herb is often employed as a garnish. It has a tangy, slightly bitter, anise like taste which complements a wide range of foods. It may also be ground into pestos and sauces for dipping or spreading on various foods. Some cooks also add it to things like sushi and fresh Thai spring rolls. Others cook it down, using the herb as a base for a dish, rather than a garnish, with long slow cooking mellowing the flavor. Dried Chinese parsley is used in much the same way, and many cooks also use the dried seeds, which have a dramatically different flavor profile.
It has often been noted that Coriandrum sativum is an herb with radically split public opinion. People seem to either adore the distinctly piquant taste of Chinese parsley, or they hate it, likening the flavor to soap or rubber. Very few consumers appear to be entirely neutral on the subject of the herb, whether it appears in Mexican guacamole or embedded deep in a Portuguese stew. In fact, an entire online community called “I Hate Cilantro” has arisen.
For those who happen to be fans of cilantro, the herb grows well in USDA zones three and warmer, and it is very easy to cultivate, although it does have a tendency to “bolt,” or put out flowers and seeds too early. It grows best from seeds or cuttings, and is very well suited to container gardening, preferring full sun or part shade in hot climates, and moist, well drained soil. Regularly shearing the plant can help prevent bolting, since it encourages growth of fresh leaves. If cooks have trouble using all the cilantro they harvest through shearing, it can be ground into sauces or pesto and frozen.
Do not throw away the roots as they are fantastic for flavoring dishes. Clean and chop up finely, then fry in oil along with chopped up onions and/or garlic. It's regularly used in Thai dishes as a flavoring base.