Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Puttin' the "mmm" in mojo

We're getting into the summer months now and all those things we missed over the winter are starting to come into season. One of the items I enjoy most during the summer is cilantro. Big, fragrant, bushy bunches of it heaped up sky-high at the farmers market. I love to stand there, close my eyes and just breathe deeply... to me, the smell and taste of fresh cilantro defines summer.

Depending on where you are, and what part of the plant you're talking about, you may see it labeled as cilantro, coriander or Chinese parsley. Generally in North America, the leaves are referred to as cilantro (except here in Quebec where it is 'coriandre') and the seeds as coriander. While the seeds, which are dried and used whole or ground, can be added to a dish during cooking, the leaves, which are used fresh, lose their flavor with heat and should be used in raw dishes or added at the very end of the cooking time or as a garnish.

There seems to be no middle ground when it comes to cilantro. It is the Marmite of the herb world... you either love it or you hate it. While some of us love its fresh scent and distinct flavor, to others it reportedly tastes like soap. The New York Times has an article exploring the drastic reactions people have to the herb.

Myself, I am obviously in the 'pro-cilantro' camp, and will use any excuse to buy the stuff. One drawback to that is that it does not last very long once you get it home. The interwebs are full of tips to keep it longer, and they all seem to contradict one another. Keep it in a glass of water, keep it as dry as possible; snip the stems, keep it intact with the roots, etc. None of these work very well for my tastes, so I use up what I can fresh by making pico de gallo or guacamole, and then put the rest into...

Mojo de Cilantro
(green mojo sauce)
1 large bunch fresh cilantro
4 cloves garlic
2 tbsp vinegar (more or less to taste)
1/2 cup oil (approximate)
pinch of salt and pepper

If the cilantro comes with roots attached, remove them. Wash and rinse the cilantro thoroughly, stems and leaves. I skipped this step once and never again... cilantro is generally grown in sandy soil and even though it may look clean at the store, trust me, clean it again. All it takes is one batch of this stuff with grit in it... *shudder* 'nuff said. Peel the papery skin from the garlic and assemble the rest of the ingredients. You can use a blender, immersion blender or a food processor for this. Put the cilantro, garlic and vinegar in your chosen mode of puree-ification along with a bit of water to help things along. Give it a good whirl to break things up, then with the motor running, slowly drizzle the oil in. Do this until it reaches a consistency you like... you can leave it thick and chunky, or thin it out for better pouring. Drizzle it over your choice of foods: grilled steak (as in the photo above), seafood, poultry, salads, pasta, soft cheese (such as goat cheese), tacos, etc.

This makes a fairly large batch (since a little of this goes a long way), so store the remainder in an air-tight container in the fridge. I use a canning jar with a plastic lid for mine... it's like summer in a jar! :)

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