How to grow and use cilantro

A gardener and a chef team up with advice on growing and using cilantro, including a Mexican-inspired recipe.

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    Cilantro is an important ingredient in Mexican and Southwestern cuisines, which have become very popular. Cilantro adds a fresh note to the taste of this Chicken and Onion Quesarito.
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Cilantro, for me (Anne Moore, the gardener), has been an acquired taste. Mexican-style dishes containing cilantro were not tops on my list. Then something changed. I tried a dish with fresh cilantro and loved it.

What was the difference? I think in my case, it was the freshness of the cilantro. It has a unique flavor that I now find very pleasing. I even have a new appreciation for the dried leaves.

This plant, Coriandrum sativum, provides double benefits. Its leaves are known as cilantro. Its seeds are coriander.

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You can grow the plant by sowing seed in the early spring in cool soil. Plant them about three-quarters of an inch deep in good garden soil in a sunny spot and keep them watered if spring rains are sparse. Harvest young leaves to use fresh in all kinds of dishes.

Collecting coriander seeds

When the little white flowers have matured into dark seed capsules, shake out the seeds into a mesh colander or paper bag and dry them in a cool, dry area before you package them in paper envelopes. If you live in USDA Zones 8 or higher, or like me, Zone 7 with a sheltered garden spot, you can plant cilantro now for late fall harvest of the leaves.

If you haven’t tried fresh cilantro, you will be surprised at just how good it is. If you are a member of the "cilantrophobia" crowd (cilantro-haters), Chef Linda’s Chicken and Onion Quesarito is the perfect recipe to establish a newfound love of this Mediterranean herb that typifies Southwest cooking.

South of the Border-style cooking for fall

I (Linda Weiss, the chef) was reading this morning that a large part of the population in this country eats Mexican-style or Southwesernt food for lunch every day. I'm one of those people who love the fresh flavors of South of the Border food.

Cilantro for example, is one of the freshest-tasting herbs grown in cooler weather, and jalapeños provide good texture, crunch, and a little bite! And, of course, here in the South we still have a tomato or two hanging around for taste and color. Mix these together to top a chicken and grilled onion quesarito, and you will have good healthy food with a lot of flavor. (A quesarito is between a quesadilla and a burrito.)

Chicken and Onion Quesarito

Olive oil

2 cups sliced onion

Salt and pepper to taste

2 large chicken tenderloins

Seasoning salt

1/2 cup Mexican melting cheese, cut into small cubes

3 tablespoons heavy cream

2 medium-size flour tortillas

2 tablespoons finely chopped jalapeño pepper

2 tablespoons finely diced tomato

3 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro

In a large skillet, place 2 tablespoons olive oil. Add the sliced onions and salt and pepper to taste and cook until onions are slightly browned around the edges and tender. Set aside.

To the same skillet, add 1 tablespoon olive oil, and when hot, add the chicken. Sprinkle the chicken with seasoning salt. Cook until the chicken is tender and cooked through. Remove from heat and cut the chicken into pieces. Set aside and keep warm.

Put the cheese and cream in a small saucepan. Cook over low heat until cheese has melted and blended into the cream. If it gets too hot, or curdles, remove from heat and add a small cube of cold cheese, stir for a few minutes, and this will help it come back together.

Heat the flour tortillas. Place one-half of the cooked chicken and one-half of the onions on each tortilla. Fold over. Pour cheese mixture over the top of each filled tortilla. Sprinkle with jalapeño, tomato, and cilantro. Serves 2.

Editor's Note: To read more of Anne and Linda's "how to grow and prepare" series, click here.

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Linda Weiss and Anne Moore met while Linda was the food editor and Anne was the garden editor for South Carolina Homes & Gardens magazine. They now write articles for the ETV GardenSMART television show website, where Anne is the horticulture editor, gardening consultant, and e-newsletter editor. Anne has written for magazines and newspapers. She is a member of and a recipient of a Silver Award for magazine writing from the Garden Writers Association. Linda is a personal chef. She attended Le Cordon Bleu of Paris’ catering program, has appeared as a guest chef on numerous television shows, has been a culinary educator for 10 years, and a food writer for a number of magazines. She is a professional member of the James Beard Foundation and the Southern Foodways Alliance. She has written a cookbook, "Memories From Home, Cooking with Family and Friends."

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