Last Chance Foods: A Summer Herb to Love and to Hate

Friday, August 12, 2011

Cilantro, which also goes by the name of coriander, is an easily grown herb that can be added to many summer dishes. Chef Vikas Khanna, the chef at Junoon, says the herb is so essential to South Asian cooking that fruit and vegetable vendors in the Indian region of Punjab where he grew up give out free cilantro, along with chilies, with purchased vegetables.

"It's indispensable, that's why they almost give it free," he said.

The herb does have a pungent taste, though, one that not everyone is a fan of. Chef Julia Child once famously told Larry King that she hated the herb for its “dead” flavor and that she’d throw it on the ground if she came across it in a dish. Well-known groups such as I Hate Cilantro abhor the herb, and The New York Times even examined the cause behind the love-hate relationship people have with cilantro.

Khanna, whose cookbook Flavors First is out this month, notes that he once hosted an event at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia for children with impaired vision. One child hated cilantro, claiming it tasted like soap, while another detected a faint lemony tang. Vikas Khanna

Generally, it's the fresh version of the herb that draws the most vehement responses. One way to distinguish cilantro from the very similar-looking Italian flat-leaf parsley is to rub a leaf between your fingers. Cilantro smells potent, whereas parsley gives off little scent. Khanna says to be careful, though: he’s been caught manhandling herbs by more than one grocer.

Cilantro, or coriander, seeds and powder are less potent forms of the herb that are commonly used in South Asian cuisine. Khanna says that the seeds are a necessary ingredient for garam masala, a spice blend that forms much of the foundation of Indian cooking. He notes that he'll often lightly fry or dry roast seeds and other whole spices (rather than coriander powder) to form the base of many of his dishes.

"I generally roast seeds," he said. "It's safer. Powders could be burned very easily and every time you burn a spice powder, it turns very bitter and it changes the color of the sauce, too."

During the hot summer months, though, fresh cilantro is a handy go-to herb for dishes that don’t require heat. In addition to being used in salsa, gaucamole and salads, it can also be used in drinks. Khanna notes a popular beverage in India uses cilantro, and it’s stored in earthen jars to keep it cool.

Below, try Khanna’s recipe for an easy, cool cilantro chutney — which doesn’t even require turning on the stove.

Cilantro Chutney

(Hare Dhaniya ki Chutney)
By Chef Vikas Khanna,
Flavors First (Aug. 15, 2011; Lake Isle Press)

Yield: Makes about 2 cups


  • 1 large bunch cilantro, well washed and roughly chopped (about 2 ounces)
  • 6 scallions, coarsely chopped
  • 2 hot green chile peppers (such as Serrano or Thai), roughly chopped
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 2 tablespoons peeled, chopped fresh ginger
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

Method: Place all ingredients except the olive oil in a blender. Blend at medium speed, slowly drizzling in the olive oil, until smooth. Store, refrigerated, in an airtight container for up to 3 days.


Vikas Khanna

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Comments [5]

shatsby from Louisville, KY

I'm tired of hearing from the cilantro haters. So much press lately for people with lousy palates.

Aug. 14 2011 11:26 AM
Margarita from Brooklyn

I don't care what parts of the plant is used or what you call it! Coriander, cilantro, etc., I HATE this disgusting little herb. I can eat everything, am a true omnivore but this herb makes me gag if I merely smell it, never mind what happens if I taste it. I don't get the comparison to soap at all though, if it really tasted like soap, I'd probably enjoy it. It tastes worse, much worse, have never tasted anything more awful to compare it to.

Aug. 14 2011 09:34 AM

coriander is the seed,cilantro is the leafy plant. so the answer, to whether or not they are the same,is yes and no.

Aug. 13 2011 01:10 PM

it's a supporting player,not a solo act. you've got to know how to combine it,for gods sake! it's delicious,and nutritious.

Aug. 13 2011 01:06 PM
Doirothy from Manhattan

She didn't know that cilantro and coriander were the same thing? Really? Somebody who writes a food blog? That's uh-may-zing!

Aug. 12 2011 08:07 PM

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About Last Chance Foods

Last Chance Foods covers produce that’s about to go out of season, gives you a heads up on what’s still available at the farmers market and tells you how to keep it fresh through the winter.


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