Cilantro could very well be the world’s most polarizing herb. Those who vehemently hate it may have the aversion coded in their genes, while others happily add it to everything from salsas to soups. But maybe there’s a middle ground to be found in the cilantro wars. Perhaps cilantro’s cousin culantro is the herb diplomat to please both parties.
Culantro, with its long, narrow, slightly serrated leaves, is popularly used in Latin and Caribbean cuisine. “Culantro has kind of the base flavor of cilantro but it’s much earthier,” journalist and food writer Von Diaz explained. “It’s much more tame. It almost tastes like a hybrid of cilantro and parsley."
She described culantro as the cornerstone herb of Puerto Rican food. “We use it extensively in making what’s called ‘racaito,’ which is a component of sofrito, which I’m sure a lot of people have heard of,” Diaz said. “It’s basically a spice paste blend that’s garlic, onions, culantro, and peppers, which you then turn into a paste. You cook it down and it becomes really the base of whatever dish you’re making.”
Culantro, which can be grown in containers, has the added benefit of holding up better than cilantro in longer cooking methods. Diaz recommends adding a few leaves to beans and stewed meats, for instance. “It goes really well with things that you can cook for a while,” she said.
Diaz also offered a recipe for culantro pesto, which can be used to season chicken salad. Both recipes are below.
Any cilantrophobes out there who can report back on their reaction to culantro? Tell us your take on whether culantro is an acceptable substitute.
by Von Diaz
- 1 cup culantro leaves, stems removed (packed)
- 2 T pine nuts
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1/3 cup grated parmesan and/or pecorino romano
- 2 T olive oil
- salt and pepper
Grind garlic, salt, and pine nuts in a food processor. Add olive oil and culantro, and process until smooth. Add cheese and pulse to incorporate.
Chicken Salad with Culantro Pesto
by Von Diaz
- 4 cups poached chicken (2 large breasts)
- 4-6 cups chicken broth or water
- 2-4 T mayonnaise
- Juice from 1 small lime
- Salt and pepper
- 6-8 T culantro pesto
Put chicken breasts in a saucepan and cover with broth or water. Bring pot to a boil, then remove from the burner. Cover and let sit for 17 minutes. Remove from liquid and let cool, then shred with two forks or by hand.
Mix in mayonnaise, lime juice, and culantro pesto. Add salt and pepper to taste.