This requires a deep breath to mutter, but sometimes I wish I was a fan of cilantro. I wish I didn’t have to dramatically avoid it. Why wouldn’t I want to a) stop the name-calling and pitying eye rolling from its devotees and b) live as a fan of this vibrant green herb that’s essential to Mexican, Indian, Korean, Thai cuisine and more? Alas, I’m a hater. Yeah, yeah, I can handle it meddled into jarred salsas and curries, I guess, but sprinkle on the fresh stuff and I can’t eat my food. My mouth will not open and I will start gagging if it unknowingly comes remotely close to my nose or mouth.
To clarify: it doesn’t taste like soap, it tastes like shit. I’ll pick it off my food if I must, but I would prefer to pass, or run, in the opposite direction. I can quickly think of two recent “no cilantro, please” examples where, sure enough, my order came with cilantro and I was physically unable to continue with my meal. There’s a certain food cart I’ve taken a leave of absence from. Very recently, I picked sporadic crisps of cilantro off a slice of pizza and it was a tough go. Generous doses of sriracha and hunger helped. My cilantro-loving dinner companions luck out. I clearly didn’t eat much Mexican food (with the non-exception of boring bean, cheese and lettuce tacos from the bell) growing up, because I wasn’t fully aware of this hatred until my move to Portland in 2004 and introduction to West Coast burritos. What’s this new herb I’m trying? – Oh wait, I DESPISE IT.
In my own cooking, I substitute a whole lot of fresh basil - especially Thai basil in Southeast Asian dishes, shiso, mint and oregano leaves. And if I must (more freely in recent years of culinary sanity), dried coriander. I’m not going to put some crazy hope into the growth of my taste buds or building up a tolerance when I’m Thailand later this year or going to make up stories about my evolution as a so-called super-taster – who knows! What I do know is that it is possible to enjoy fresh tacos without the dreaded c herb – you simply need fresh ingredients and a little something special, like mango. Which yeah, would probably be even ‘better’ with cilantro, but that’s (perhaps) you, and not me. Even when, ironically, there is a leftover bundle of said herb in my fridge, courtesy of my dear house guests. Little did my friend know that this plant was my enemy and by bringing it forth into my house, a look of fear would take over my normally smiling face. The things we learned at our reunion!
What I’m saying is, it’s such an ON/OFF switch ingredient, and I wish it was labelled more often. I’m looking at you, cilantro pesto.