Every inch of the cilantro plant is edible, but the seeds (aka coriander) and leaves get most of the attention. At the farmers market the other day, I spotted cilantro plants with the roots still attached. I brought a bunch of them home and ate the leaves in tacos that evening.
Cilantro roots are mellower than the leaves and seeds but still have that unmistakable, penetrating flavor. The next day, based on a tip from Kou Moua, my cilantro root source, I prepared a pot of Thai stock. Moua said his mother-in-law makes the best cilantro root soup. In a whimsical lilt, he rattled off a list of familiar ingredients from Southeast Asia.
Cilantro abounds in Thai cuisine. Its strong flavor is often combined with equally assertive ingredients, which make the cilantro’s flavor less glaring.
But not everyone is on board. Many find cilantro to taste soapy or even downright inedible. Julia Child famously boasted of plucking cilantro leaves from her food and unceremoniously tossing them on the floor.
A minority of cilantro haters are truly genetically averse to it, reacting to the aldehyde molecules that give the plant its unique flavor. But most cilantro haters simply haven’t had the proper introduction necessary to acquire a taste for it. A trip to Thailand would probably cure that, but a pot of this magical Thai stock is a more accessible alternative, provided you can get the ingredients. My local store has all of them except cilantro root, but any farmer or gardener who grows cilantro has loads of that.
Like any stock, this one can be a gateway into many dishes. It’s only a few ingredients shy of tom yum, the iconic Thai sour soup that’s often served with prawns. It’s also the base of a chicken-coconut soup called tom kha gai.
The next time you look at a bunch of cilantro, you’ll stare longingly at the spot where the roots should be. But there’s no reason to act helpless. If you plant a crop of cilantro now, you’ll have roots in a month. While you wait, eat some leaves. When it flowers, eat the flowers. When the remaining flowers make seeds, enjoy your coriander. Or let them fall and plant themselves. Once you welcome cilantro into your garden — and your life — it tends to stick around.
This stock contains classic Thai ingredients and can be used in an endless array of sauces, marinades and even as a poaching liquid. It’s also the backbone of many classic Thai soups.
Heat the oil and fry the minced onion on medium heat until it’s translucent (about 10 minutes). Stir in the garlic, lemongrass, galangal, turmeric, lime leaves, ginger and cilantro roots. Add 2 cups of water and turn the heat to high. Cook for 10 minutes with the lid on. Add the rest of the water and bring it to a near boil, then turn the heat to low-medium. Cover and simmer for an hour. Turn the heat off and let the stock cool to room temperature. Strain and store in the fridge for up to a week.
Most restaurants in the United States serve tom yum with seafood like shrimp, fish or mussels. You can also add pork or even go protein-free.
Heat the stock on medium. Add the tomatoes, fish sauce, lemongrass and lime. Check the seasonings and add more lime and fish sauce to taste. It should be plenty sour. Add the protein and any extra veggies you wish and cook until done. Remove the lemongrass and lime leaves if you wish. Garnish and serve.
This soup is typically made with boiled chicken, but I have to say, a rotisserie chicken does a nice job too. It doesn’t have the same chewy texture, but it’s quick and delicious.
Heat the tom yum on medium. Add the chicken, galangal, mushrooms and coconut milk. Simmer for 30 minutes. Season with lime juice and fish sauce to taste. Remove the galangal root slices if you wish. Serve garnished with cilantro leaves.
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