Two weeks back, a friend and I were discussing fresh cilantro with the passion of true believers. This was made trickier by the fact we do not share a common language. But we bond over many things including an abiding belief in growing our own food. We’re also champions of cilantro, sometimes called Chinese parsley, sometimes called coriander (cilantro is the green leaves of the herb, coriander the dried seeds).
Call it what you will, its culinary and healing attributes are many. It’s a digestive aid, it’s anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial and it adds a green lilt to dishes of every ethnicity. Your favorite African, Asian, Indian and Mexican dishes all would be lonelier without it. Cilantro is also, my friend insists, easy to grow. So easy, she came over the next day with a ready-to-grow sprig she’d snipped from her garden.
It is prime season for herb-growing around most of the country right now, but in Miami, it is the season for burning up both people and produce. My Obama victory garden is fallow except for the crowder peas I planted as soil-enhancing cover crops and my collard greens, which thrive on abuse.
I effusively thanked my friend for the cilantro then, looking around my sun-parched back yard, asked where to plant it.
She did not understand.
I performed an elaborate Kabuki-esque pantomime. “Where should I plant it?”
“Ah!” she smiled. “Under bush.”
Okay, not so helpful, but very kind of her and here I’d scored some free, gorgeous cilantro I could, with luck, not kill.
I figured her bush reference meant cilantro needs partial shade, so I filled a drainable container with potting soil, made a small hole for the feathery greens and gently set them inside. I gave it water and my best wishes and placed it in the shadiest part of my back yard.
Within three days, the cilantro announced it was unhappy. It drooped. It wilted. Bits browned, crisped then fell off. I tried more sun, less sun, more water, less water. I ran it all over the garden. Still, it looked destined for the plant graveyard. This was going to be hard to explain to my friend — both shaming and difficult to impart. I practiced letting my shoulders sag. I drew my finger across my neck in the universal sign for dead.
Out of growing ideas, I brought the pot of cilantro inside and placed it on my sunny kitchen counter so it could live out the rest of its days in peace.
It cheered up overnight. Within a few more days, it rallied and put out green shoots.
For most of you, growing cilantro is a breeze. It thrives in temperate climes. In fact you have to watch it if you plant it in your garden — it’s invasive and its seemingly delicate tendrils will crowd out heartier-looking plants. And fresh cilantro adds such a zing to entrees, salads and stir-fries, you won’t believe it.
I’ll plant more cilantro in my garden when Miami hits its growing season — October. But even if you live in a shoebox-sized studio you can, as I do, grow cilantro, mint, basil, all kinds of fresh herbs on your window sill. My resurrected greenery is testament to how forgiving and benevolent nature is. Be benevolent back. You can’t be more of a locavore than eating food you grow yourself. That’s a difference you can make and understand in any language.
- Follow this link to Ellen’s recipe forRoasted Beet Salad with Chili-Lime Vinaigrette.
- See more of Ellen’s Meatless Monday Musings on VegKitchen.
Ellen Kanner is the Huffington Post’s Meatless Monday blogger, the syndicated columnist The Edgy Veggie, and contributor to publications including Culinate, Bon Appetit, and Every Day With Rachael Ray as well as her own blog.