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THE TASTE OF MEXICO - Cilantro

"The Prophet Mohammed said, "Make yours the seeds of coriander, for it is a cure for all diseases..."

Gabriela Braña

CILANTRO (Coriandrum Sativum) was widely used in Ancient Egypt as a medicinal plant and for sacrificial purposes. It was grown originally in India and the Mediterranean basin and is also used profusely in Mexican and Thai cooking.

This annual, umbeliferous plant grows quickly to 2-3 ft. tall Its stalk stems vertically, with leaves that grow alternately divided in segments. The flowers are white or pink.

The fruit has medicinal importance, once dry it is called coriander. It contains 1% of an essential oil (Oleum Coriandri) which is used in the preparation of medicine. The Prophet Mohammed said. "Make yours the seeds of coriander, for it is a cure for all diseases except swelling, (cancer), and that is a fatal disease". It is also reported that Allah informed the Prophet, "She has been given everything" and then Allah revealed that "she" is coriander.

It is used pure or mixed in the preparation of infusions to enhance the appetite and improve digestion and has a sedative effect on the nervous system. For external use the oil and the dry plant can be used as an ointment for rheumatic, muscular or ear pain.

Cilantro arrived in Mexico during colonial times, most probably through commerce with the East, when Acapulco was the port where the large commercial ships from China and the Philippines arrived loaded with exotic cargo.

Because of its definite fragrance, it was soon incorporated into Mexican cooking. It is an essential ingredient in most salsas, soups and many salads. In salsa, (which in Mexico means any mixture from a blended sauce to a minced version of Salsa Mexicana), it is most widely used fresh, minced and added at the last minute to take advantage of its special flavor. It is also used to season soups, a must in rice and in many sauces, stews and casseroles.

Cilantro is stored best kept in a paper bag inside the refrigerator. It should be washed thoroughly in soapy water before using, to remove dirt and sand.

My favorite recipe for guacamole is very simple and has a wonderful taste and a special crunchiness:

Ingredients:

2 ripe avocados
1/2 onion, minced
1/2 cup minced radishes
2 serrano chilies, seeded
1/2 cup chopped cilantro leaves.

Preparation: Mash avocados with a fork, add minced onion, Serrano chilies, radishes and cilantro. Season with salt and add a few drops of lemon juice. Mix well without blending completely.

Always prepare guacamole at the last minute so that it does not turn brown.

Now help yourselves to a shot of tequila, sit back, and enjoy your guacamole with totopos (fried tortilla chips) while you enjoy another day in paradise.

Salud!

October 2000

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