culantro

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 15 June, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 15 June, 2008, 12:00am
 

It's easy to see where culantro got the nickname 'sawtooth herb'; the long, green leaves have

serrated edges.

What is it? Culantro is also known as Vietnamese, Mexican or long coriander, and the scent and taste of the long leaves is reminiscent of its more delicate relative, coriander, also known as cilantro. The long, jagged leaves grow in bunches close to the ground, What to look for? The leaves - sold in small bundles at shops specialising in Southeast Asian groceries - should be bright green and fairly thin; if they're thick or yellowing, they might be tough. Nurseries stocking culinary herbs often sell pots of culantro. The leaves can be snipped off as needed, or chopped and frozen or dried for future use - the flavour doesn't dissipate the way it does with fresh coriander. A long, spiky seed stalk grows out of the centre of the plant. It can be removed at the base (to encourage leaf growth) or left to 'go to seed' for growing more plants.

What else? Culantro is used in Southeast Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean as a culinary herb and in traditional medicine. It's believed to relieve high blood pressure, fever and digestive problems.

How to use: in many of the dishes in which you'd use fresh coriander, although culantro is sturdier, so the flavour doesn't fade with cooking. In Vietnam, it's an essential part of the herb platter served with pho; the leaf is torn up and added to the broth. Finely chopped culantro is a delicious addition to carp fishpaste; shape the paste into balls, poach them in fish broth and serve with boiled rice noodles.

Culantro can be used in salsas. For a simple fresh (uncooked) salsa, dice onions, garlic, tomatoes and culantro and mix with olive oil and red wine vinegar. Leave the ingredients for at least two hours to give the flavours time to blend. Serve with grilled meat or spoon onto a bowl of thick black bean soup topped with some sour cream or a little grated cheese.

It's also used in sofrito - a savoury mix of ingredients cooked long and slow. Finely mince some onions, garlic, red and green capsicums and culantro. Cook in olive oil over a low heat until the ingredients are soft then use as a base for braised meat or bean stew.

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