Cilantro in every form is a must have in Indian cooking. For tempering we use the whole seed (coriander), for seasoning the ground seed (coriander powder), and for freshness and garnishing cilantro or ‘dhania patta’.
For a long time I tried cooking Indian food without fresh cilantro, but my recipes never quite tasted right. Thankfully, I finally gave it a shot a few years ago and now I can’t do without. In my neighbourhood during the summer you can get 3 or 4 bunches of cilantro for a dollar and now my fridge is always stocked with the green goodness.
If you aren’t using cilantro in your Indian cooking you are missing out! Here are my top tips for selecting, storing, and using cilantro for Indian recipes.
I look for cilantro bunches that aren’t wilted, have a nice green colour, and smell fresh (always use your nose when choosing produce). Avoid bunches that are soaking wet, or have lots of black spots on the leaves.
If you are storing cilantro for 3-5 days, start by picking the leaves off the stems. All parts of the plant are edible but I don’t use the stems in Indian cooking. Once the leaves and stems are separated, you can either store them in a container with perforations like the one above. I got this one from a ‘cookery shop’ in Chandni Chowk, Dehli. Or, you can use my favourite trick; place a paper towel in a resealable zipper bag and then add your cilantro leaves. The paper towel soaks up moisture and my cilantro stays fresh all week.
For short term storage – don’t pre-wash the cilantro leaves. This will cause the plant to get slimy and go bad. Just wash whatever you are using as you go.
During the summer I can usually find fresh and fragrant cilantro for cheap, but in the winter it’s hard to come by and very sad looking, so I use my freezer to stockpile. Once again, pick the leaves off the stem, wash, and dry thoroughly. Freeze in a good quality freezer storage bag (don’t skimp out). Take out a little frozen cilantro at a time as needed.
I always save adding cilantro till the dish I’m making is almost completely done, or is taken off the stove. If you add the cilantro to a dish that is still cooking, the colour and aroma are lost. I also love to garnish dal and sabzis at the dinner table with an extra handful of chopped fresh cilantro.
Images by: Aziz Dhamani Photography