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4 Ways to Use Cilantro That Will Make Your Abuela Proud

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Lead Photo: Illustration by Felipe Pérez of Anómalo.
Illustration by Felipe Pérez of Anómalo.
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Have you ever spent quality time in the kitchen with your abuela? What made the time you spent together so special? Did she share a family recipe with you or show the proper way to use a molcajete? Did she explain the subtle differences between jalapeños and serranos?

Every abuela is different. Some abuelas love to reminisce about the dishes that have been passed from generation to generation. The tamales your abuela makes every year for Christmas are delicious, but they also have a long history. Instead of telling stories, some abuelas want to stay busy chopping, stirring, mincing, peeling and rolling until the mission is complete.

What better way to experience your abuela’s skills in the kitchen than embracing all her suggestions. For example, how much cumin should you use when making albondigas? Ask your abuela. What’s the best base when making the sauce for enchiladas cremas? Ask your abuela. Does every Latine dish need at least a little cilantro sprinkled on the top?

Ask 101 abuelas the best way to use cilantro in the kitchen and it’s possible you’ll get 101 different answers. The truth is that cilantro is an essential and versatile herb used in many Latin American dishes. Next time you’re in the produce section at the grocery store, don’t avoid the greens just because you might not be able to tell the difference between cilantro, parsley, and celery leaves. (It happens to the best of us!)

Be brave and pick out a nice bushel of cilantro for your next culinary adventure. And if you need to bring your abuela along, just ask. Once you’re back in the kitchen with her, turn on the stove, grab a couple of bottles of ice-cold Coca-Cola, and create some culinary magic together.

Below are four traditional ways you can use cilantro that will make your abuela proud.

Salsa Verde

Illustration by Felipe Pérez of Anómalo.

There are plenty of bottled salsas you can choose from at the grocery store if you don’t want to do the legwork to make your own homemade salsa verde. The spicy, green sauce, which is made from roasted tomatillo and green chili peppers, dates all the way back to the Aztec Empire. You can’t make salsa verde, however, without other ingredients like cilantro, jalapeños, onions, lime juice, and salt, so make sure you have the freshest produce you can find. The best thing about the cilantro in this recipe is that you don’t have to chop it up. Toss everything into a blender or food processor and grab some tortilla chips because your salsa verde will be ready to eat within minutes. Abuela está esperando, ándale!

Pico de Gallo

Illustration by Felipe Pérez of Anómalo.

Also known as salsa fresca, pico de gallo includes cilantro in its ensemble of traditional ingredients alongside tomato, onion, peppers (serrano, jalapeños or habaneros will do), lime juice, and salt. This time, there’s no blending. Chop all those ingredients up and toss them into a big bowl to mix. There are many variations of pico de gallo, but if you want the authentic stuff, keep it simple. Don’t throw any dragon fruit or mango in there. And make sure the cilantro is nice and crisp. We don’t want to see any sad, wilting cilantro. Then, grab a couple of fajita tacos and fill them up to the brim. Pregúntale a abuela si puede hacer unas tortillas. (For us too!)

Cilantro Lime Rice

Illustration by Felipe Pérez of Anómalo.

Add a little life to the rice that’s keeping the beans company! Remember when cooking cilantro lime rice to use about half a cup of chopped cilantro for every cup of rice you use. Cook the white rice in some water or stock and once done, add the cilantro and lime juice. Some people also add garlic and even toss in a few more vegetables like carrots or peas. Once you’re done with your cilantro lime rice, lay a thick bed of it on a plate and cover it with some beef, chicken, or fish. Abuela tiene hambre.

Creamy Avocado Cilantro Dressing

Illustration by Felipe Pérez of Anómalo.

Want grandma to think you’re all fancy in the kitchen? Prepare a healthy amount of creamy avocado cilantro dressing that can be spread on everything from salads to baked chicken to a nice piece of salmon. All you’ll need is one avocado, a peeled clove of garlic, lime juice, olive oil, salt, pepper, water and your choice of sour cream or plain, unsweetened yogurt (depending on whether you care about fat content and how many dollops you’re going to want to add to your fish tacos). Like the salsa verde, all the ingredients for your creamy avocado cilantro dressing will go into the blender or food processor. ¡Abuela comerá bien esta noche!