Cilantro Stems + A Quick Sauce Recipe
I looked in my refrigerator last week and found 3 bunches of cilantro. Most of the leaves were already used but I left the stems, thinking I would do something with them before they went bad. Nope. Two of the three bunches were slimy and gross. So I was on a mission to find a tasty way to use the last bunch fast.
Everyone says that cilantro stems are packed with flavor, and unlike parsley stems which are fibrous, they are tender enough to eat raw. I didn’t try them raw so I can’t attest to their texture but the flavor is really unique. You can tell it is cilantro but there is also a slight celery flavor which I was not expecting (I wondered afterwards if maybe the bunch I used had already started to go bad and I just didn’t notice!).
I thought about various ways to use them but landed on a quick blender sauce because it was easy and went with the meal I had prepared (which is pictured – quinoa, fried tofu, broccoli and my favorite peanut sauce). There are probably only 5 million ways to flavor this sauce but I stuck with the basics – oil, lime juice, garlic and honey. I think half a jalapeno would have been a wonderful addition but I didn’t have one. Here are some other thoughts on how to use cilantro stems:
- Guacamole: good ol’ guac wouldn’t be the same without some chopped cilantro. Next time, use the leaves elsewhere and try adding thinly sliced stems instead. I did try this and the stems provided freshness and a nice textural contrast.
- Chermoula: here is my version of this Moroccan herb sauce, but here, here and here are a few others.
- Falafel: also known as chickpea fritters, they are typically flavored with parsley, cilantro, scallions and cumin. I think this would be a great use for leftover stems.
- Green Curry Paste: Thai curry pastes typically include chiles, fresh herbs, lemongrass and spices and is stirred into a coconut based broth. It is incredibly flavorful and although a little time consuming, so much better when made at home. Here and here are a couple recipes to try.
- Green Masala Paste: a search for masala paste will return quite a variety of a recipes but the ones that I am most intrigued by include an overnight soak of fenugreek seeds. Try this one and be sure to use cilantro stems, or the leaves and stems together.
- Chutney: take my quick blender sauce below and add a hot pepper, ginger and cumin, and you basically have chutney. Here and here are a couple recipes.
- Salsa fresca: this fresh salsa couldn’t be easier and is such a great way to use beautiful summer tomatoes. Here and here are a couple tasty looking recipes to try.
- Zhug: this is a Yemeni hot sauce that can be made red, with the use of red chiles, or green, with the use of green chiles and herbs. Here is a version using both the cilantro leaves and the stems!
- Compound Butter: first, read over my post on making compound butter. Combine softened butter with thinly sliced stems, chipotle peppers and lime zest for a delicious accompaniment to corn on the cob.
- Drunken Beans: I made the Cook’s Illustrated version of drunken beans, which is similar to this recipe. But don’t just use cilantro at the end of cooking – you can make a bundle of 20-30 cilantro stems and toss them in the pot when the beans are cooking. Remove before serving and then add the fresh leaves.
PS – did you know you can use the cilantro roots too? Thai cooks use combine them with basil, mint and chili peppers to make a curry paste. I haven’t tried them myself but read that they are more pungent than the leaves with a light, citrus scent.
Cilantro Stem Sauce
Makes about 1/2 cup
Place all ingredients into a blender and puree until fully combined, about 1 minute, scraping down the sides of the blender as needed. Refrigerate in an air-tight container for 5-7 days or freeze for 3-6 months.
I made this sauce a bit on the tart side to stand up to the fattiness in the rest of the dish I served it with. If you want a more balanced sauce, I would start with 2 tablespoons lime juice and increase it from there.