When most people think of Thai flavors, the first thing that comes to mind is probably fish sauce. Or maybe lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves and galangal. Rarely do people think cilantro roots. They're under-recognized by many, probably because they are rarely ever listed as an ingredient on menus in Thai restaurants. Funny because they're used in just about every Thai curry paste as well as in stir-fries and soups.
The best cilantro roots to use for a stir-fry are the thinner ones. They break down easiest. The fatter roots are good for soups, where they can be used mostly whole and easily fished out (like lemongrass).
I can't accurately describe the taste of cilantro roots. They're not as peppery as a parsnip or turnip. They've got a bit of the cilantro taste, but not the same level of freshness you'd get from the leaves or even stem. Maybe they taste a little like celeriac, but not quite. For sure the flavor they contribute is subtle- most people would be hard-pressed to identify it- but they add an extra level of complexity to the end result. The only way to appreciate the flavor is to use them!
Stir-fried Shrimp with Garlic and Cilantro Roots
Adapted from The Food of Thailand (see right side bar)
Feeds 3 to 4
- 1 pound medium to large shrimp, peeled, deveined and blotted with paper towels to remove excess moisture
- 6 to 8 cilantro roots (attached to about 1 inch of stem)
- 5 large cloves garlic
- 20 black peppercorns
- 2 red Thai chillies, dried or fresh is fine
- 2 tbs oyster sauce
- 2 tbs low sodium soy sauce (or 1 1/2 tbs regular soy sauce)
- 1/2 tsp sugar
- cilantro leaves, for garnish
Start by making the sauce. Combine the oyster sauce, soy sauce, sugar and 1 tbs water. Stir well to dissolve the sugar. Set aside until needed.
There are two ways to go about preparing the flavor base. My favorite is to make a paste, but this will require a little more elbow grease and patience (but it's not as bad as making curry paste). If you go this route, you must slice the cilantro roots as finely as possible. They are quite fibrous and if not sliced in advance, will take forever to pound down. Pound/grind the sliced cilantro roots, garlic, peppercorns and chillies in a mortar until you get a smooth paste.
Alternatively, you could make a rough paste if you aren't inclined to do all that pounding. The one advantage of a rough paste is being able to pick out the fibrous roots when you're eating. Start by splitting the roots in half lengthwise. Pound them in a mortar just to crush the fibers. Remove them from the mortar and add the peppercorns, garlic and chillies and pound them to a paste. Mix the garlic paste with the crushed roots.
Gather all your ingredients so that they are close by, because this stir-fry goes pretty quick.
Heat your wok over high heat until very (very) hot. Add about 2 to 3 tbs oil and when it's hot, add the flavor paste. Stir-fry for about 20 to 30 seconds, making sure not to let it burn. You'll start to smell the garlic and cilantro roots. Add the shrimp. Stir them around frequently (not constantly) until they are almost done. Add the soy sauce mixture, drizzling down the hottest side of your wok to get the sauce to caramelize a little. Toss the shrimp around to coat with the sauce. Taste and adjust flavor as needed with more soy (or water if it's too salty for you). Remove immediately from the wok and garnish with cilantro leaves. Serve immediately with steamed jasmine rice.
I'm submitting this recipe to Weekend Herb Blogging created by Kalyn from Kalyn's Kitchen. The host this week is Simona from Briciole. If you can't participate this time around but want to, click here to see who's hosting in the future.