Monday, July 7, 2008

The Secret Ingredient (Cilantro roots)



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.

40 comments:

Simona said...

How interesting! I must admit I did not know cilantro roots were used as flavoring. The dish looks delicious.

Wandering Chopsticks said...

What? Manggy isn't first? :P

I've been waiting for you to make a recipe ever since you said you were growing cilantro for the roots. :) Now I want to grow them so I can try just to see what it tastes like.

Andrea said...

I would like to feature this recipe in an upcoming article for FoodieView.com. Please contact me!

Thanks!
Andrea
www.andreasrecipes.com/contact

Darlene said...

Simona, thank you! They are hard to find unless you grow your own, but well worth it.

WC, growing them yourselves is definitely the best way to keep supplied. There is an Asian farmer at the farmers' market who occasionally has them, but she hasn't had any the last two weekends.

Darlene said...

oh, and I think manggy is boycotting ;-) Hope he's not mad we made fun!

Marvin said...

I never knew cilantro roots were usable in recipes! Besides growing cilantro myself, are cilantro roots available in asian markets?

Annie & Nate said...

You don't always find cilantro with the roots on, even in some Asian groceries. That's what makes them an even less appreciated ingredient.

Darlene said...

marvin, anne is right. They are are hard to find even in the Asian markets. When I do find them there, I will usually buy the whole bunch of them then spend the day making curry pastes. And I really don't grow as many as I could use.

Manggy said...

Hah! I am not boycotting! I took one whole day to hunt for letters of recommendation and when I returned, the new entries in my RSS aggregator numbered 40, so I got lazy and decided to comment when I've had a post up :P

I'm not a fan of cilantro, but I'm interested because you say it has a "hint" of cilantro taste. And since I love Thai curries, it's gotta be good :) Looks like a bitch to clean, though! The shrimp look excellent.

QGIRL said...

looks totally delicious!
you are so crafty. I never put this much effort into my cooking. Again, you amaze.

Darlene said...

manggy, you don't like coconut, you don't like cilantro?! Where's your Asian gene? JUST KIDDING!

HAHA! You're just like me. If I have too many entries in my reader, I get overwhelmed and will read and comment on them well after they have been posted.

qgirl, thank you! to be honest, it's interesting what people will "put effort" into. I will never stand in front of a stove to make risotto, but something like this just feels more do-able.

tigerfish said...

I don't even see the roots when I buy cilantro from the stores!
This is really secret revealed to me :D

Zen Chef said...

Yup, what the heck happened with Manggy? Haha.

This looks like a fantastic recipe! I used cilantro roots a few times but now I can't remember in what recipe of course. I wanna try this. I LOVE Thai flavors so I'm sure I will be loving this. Thanks for sharing! :-)

Darlene said...

tigerfish, I think I'm going to start a cilantro farm and sell the roots at a premium! But for you I'll sell them cheap :-)

Zen Chef, thank you! this dish will not disappoint!

Dhi said...

Would love to try this.... always seen the use of cilantro roots in Thai food but didn't think it would affect much as I most of the time subs them with lemon grass...

Darlene said...

dhi, they aren't fragrant like lemongrass and the taste is much more subtle. Give it a try; I'd love to know what you think.

Paula said...

This is my "learned something new" today! I've never heard of using the roots before. I've got tons planted in the garden that I am now eyeballing hungrily! Great shrimp recipe!

Kalyn said...

Great post for WHB! I've heard of cilantro root (and probably eaten it without knowing) but I've never seen the roots like in your photo. I'm pretty sure I will like them because I love all things cilantro!

matt wright said...

I have to say I have never cooked with cilantro root before. Actually, I have only seen them once at my local asain grocery come to think of it.

The next time I see them, I will snap them up and give this a go.

Lars said...

never even thought of cilantros having roots :-) but this is certainly worth a try, and I might even have seen them here in Sandefjord, just not sure at which asian shop...

Darlene said...

Paula, I'm always learning something new from reading food blogs too! Who needs culinary school? LOL

Kalyn, I can't get enough cilantro either! I LOVE it. It's probably the one herb I use on an almost daily basis.

Matt, definitely snap them up if you can find them. They can last a couple of weeks in the fridge (cleaned and wrapped in a dry paper towel in a ziploc bag) or even frozen for a couple of months.

Lars, Sandefjord sounds like it is pretty diverse if you can find cilantro roots and naam prik phao! And there's more than one Asian shop to choose from? Watch out--we're taking over the world!! :-)

Graziana said...

Wow it looks simply and delicious... I grow cilantro every year but never used the roots... thank you!

Lars said...

So i just had to put Sandefjord to the test, and I was right, both the asian shops here actually had cilantro with roots, so we had to try out your recipe, and wauw what fragrance! I loved both the smell when griding the roots (you were spot on with the notes of celery stalk), and the fresh and fragrant taste of the shrimp dish was perfect for the almost summer weather we are having - i only had 200 g of shrimp so I added about 4 small pak choys instead, and they worked great with the flavours of your dish (recommendable). So thank you very much for introducing me to this lovely fresh flavour.

Darlene said...

Lars, I'm so glad you tried this recipe and that you enjoyed it! It's always fun to hear someone was inspired to try something.

Syrie said...

Darlene, the prawns look fantastic. You are right about cilantro roots, they really are the base of so many Thai dishes. Unfortunately I can never find them in Vancouver so I just use the stems.

Darlene said...

Syrie, I know what you mean. The cilantro I planted is done and the one Asian farmer at the farmers' market didn't have any for the last few weeks. I have another bunch coming up, but I don't want to pull them too soon.

ejm said...

I'd heard that coriander roots were used (I had no idea they were used so prolifically in Thai dishes though) but never had the nerve to try them, partly because of their fibrous quality. Next stir-fry, we'll have to try this! Thank you for this post.

-Elizabeth

Darlene said...

elizabeth, you're right, they can be quite fibrous. Try to use the thinner ones and make sure to put some elbow grease into it when you're making the paste.

Alex Rushmer said...

Just got back from Thailand and this is the first post I've read since sitting down at my computer again. It took me right back. Fantastic

We Are Never Full said...

you are SO right on with the use of cilantro roots. in fact, there are many people out there that still even pick the leaves off the cilantro stems instead of using the whole thing. the stem and the roots are the most flavorful part of the herb! great post.

Darlene said...

Alex, I hope you had a great trip! Can't wait to hear about all the delicacies you tried over there.

WANF, I hope you don't mind me abbreviating the name :-). None of the herb goes to waste in this house! I use it on an almost daily basis.

Ivy said...

Nice blog! I was just searching for a good photo of cilantro roots and I found your blog! And it turns out you're in Portland too! How weirdly random is that? I'm a follower now!

dp said...

Ivy, Thank you for the kind words! Glad to see others enjoying cilantro roots too. Maybe if enough people requested it, the grocery stores would offer cilantro bunches with the roots on.

Oh, and all the cool people live in PDX :-)

Sydney Hotels said...

It's interesting to know that Thai food has cilantro. I just know that they are fond of using lemongrass. Thanks for theses sumptuous recipe. IMy family enjoyed it very much!

Darlene said...

Sydney Hotels, Thais eat a lot of cilantro, particularly in any kind of salad or soup. I'm glad you liked the recipe.

lars said...

I'm cooking this tonight. the paste is already filling the air with aromas!

dp said...

Lars, yay! I think I'm going to plant extra cilantro this year just so i don't have to go hunting around. They have been impossible to find here lately.

lars said...

the shrimp turned out great. Lene loved it! the corianderrot is unbelievable fragrant and perfect together with the sharp black pepper and chili.
lene wants a thai cooking course from you when we met up in canada, and you will have to learn me about thai sticky rice, cuz i don't know how or why or when?!
say hi to the boys from us.

dp said...

Lars, Here is my post on sticky rice. People seem to find it helpful.

herbal products said...

The roots add up flavor and more nutrients. You can use this for a variety of dishes too.