3 soups from 1: Thai stock a versatile way to use up cilantro
By Ari LeVaux
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Every inch of the cilantro plant is edible, but the seeds (aka coriander) and leaves get most of the attention. At the farmers market the other day I spotted a bunch of cilantro with the roots still attached. I brought a bunch of those intact plants home and ate the leaves in tacos that very night.
Cilantro roots are mellower than the leaves and seeds, but still have that unmistakable penetrating cilantro flavor. The next day, based on a tip from the cilantro root vendor, I prepared a pot of Thai stock.
Cilantro parts abound in Thai cuisine. The strong flavor is often balanced with equally assertive ingredients, which together make the cilantro's flavor less glaring.
But not everyone is on board. Many find cilantro to taste soapy or worse. Julia Child famously boasted of plucking cilantro leaves from her food and unceremoniously tossing them on the floor. A minority of cilantro-haters are truly genetically averse to it, reacting to the aldehyde molecules that give the plant its unique flavor.
But most cilantro haters simply haven't had the proper introduction necessary to acquire a taste for it. A trip to Thailand would probably cure that, but a pot of this magical Thai stock is a more accessible alternative, providing you can get the ingredients. My local store has all of them except cilantro root, and any farmer or gardener with cilantro in the ground has loads of that.
Like any stock, Thai stock can be the gateway to many dishes. It's only a few ingredients shy of tom yum, the iconic Thai sour soup that is often served with prawns. It's also the base of the legendary chicken coconut soup called tom kha gai.
The next time you look at a bunch of cilantro, you will look longingly at the spot where the roots should be. If you plant a crop of cilantro now, you will have roots in a month, and can eat some leaves while you wait.
1 tablespoon palm oil
2 cups minced shallot or strong onion
3-6 cloves garlic
4 lemongrass stalks, each cut into thirds and pounded to release flavor
4 quarter-inch slices peeled galangal root
4 quarter-inch slices peeled turmeric root
4 lime leaves
Crushed red chile, to taste
10 slices ginger; smash each slice
10-20 cilantro roots, with about an inch of stem attached
4 quarts water
Heat the oil and fry the onions on medium until they are translucent: about 10 minutes. Stir in the garlic, lemongrass, galangal, turmeric, lime leaves, chile, ginger and cilantro roots. Add two cups of water and turn the heat to high. Cook for 10 minutes with the lid on. Add the rest of the water, bring to a near boil, and turn the heat to low-medium. Simmer for an hour, covered. Turn off and let cool to room temperature. Strain, and store in the fridge for up to a week. Then freeze.
4 quarts Thai stock
1 pound tomatoes, large ones cut into quarters
3 tablespoons fish sauce
Juice of 1 lime
2 stalks lemongrass, cut into thirds
Choice of protein
Optional: veggies like peas
Cilantro or red pepper for garnish
Heat the stock on medium. Add the tomatoes, fish sauce, lemongrass and lime. Check seasonings and adjust with more lime and fish sauce to taste. It should be plenty sour. Add the protein and extra veggies and cook until done. Garnish and serve.
Tom Kha Gai
4 quarts tom yum
1 pound cooked chicken, cut into bite sized chunks
6 slices galangal root, about an 1/8-inch thick
8 ounces mushrooms, cut in half
1 (14 oz.) can coconut milk
Lime juice and fish sauce for seasoning
Heat the tom yum on medium. Add the chicken, galangal, mushrooms and coconut milk. Bring to a simmer and keep it there for 30 minutes. Season with lime juice and fish sauce to taste. Serve garnished with cilantro leaves.