Did you know that cilantro has been a common cooking ingredient since 6,000 BC? Discovered in the Nahal Cave, people have been enjoying this polarizing herb for thousands of years. But what’s the best way to eat cilantro without munching on the herb as a sole dish? If you’re curious about how to make the best cilantro sauce, we’re here to help. Whether you’re making pasta or a cilantro dressing, you can knock out an easy cilantro sauce in a few minutes. Read on for the quickest recipe, as well as some in-depth information about cilantro.
What Is Cilantro?
To begin, what is cilantro, and how can you best incorporate it into your dishes? Cilantro is an herb native to the Mediterranean. In the United States, we most often associate cilantro with Mexican cuisine. Tex-Mex uses a great deal of cilantro as well, often in salsas, guacamole, and other side dishes. However, there’s a divisive feature to cilantro that leaves many hating the herb. Rather, there are people that aren’t able to enjoy cilantro as most others do. Studies show that many people have a gene that makes cilantro taste truly awful. This is why you may hear many people saying that cilantro tastes like soap. The portion of the populace with this gene is difficult to pin down, as it varies across ethnicity. For example, one study showed that 21% of East Asians interviewed had the gene, while only 3% of Middle Eastern subjects had the gene. Other percentages include 17% of Caucasians, 4% of Hispanics, and more. As such, nailing down the true numbers is difficult. It’s also not something that can be shown across an entire ethnicity. The simplest numbers are roughly 4-14% of the population. If you’re one of these people, it’s difficult to find a recipe you’ll enjoy. Your genes won’t tolerate the taste of cilantro, no matter how delicious the sauce. For others, there are countless ways to prepare this classic peppery herb. It’s a fresh springtime classic that’s found in dishes of all seasons. Continue on to learn our favorite recipe for an easy cilantro sauce. Afterward, we’ll look at what foods you can eat with cilantro, as well as which to avoid. Then, we’ll discuss some alternative cilantro sauces if our favorite sauce isn’t to your liking.
How to Make Cilantro Sauce
Cilantro sauce is easy to make and exceptionally versatile. But what makes a sauce a sauce? There are chimichurri recipes and thick dressings that aren’t quite the same as what we’ll present here. Instead, we have a light, relatively-neutral sauce that will go with nearly everything. This easy cilantro lime sauce is ideal for dishes that need a fresh-from-the-garden citrusy kick. To make this sauce, you’ll need:
- 1-2 ounces of fresh cilantro leaves and tender stems
- Juice from 1/2 of a lime
- 3 tablespoons of water
- 1 tablespoon of olive olive
- Salt and pepper to taste
Before we get into the process, there are a few things to explain. First, what are “tender stems”? When you have a sprig of cilantro, you’ll notice tender stems near the leaves and harder, rougher stems farther away – avoid the latter. Additionally, you may want to measure out about 1/4 an ounce of lime juice. Your limes may vary in size and juice depending on the time of year. Half a lime’s worth of juice may not always be enough. With your ingredients, go to a small food processor or blender and add them all at once. Blend the sauce together until it’s to your preferred thickness. From here, add ingredients to your taste, such as more salt or more cilantro. Our recipe makes about 1/4th a cup of sauce. As such, you may need to increase the portions if you’re making a larger dish. That said, don’t make more than you intend to use. Cilantro sauce will go bad after about three days in the fridge, even in a sealed container. Making precisely how much you need will stop you from wasting your ingredients.
The Best Foods to Eat With Cilantro
Now that you have your sauce, what can you do with it? There are more options than you think, from complex dishes to a simple cilantro dressing. Here are the four best types of foods to eat with your new cilantro sauce.
Various protein sources are one of the best things to eat with your cilantro sauce. Few, if any, proteins don’t mix with cilantro, making it an ideal mixture. Shrimp is one of our favorite options. The light flavor of the cilantro and lime matches divinely with the taste of the sea. Bouncy fresh, white shrimp with the shell off are ideal for a cilantro sauce. Red meats are also popular options. While steak is the preferred choice of many, venison tenderloin is difficult to beat. The cilantro provides a wonderful contrast with the tender venison. Lighter meats are also ideal. Chicken and turkey are both popular choices, but our preferences lean toward chicken. Dark meat turkey will go well with cilantro, but the richer flavor can smother the subtle notes of the cilantro and lime. Experiment with your proteins and see which you prefer most. If you want to go a step further with your cilantro, red meat pairs perfectly with chimichurri.
No room for animals in your diet? Your cilantro sauce is a perfect fit for any vegetarian or vegan lifestyle. We recommend pairing your cilantro sauce with root vegetables. Roasted carrots dipped in the sauce are a wonderful choice. Keep your carrots firm and roast them just enough to make the outside soft. Doing so makes them dip easier and provides a better texture to the toothsome sauce. Radishes, rutabaga, and heirloom potatoes are also wonderful choices. Sautee these vegetables together until they’re firm but tender on the outside. Toss them in your cilantro sauce for a meal of the best nature can offer.
Not a fan of meat or hardier vegetables? You’re nowhere near out of options for your cilantro lime sauce. Leafy greens are another excellent choice. Consider turning your sauce into a makeshift cilantro dressing. You may want to increase the portions so that you have more for a medium salad. Otherwise, 1/4 of a cup may not be sufficient. Mix your favorite leafy greens like spinach and kale. Toss these leafy greens in the salad for a delicious deep-green salad. Want a splash of color? Slices of radish or some snap peas can help give you an excellently filling dish.
Are there any vegetables you can pair with cilantro? Not easily, but there are some options. Most fruits that pair with cilantro are fruity vegetables. One great choice for your cilantro dipping sauce is bell peppers. The brighter the color of your pepper, the sweeter it’ll be. As such, yellow or red peppers are a great choice. If you want it less sweet, dark green bell peppers are a wonderful choice. Roasted garlic, avocado spreads, ginger, and cucumbers are also strong choices. That isn’t to say there are no vegetables that pair with cilantro. Lemons, limes, tomatoes, figs, oranges, and grapefruits are all great choices. Consider a blended fruit smoothie with a few sprigs of cilantro to help.
Foods to Avoid
What shouldn’t you pair your cilantro sauce with? There are a few things you’ll want to avoid. While these aren’t the worst snacks in the world, these flavors won’t pair with your cilantro very well.
Fennel is one of the first flavors on the list of what will clash with your cilantro. Fennel has a black licorice flavor, but cooking will help settle the flavor. Most people eat it sliced thin in a salad or in stews, soups, and stir-fries. However, the two herbs together clash horribly. The black licorice overpowers the more subtle notes of cilantro while the cilantro smothers the quieter flavors of fennel.
Coffee and cilantro are often seen as the “toothpaste and orange juice” of the culinary world. The tang of cilantro clashes with coffee significantly. Many people attempt to add the herb as they would cinnamon, salt, or cardamom. Instead, cilantro is overpowered, with just a hint coming through enough to throw off the flavor of the coffee.
Finally, red wine is a poor choice to mix with your cilantro. Tannic red wines will smother the flavor of cilantro and leave behind a bitter, astringent taste. Tannins are great for some hearty stews or hardy meats. But when mixed with cilantro, the tangy zest of the herb loses its vitality. Instead, mix cilantro with light red wines. These help both substances shine brightly.
Alternative Sauces and Tweaks
Now that we know more about where to use our cilantro sauce and what the best pairs are, how can we tweak the sauce? There are many ways you can modify your cilantro dipping sauce to fit your tastes. Here are some alternative sauces you may prefer.
Do you prefer a spicy kick to your cilantro? There are countless ways to add that heat in without significantly affecting the flavor. Consider adding 1/8 of a teaspoon of cayenne pepper. Cayenne has a hefty kick to it, so much more can add an excessive amount of heat. Of course, this is your decision, so feel free to add more. Red pepper flakes can add a similar heat while also altering the appearance with a splash of color. You also have the joy of biting down on a seed, getting a burst of heat. If you don’t mind shifting the flavors, consider adding jalapeno peppers to the blender when you make your sauce. Half of the pepper is enough, but tweak this to your preferences. Don’t like the flavor of the pepper? Most of the capsaicin is in the seeds. Add those instead of the flesh of the pepper to lessen how much flavor, and add only the heat.
What if you’d rather have a sweetness to your cilantro? Most of these ingredients will alter the flavor, but not considerably. Simple white sugar is a good choice. You should dissolve it into a thick syrup first to prevent grains in your final sauce. Don’t use too much water, or your sauce may come out too thick. Another option is brown sugar, which provides a richer flavor. You may need more of this sugar to do so. As before, dissolve before you mix. Don’t want any sugar? Honey is another option that won’t need to dissolve. Mixing your favorite honey into the dish will provide a sweet afternote.
You have your cilantro sauce, but would you rather have cilantro dressing? Dressings are often thicker and are better for pouring over a dish instead of dipping. While our sauce is excellent for dipping, it’s difficult to coat a salad with the recipe. Consider adding more oil to help the cilantro sauce spread out. You can also simply increase the portions to have more sauce if you feel like it isn’t spreading out. Another option is balsamic vinegar to help add a splash of flavor. Careful not to add too much, or you’ll risk overpowering the cilantro and lime.
Making the Perfect, Easy Dinner
Cilantro sauce is an affordable and healthy dish that takes a few minutes at most to make. You can mix this versatile sauce with hot roasted vegetables or pair it with a cold platter of your favorite meats as a dipping sauce. Don’t hesitate to tweak the recipe or shift it into a chimichurri or dressing to fit your needs. For more information on how to make the best dinners easy, be sure to contact us. You can also browse our quick-and-ready meals to find delicious options for your dinner menu.