Hey Chef, What Can I Do With Cilantro?

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[Photograph: Vicky Wasik

We generally think of cilantro as just an herb: something you purée into pesto, chop into guacamole, or sprinkle over tacos. But, as our panel of pros shows, there are more than three ways to bring that bright, distinctive flavor and vibrant color into your kitchen.

Cocktails

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[Photograph: Jim Taylor]

Since first learning to cook at his father's restaurant at age 11, Chef Michele Brogioni developed a passion for creating dishes in his native Italy that would lead him to over 20 years of culinary experience and earn him a Michelin star as head chef at Relais & Châteaux's Il Falconiere in Cortona, Italy. As head chef of Maison Dellos Catering, he's cooked for U.S. presidents and other heads of state from around the world. He is currently executive chef at iconic Italian restaurant The Leopard at des Artistes in New York City.

We make a cocktail with cilantro by juicing cilantro and arugula and blending it with lemon sorbet, tonic water, fresh ginger, and a little bit of vodka. It's really refreshing and citrusy. We used to serve it with eggplant croquettes as an appetizer, and it was so good.

Pizza Topper

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[Photograph: Courtesy of Copita Tequileria y Comida]

As the maestra de cocina and co-owner of Copita Tequileria y Comida in Sausalito, California, chef Joanne Weir focuses on using seasonal, local ingredients in the restaurant's modern Mexican-inspired and 100% gluten-free menus. Weir is also a James Beard Award–winning cookbook author and judge and an international cooking teacher. Her latest book, Kitchen Gypsy, was published in September 2015.

I love pizza with salad on top. I'm salivating; I want to eat it right now. I make a pizza topped with thin strips of red onion and bell peppers, followed by grated Fontina and mozzarella. I bake the pizza and then top it with a salad of chopped cherry tomatoes, corn, finely minced jalapeño or serrano chilies, and a lime vinaigrette, with lots of cilantro in it.

But really, cilantro is delicious with anything bready—in place of pizza, I've done it with layered phyllo dough, sometimes with cheese. It's crispy and wonderful as a fun, simple appetizer.

Green Mole

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[Photograph: Joe Roy]

Chicago's Jonathan Zaragoza makes classic Mexican cuisine that we can't get enough of. He's big into the local gardening scene, too, growing massive amounts of fresh produce that make it directly into the kitchens he works with.

Cilantro is one of those super-polarizing ingredients, but I like to put it in sauces. I make one called pipián—a green mole. It's one of my favorite things to make, since my grandma used to make it all the time. I take tomatillos, onions, garlic, pumpkin seeds, poblano chilies, sesame seeds, and cilantro, and cook them down with stock (ideally one made from the animal I'm pairing it with), and then blend it up like a mole. I don't use any spices like cinnamon or pepper, just salt, because I love the flavors in there already and want to let them do their thing. It's bright and nutty, with herbaceousness from the cilantro. Plus, the soapy flavor that some people detect gets cooked out. You can serve it over poultry or fish, but I love it on duck over rice. It's really simple and rustic.

Green Gazpacho

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[Photograph: Tasca Chino]

For almost 30 years, award-winning chef Alex Ureña has been delighting discerning diners in some of New York City's finest restaurants with elaborate menus that highlight various cuisines from around the world. With the opening of Tasca Chino, Ureña is tapping his Latino roots and melding them with his beloved Chinese flavors for a totally new experience on Park Avenue South.

I make a green gazpacho in the summer with all kinds of green vegetables blended into cilantro and parsley. Add cucumbers, green peppers, avocado, green tomatillos, and any other green vegetables you have around. Marinate them in olive oil and whatever seasonings you like, purée in cilantro and parsley, and then add some lemon juice or vinegar right before you serve it. The cilantro helps the colors stay vibrant, and by adding the acid at the end, you won't kill the green. Top it with some more cilantro, and it's bright and delicious.

Cilantro Bisque

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[Photograph: Courtesy of Lisa Selcer]

Chef Lisa Garza-Selcer's passion for Southern culture and its culinary heritage stems from her upbringing in the Mississippi Delta, which serves as the inspiration for her Dallas restaurant, Sissy's Southern Kitchen & Bar, and the upcoming Shelby Hall.

I love to make soups on Sunday—I like filling my house with the scent, it makes it feel homey, and it makes me feel like a good mom and wife. One of my favorites is a cilantro bisque that everybody freaks out about. We think of cilantro as an herb, so we don't typically use it the same way we would other greens. But we should! It's really inexpensive, so this is also an affordable recipe.

Buy three or four bunches of cilantro—the same amount you would of a leafy green like collards. Chop it with your aromatics, like onions, garlic, and celery. (I don't include carrot because it takes the color and bright flavor away.) Sauté all of them together, just like when you're starting any soup, then add your chicken stock, filling the pot all the way to the top, and let it simmer for a couple of hours. Then blend it and finish it off with half-and-half or heavy cream. I've actually been doing it a lot lately with unsweetened coconut milk—the kind in a box, not a can. It shouldn't be thick, so don't use the extra-thick coconut milk or cream. It doesn't take away from the flavor of the soup at all, and it makes it a little healthier, so why not? Then I top it with more fresh cilantro. It gets better and better every day. People love it!

Simple Syrup

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[Photograph: Brent Herrig]

Thiago Silva is the pastry chef at EMM Group's Catch in New York's Meatpacking District. He is a 2015 Dessert Professional Top 10 Pastry Chef and recently won the Food Network's Chopped, donating his winnings to C-CAP (Careers through Culinary Arts Program).

I use a lot of fresh herbs, and in general I use a lot of micro cilantro to garnish coconut, pineapple, or passion fruit desserts. But since a lot of people aren't really into it—you either love cilantro or you hate it—I'll make it into a syrup with a lot of lime to cut the strong perfumed flavor. Think of it as an easy simple syrup, infused with cilantro and then cut with fresh lime juice. It pairs seamlessly with tropical fruits like pineapple or passion fruit.

Sorbet

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[Photograph: Courtesy of Odd Duck]

Named one of Zagat's 30 Under 30 in 2015, Austin-born and -bred Susana Querejazu is a pro in the pastry kitchen, using seasonal ingredients in bread, traditional pastries, and composed desserts as pastry chef of Odd Duck.

Because we use seasonal ingredients at Odd Duck and work really closely with our farmers, there are times when we get a ton of something from them that they didn't sell at the market—or it's close to not being sellable, or they just have a lot of it. A lot of times, we have a fair amount of cilantro that's going to go bad, since it's such a time-sensitive ingredient. Sorbet is a really nice solution, since it preserves the color and flavor of the cilantro, and you can keep it in the freezer for a week or two.

I like to do a little bit of a lime base. I'll make a syrup and age it in the walk-in to let everything hydrate together, then combine it with lime juice that's juiced that day. Once I'm ready to spin it, I'll blend it with fresh cilantro and then strain it out. I just do it to taste, adding it right before we spin and freeze it, in order to best preserve the flavors and color. We use it as a palate cleanser, maybe with a garnish of olive oil. It's really flavorful on its own.