Week of December 9

Cilantro

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A picture from spring 2012. This plant was started in late fall and the leaves were picked throughout winter for cooking. In spring it was allowed to go into flowering when it was a a favorite of bees and ladybugs
Cool weather brings the season for cilantro. It is one of the most enjoyed herbs in El Paso. We love it in salsa, guacamole and for seasoning other dishes.
It is available in grocery stores and can easily be grown at home.
Cilantro loves the cool weather and it is still not late to sow cilantro seeds. However we are getting freezing temperatures at night now and it may be difficult for the seeds to germinate outdoors. At this time of the year seeds can be sown in containers or soil blocks indoors or under a frost cover outdoors. Once the plants are about 1-2 inches they can be transplanted to the ground or larger container. The new transplants will need a few days of transitioning to the outdoor climate therefore cover them with frost cover at night specially when the temperature is below 32° F. Once the plants appear to have settled in the new environment they will be able to tolerate cold much better. Some heirloom varieties can even tolerate light frost and temperature in 20s.

If seeds are started in fall the plants will not need much cold protection as the seedlings get adapted to the gradually cooling temperatures and the plant root system is developed enough to tolerate the freezes.

Cilantro, depending on the season and seed variety, can vary widely in size. It can be a small 8-12 inches plant or could be as high as 3-4 feet. If you prefer a smaller plant size any variety can be trained to stay small by pinching off the growing ends. However the larger plants are also quite beautiful in any garden and attract a number of beneficial insects specially if allowed to flower during spring. At the end of spring instead of pulling the the plant out let it go into seeding stage and let it dry out. You will be amazed how it would be teaming with beneficial insects specially ladybugs larvae. After these insects have left the plant can then be put into compost pile or crunched and spread on a plant bed. Next season there will be cilantro seeds germinating in that plant bed saving you the effort of sowing the seeds.

Although leaves and seeds are the parts of a cilantro plant most commonly used in cooking but almost any part can be used, including the roots in some cuisines.
Two or three cilantro plants can give you good amount of cilantro leaves or the seeds for your culinary needs (using the whole seeds) for several months. If you want to use powdered cilantro seeds in the cooking you will need more cilantro plants.

As with all herbs cilantro is also rich in antioxidants and several phytonutrients. Cilantro has been used in traditional Indian and Latin American cuisines for thousands of years.
Experiment with cilantro by garnishing any freshly cooked savory dish and most of the times you will not go wrong. It spices up the flavor of any bland dish. Add finely chopped cilantro to salads when using a lemon or other citrus based dressing. Cilantro is excellent in soups specially tomato or lentil soup.

It is an easy to grow herb and can be grown even in a small patio or balcony. Give it a try in your garden this season and enjoy it in your cooking throughout the winter and spring.