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Cilantro: The Herb Specially Crafted To Make Me Feel Like A Failure

By Kristy Puchko | Food Porn | June 6, 2017 |

By Kristy Puchko | Food Porn | June 6, 2017 |

I love cilantro (in salsa, on a taco, atop a bloody Mary). It does not love me back. Ours is an abusive relationship. I do my very best to appease it. It does its very best to make me feel like an abject failure. After watching untold hours of various cooking shows, I divined my own corn salsa recipe, in which cilantro was an honored ingredient. But even as fast as my Mister and I ripped through bowl after bowl of salsa, I could never get through the whole bundle of cilantro before it turned to muck, a dark green sludge the color of despair and reeking of death and rot.

“You suuuuuuuuuuck!” The cilantro called out to me in the soupy slick voice of the undead and damned. Sure, I’d try to salvage the less sludgy bits for use in a salad or salsa. But the stench is too pervasive. And so, there I go, chucking the rest in the trash, followed by a sigh of exasperation.

I found no images for cilantro sludge, because it’s so repulsive even the internet drew a line. So imagine it as Ferngully’s Hexxus, but dark green and voiced not by Tim Curry but Dane Cook.

I’d put it in vase, in sunlight. I’d tried having it covered in a plastic bag, and without. I added ice to the vase’s water, noting that’s how some stores sell it, in icy water troughs. Still, without fail my beloved cilantro always turned to stink sludge, mocking me, and marring my aspirations as home cookery. But this spring would be different.

With a new apartment came sunlight unlike I’d ever known since moving to New York City, where first floor apartments are cheaper because who needs a view or sun exposure when you’ve got a TV and vitamin D supplements! But now, I have an outdoor space, and real sunlight! Now things would be different for me and cilantro.

I bought pots. I bought already flourishing plants of herbs, including cilantro. And while I have fussed over my mints and basils, the cilantro plants have been my favorites. When then sulk, I turn them toward sunlight. When they wilt, I water them. I prune them and pluck carefully, never wanting to over harvest, no matter how much some fresh cilantro would be really amazing on that taco. And they flourished! They thrived! And then they bolted.

Herb garden in bloom! 🌿

A post shared by Kristy Puchko (@kristypuchko) on

Look, this is the first time I’ve ever tried to grow anything. I did not know of “bolting,” and “gone to seed” was a term I thought was purely metaphorical. But all of a sudden, my cilantro’s leaves were less generous and splayed, and more thistle-like. The plant stopped sprawling horizontally, its long arms wafting out over the pot like a child’s hands dipping from the bow of a boat reach curiously toward the water. Now, it shot straight up, defiant and proud and not really looking at all like cilantro anymore. Then, small white flowers bloomed, and I thought, how pretty as I pruned a few of the lower thicker leaves for a salsa. But this was no longer my cilantro. The scent and flavor was faint and wispy, because my cilantro had outgrown me.

You know how cilantro and coriander are the same plant? I used to think this was like an American/British thing, like the ass-backwards way they say aluminum. But nope! The leafy loveliness that I so often turned to sinister slop was cilantro. Once it “bolts” (meaning shoots upright and grows flowers) it begins its path to being coriander. As it puts energy into blooming, its leaves grow thin and bland. Its flowers will turn into seeds, and the seeds can be dried and ground for spice (called coriander) or replanted to grow more cilantro. So basically it’s like the face-hugger/xenomorph transformation, but with less chest-bursting and man-eating. But still hateful.


Basically, the cilantro I so endeavored to love has found a new way to wound me. We’re finally getting sunny days befitting salsa and sangria funtimes, and I’m back to having to buy my cilantro at the store like some jerk! Despite my best efforts, it will sour and slop. And I’ll pitch it, cursing myself for wasting food and generally being a failed adult. Meanwhile, in my herb garden, coriander is blossoming. And I feel like Viola Davis near the end of Fences, angry yet affectionate toward Cilantro Washington’s pretty bastard child it had with some other gardener when I wasn’t looking. Because I buried my hopes in you, Cilantro! And I don’t even know what to do with Coriander!

“We can just buy new cilantro plants,” my Mister counsels. “Or wait for the seeds and plant those.” I can barely hear him looking wistfully out to the herb garden I thought I knew. Then I see something strange about my green onions, which too have grown tall. Is that a fucking onion flower? Son of a bitch! It’s a mutiny!

Kristy Puchko is a gardening newb.

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Kristy Puchko is the managing editor of Pajiba. You can follow her on Twitter.