Tip #11: the difference between Watercress and Cilantro (and Tip #12)
This tip may make no sense to you, but trust me, this is important. The next time you are standing there making your favorite healthy Mexican food item or maybe preparing my world-famous ‘Mediterranean Salad’, and you grab out that huge bundle of greens that you picked up at the store from under the sign Cilantro, make sure it actually is Cilantro. FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, RIP SOME OFF AND SMELL IT BEFORE SELECTING IT!!
For about the third time THIS YEAR, I have been preparing some dish after going to the store and buying all of the ingredients and I end up getting the Cilantro out of the fridge and find out it is WATERCRESS!!! I am always in a bit of a rush in the store, with kids running around asking for frosted Fruitios or some such crap. I get to the fresh green bunches of herbs section where there are always 3 choices: Parsley, Watercress, and Cilantro. I know what Parsley and Cilantro are, what they taste like and why you use them. I have no idea what in the world Watercress is used for or why they sell it…. It has NO flavour!!
Watercress (the thing you don’t want) Cilantro (pure tasty goodness)
I always check the labels carefully and grab from the area vaguely below the Cilantro label, but unfortunately the people who are setting out these green bundles don’t appear to take the same care and attention placing the herbs as I do picking them!!
Seriously, this tip will make a lot of sense to you the next time rip off some bits of that green bundle that is in your fridge, hoping to add Cilantro to your recipe only to discover that it has no smell and is in fact Watercress (this isn’t a veiled attempt by me to rant about getting screwed again by the grocery store!!)
So, Cilantro has a jaggier leaf. Take the time to rip some off and smell it. It should smell a little like the top notes of fresh salsa. It should smell enough that you know what it is…
Or you could grow your own….
Tip #12: Grow your own herbs and tomatoes
I am not advising you to grow all of your own food, or to grow corn or green peas, because those things take a lot of space and a bunch of time. I am instead advising you to grow some herbs that you will likely use in salads and healthy meals (parsley, cilantro, sage, basil, thyme, etc), green peppers, and tomatoes. I would eat a lot more tomatoes if I had them around the house more often. In fact the biggest complaint about vegetables is they rot quickly. You go to the store and buy a bunch of tomatoes and put them in a bowl on the counter. You forget about them for a little while and they on the next weekend you are making a great omelet. You need some onions, check, they last awhile, the green peppers seem to be mostly okay if you just cut around the softer parts, but then you get to the tomatoes. Cooked tomatoes are the stars of most meals and here they are rotting in the bottom of your bowl…
A tomato plant lasts quite awhile and puts out tons of tomatoes. Sure you will have to throw away a bunch of rotten tomatoes, but for a few months you are going to have plenty of fresh ones when you want them. Herbs are fantastic because I have had year round herbs here in Vancouver (My kids planted the garden and we have dozens of herbs I have never eaten before. WE DON’T HAVE CILANTRO THOUGHT!!! We rectified that this weekend, I planted about 40 cilantro plants). I can’t tell you how many times I have read a recipe and thought… damn I don’t have any greek oregano.. and then realized, oh yah, I got a bunch….
You can grow tomatoes and herbs in small containers on balconies or in small spots in the garden. Make sure that they are near your kitchen, that just makes it easier. You can also grow herbs and tomatoes in your kitchen. I have seen the coolest herb seed packages lately. This one was at the local bookstore, it has a great variety of herbs or tomatoes in each pack even comes with a great pot to grow them in:
I saw these seed packets at a local drugstore and ended up buying the Mexican one. The themes are so cool, but I am a little curious as to how they could leave onion out of the salsa pack. Imagine though a nice long pot in a window in the kitchen with peppers, tomatoes, onions and cilantro… Salsa at your fingertips… How awesome is that.
If you really have no room on your counter or balcony, maybe you could try one of these upside down tomato planters.
If you have kids, growing plants can be fun as well. In any case, I apologize for tip #11, but you know how I get when my food plans are disrupted and I was so angry about being fooled again by the watercress swap. I bet they do it on purpose to unload the watercress!! Still, always check your herbs before you leave the store. Better yet though, plant some of these plants in your house/yard. Really, if this just helps you eat a few meals at home it will be worth it, and you will have one hell of a time being fit without cooking your own meals a fair amount of the time.