Cilantro and the Perfect Breakfast

I used to hate breakfast. It was the most boring meal of the day and every day I dreaded eating it. Some days I nearly gagged, gobbling down breakfast to keep my parents happy, then heading off to school. Cereal - blaghhhh. Eggs and bacon, day in and day out - booorrring. I skipped breakfast for years. But over time, I learned that eating breakfast is an easy way to cut back on the noontime meal.

When I was growing up, lunch (we called it dinner, the evening meal was supper) was the Big Meal of the day. In those days, people worked hard, physically. I have great memories of working on a haying crew at ages 14 and 15, and how we'd go to the farmer's house for dinner. The Mrs. would have killed a couple of chickens or cooked a ham and a beef roast and there'd be homemade bread, noodles, lots of corn or green beans, lots of salads, several pies and we'd all eat until we could barely move, then go back to work and work it off by evening. A back injury while working those jobs, age 15, drove me indoors and helped start my years of restaurant work.

What does all this have to do with cilantro, you might wonder? No one had heard of cilantro where I grew up, and I didn't encounter the herb until I was well into adulthood. And when I did find it on my plate, I was not impressed at all.

In 1992 I was asked to write the chapter on herbs for the Ball Red Book, which is an 800 page encyclopedia for commercial greenhouses. Back then, nurseries and garden centers were just beginning to respond to customer demands for herbs, and most growers knew little about growing anything flowers or vegetables. Before writing my 2,500 word contribution to the book, I conducted a survey of seed companies, wholesale and retail growers nationwide, asking what the top 10 most popular herbs were, in order of sales.

The results were interesting, with basil being the most popular herb, followed by parsley, dill, etc. Down about number 8 or 9 on the top ten most popular herbs, was French tarragon. Everybody sold it even though a lot of their customers didn't know what to do with it once they had it. But because Julia Child and the new flurry of cooking shows said you had to have it, the herb sold.

In late 2008 I conducted that same survey again, to see if anything had changed. The line-up of herbs still started with basil as the most popular herb. Lavender was number 2, parsley number 3. But what I thought might have changed, and the numbers proved, was cilantro was now on the list at number 10, right behind chives at number 9. However, French tarragon was no where on the top ten! In just a decade and a half, American eating habits had changed. And so had mine. (The result of the survey was the inspiration for my book, Ten Most Popular Herbs You Can Grow, which we sell on-line and wholesale to shops).

Breakfast has become the best meal of the day, and I found that a meal that didn't leave me hungry and wanting snacks by 11:00, was a lot more satisfying than a bowl of cereal that tasted like, well, dead tree bark, and was a lot more fun. So almost every day, I have cilantro on my breakfast burrito. Granted, it's more trouble than a bowl of crunchy dead stuff, and, yes, it takes 10 minutes of time, and yes, I finally, after all these years, look forward to breakfast every day!

Here's what goes into my "perfect" breakfast:
Half of a chopped poblano pepper, 2 tablespoons chopped sweet pepper, about 1/3 cup thinly sliced zucchini squash, 1 diced green onion and either cooked chorizo or some precooked sausage. I saute the peppers, onion and squash, add the crumbled sausage or chorizo, then add some salsa while it cooks. Finally, I then heat a large tortilla on top of the skillet of cooking pepper mixture until the tortilla relaxes. I spread that with either sour cream or chopped avocado, pour out the cooked pepper-sausage mixture and top it with a half cup of loosely chopped cilantro, a little more salsa and roll it up like a burrito. There, that's my perfect breakfast I look forward to every day.

The earlier you plant cilantro, the better. I usually plant some in early winter and another seeding on top of the ground in early spring. Cilantro is a cool season plant and will come up when the ground temperatures begin to rise. Mine will be up in mid March and will continue to produce until warm weather. Long about the first or second week of May, cilantro will start bolting into flowering and once that happens, no matter  how much you cut it back, the flavor gets "soapy" and the plant is sprinting to produce seed. "Slow-Bolt" cilantro extends the season by about a week, but once the weather is warm, cilantro is done for until fall. (You can easily grow Vietnamese cilantro, a semi-water plant, to take up the slack; Vietnamese cilantro loves hot weather and produces all summer, provided you keep it clipped back about every 10 days to keep the flavor fresh and sweet).

If you think the only reason for the upsurge of cilantro in popularity is primarily from Hispanic influences, you would be wrong. While Hispanic-inspired restaurants have increased over the last decade, so have Asian restaurants. Chinese, Thai, Indian and Middle Eastern cuisines, all use cilantro, making it one of the most universally used herbs!

And for those who mourn the passage of French tarragon into relative obscurity, think about the last time you were in a restaurant and ate a dish that contained tarragon. It's probably been a long, long time. Then think back to when you last had a dish containing cilantro in a restaurant. It probably wasn't very long ago.

My perfect breakfast may not be to everyone's taste, but I've found this mixture of flavors and ingredients gets me more excited about starting my day than a bowl of lifeless cereal ever did. I actually look forward to breakfast every day and this universal herb has a lot to do with it. Happy gardening!


Anonymous said...

love basil....that looks yummy...I always do cold pizza or something eaually as bad for breakfast;)

mas said...

Cillantro is one of those herbs that I truly love to eat. It's one of those herbs that you either like it or can't stand it.

Dan said...

Hi Jim
I stumbled across your blog via Sharon's - and must admit I was drawn by the photo of the 'full english'. What a great alternative you have here though! I would really enjoy a breakfast burrito, so I'm going to give it a go. I have a lovely omelette recipe from Marie-Pierre Moine's Fast French cookbook, which is filled with ham and lettuce. I had it this morning for breakfast. Might seem a bit strange for breakfast, but no stranger than cilantro (we call it coriander in the UK, and it took me a little while to work out what that ingredient was a few years ago - but after I tried it, I loved it).
Looking forward to exploring on your blog for some more ideas!
Best wishes

Anonymous said...

I don't miss tarragon but I sure do love cilantro and parsley, cilantro for all the Mexican recipes for my Mexican husband. Parsley and cilantro for all the Persian stews my family loves. I wish I could find a place to buy fennugreek seeds to plant, and info on whether it would work for me in the Boston, MA area. Do you know a source? I also would like a source for green Shiso for the japanese sushi type recipes my family likes. The two Japanese groceries in Cambridge closed in the last two years. Thanks in advance for any help you can give me. Chrisq here in New England

Jim Long said...

Yes, I do know where you can find fennugreek seed, Crisq. Go to Baker Creek Seeds, www.rareseeds.com. I was at their store yesterday and saw the seed.


Anonymous said...

My friend, Jack Okie, asked me if I could grow REAL french tarragon. He said he couldn't buy seed or plant that tasted like it did in France. I wondered about it because I never cared for the flavor of mine - strong and bitter. Barbara

Lindy said...

Hi JIm, Regarding the last 2 blogs (this one and the previous one):

The drumming and fabulous greenhouse sounds like a perfect day.

I love cilantro and of course, here in the Sonoran Desert, we can only grow it in the early spring or late fall. Your breakfast burrito sounds luscious - I must try. I would add sausage for my husband and leave mine vegie. Served with a cup of hot herbal tea or cool herbal tea in hot weather - YUM!

Sharon Lovejoy said...

Oh my gosh, I LOVE TARRAGON, how did it slip so grandly???

I OWE YOU Jim dear. I just saw your comment on my Lowe's garden blog entry. You are too good to me and I think I will be forever indebted, or....good grief I'll have to repay you somehow in the future.

I love this post.

Sharon Lovejoy Writes from Sunflower House and a Little Green Island