Cilantro Salad

Cilantro Salad Recipe

I went to a lunch in Oakland a few weeks back. It was one of those special lunches that passes all too quickly - a warm April afternoon, a stretch of tables pushed together under a booming canopy of white flowers, good company, Lillet blanc, and some of my favorite cooks arriving with something to share, family-style. It was a celebration of Deborah Madison's new book, and after all these years, I was finally able to thank her for inspiring body of work in person. All in all, a pretty great afternoon. I would have been more than happy to stay right where I was, long after the plates were cleared, as I imagine dinner under the blossoming trees would be magic. But, that's not actually what I was thinking about after I left. There was this one salad I just couldn't shake. It was made entirely of cilantro, tossed with a simple shallot-forward soy sauce dressing, toasted peanuts, and a vegetable. It was so simple, so bright, and it got me thinking about cilantro in an entirely new way.

Cilantro Salad Recipe Cilantro Salad Recipe Cilantro Salad Recipe

The Xinjiang salad was made by Carolyn Phillips from a Chinese cookbook specializing in the Northwest (you can see the write-up on her site here). You'll also also see it featured in her upcoming book on regional Chinese cooking being published by McSweeney's in 2014. She used red bell peppers, but I've been doing versions with whatever spring produce I have on hand, and you can see the asparagus version down below. Unless you absolutely loathe cilantro, you must, must(!) try this salad.

The key here is absolutely using the brightest, best cilantro you can get your hands on. The stems should be crisp but not at all tough. The leaves vibrant, with no shift in color (indicating onsetting spoilage).


Cilantro Salad

HS: You're going to make far more shallot oil (and shallots) than you need here. Keep the remaining oil refrigerated, and use it to drizzle over noodles, eggs, tofu, all manner of vegetables, etc. Or to use in a component in a vinaigrette. It's incredibly tasty and versatile. Also, please don't try this salad unless you have great cilantro - look for the brightest, best cilantro you can get your hands on. The stems should be crisp but not at all tough. The leaves vibrant, with no shift in color (indicating on-setting spoilage).

1 cup / 240 ml sunflower oil
1 cup / 3.5 oz / 100g evenly sliced shallots, ~20 small

6 ounces / 170 g asparagus spears, very thinly sliced
1 bunch of cilantro with stems

1/2 teaspoon shoyu / soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon sea salt

1/2 cup / 2 ounces peanuts, well-toasted, then cooled
1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds

to serve: herb flowers (garlic chive flowers, chive flowers, etc), optional

Start by making the shallot oil, you can do this up to a few days in advance. Place the oil in a thick-bottomed saucepan or wok, over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot (a "test" shallot should bubble immediately), dial back the heat to medium, sprinkle in the shallots, and cook slowly until they are deeply golden, 15 - 20 minutes. Remove from heat, strain the oil off into a jar, and set aside. Place the shallots on a paper towel and allow them to cool and crisp.

In the meantime, bring a medium saucepan of water to a boil, salt generously, and cook the asparagus for just 15 seconds or so, until bright. Drain, and quickly transfer to a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking. Drain again, and set aside.

Trim any tough stems from the cilantro, and give it a good wash. Dry completely.

Just before you're ready to serve the salad, whisk together the soy sauce, sugar, sea salt, and two tablespoons of the shallot oil. Place the cilantro, peanuts, asparagus, and sesame seeds in a large bowl. Drizzle the soy dressing over, and give a gently but thorough toss. The peanuts and asparagus like to find their way to the bottom, so be sure to scoop them back on top before serving with some of the reserved crisped shallots, and a few herb flowers on top (if you have them).

Serves 6.

Inspired by a salad brought to a lunch made by Carolyn Phillips who, in turn, references a Chinese cookbook specializing in the Northwest here. She'll be featuring the original in her upcoming book on regional Chinese cooking being published by McSweeney's in 2014.

Prep time: 10 min - Cook time: 20 min

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Your Comments

May 7, 2013

Where do you find herb flowers if they are not growing in your own garden?

HS: Hi AM - I buy them often at the farmers market (this time of year is great), those fresh petals I don't use quickly, I air-dry, freezing can also work, but I find it strips a lot of the flavor/scent.


May 7, 2013

This sounds like an incredible salad. I would never have thought of using cilantro like this. I bet the flavours are amazing. Your photos are so filled with beautiful light too. Really inspiring. :)


May 7, 2013

Beautiful salad - I love each and every salad you post here, but I am particularly excited to try this one. Living in Bangkok, we have an abundance of the most amazingly fresh cilantro I've seen anywhere. I used to overlook the herb, and now I use it nearly every day - so bright and fresh.


Shannon O'Donnell
May 7, 2013

With how strong cilantro is flavored, the simple oil dressing sounds like it will be a good compliment. I have a fresh bunch of cilantro on my counter right now and will try this for lunch tomorrow!


May 7, 2013

Interesting! I would have never thought of having a cilantro salad, but considering how fast it grows in the backyard, we could definitely get a few salads out of our plant!


la domestique
May 7, 2013

My husband loves cilantro- he often jokes that he would put it on ice cream, he loves it so much. So, I must make this salad!


What a beautiful salad! When I first joined a local San Diego area CSA and had cilantro coming out the wazoo, I started making it into was all I could do to start making a dent in it. Glad to see this version. It's lovely!


Nuts about food
May 8, 2013

I am addicted to cilantro and it never ever occurred to me to use it as a base in a salad. Thank you for the inspiration.


May 8, 2013

Now I do love the sound of this....but coriander (as we call cilantro over here in England) is not growing in the garden yet. Will hastily grow loads more...becuase you can't really buy huge bunches of it here.


May 8, 2013

beautiful looking salad! here in japan, i haven't seen cilantro in market. as a person who loves herbs, i would love to try this salad someday when i can fresh ingredients.

HS: Hi Yuri - I wonder if a version with a blend of Japanese herbs might be nice? Shiso, mitsuba, etc?


May 8, 2013

I love cilantro in anything! I was wondering, if you may happen to know, instead of shallot (which I'm not hot about), what else may possibly work in its place please?


May 8, 2013

Wow! This looks amazing! Just made cilantro pesto. This appears to be a fabulous way to expand my cilantro repertoire. Thanks!


May 8, 2013

LOVE your oil drizzles. I wish there could be a separate category in 'Recipes' for all your delightful drizzles!

HS: That's not a bad idea Claudia - I do love a flavored oil! ;)


Lovely idea, I use parsley a lot as a main component in salads but will give this one a go, sounds good.


Inspiring and invigorating in thought - the cilantro sounds beautiful with the complimenting shallots and soy sauce - wonderful post with beautiful photography.


How great that you got to meet Deborah Madison! Sounds like a lovely time. Such a creative salad! The dressing sounds absolutely perfect.


Simply Life
May 8, 2013

sounds like a perfect lunch.


May 8, 2013

this looks amazing.


May 8, 2013

This sounds scrumptious.

When my uncle moved to Texas from the midWest about a decade ago, he discovered cilantro. His taste buds were awakened! He became obsessed with cilantro. He called all of his friends in the midWest to tell them about Texans and their cilantro. He even made cilantro ice cream one summer. Suffice it to say, we are a cilantro-obsessed family, and this salad will be made! Thanks for the inspiration :)


May 8, 2013

This looks amazing! My only questions is how to prepare the cilantro--it looks like the leaves aren't completely chopped, but how much of the stem should I leave on? Can't wait to try this (tonight!) x

HS: Hi Taylor, they're not shopped at all. Just leaves and stems....and i kept the stems quite long - 4-5 inches? Something like that.>


Melissa Laurel
May 8, 2013

Really? Do you promise? Don't get me wrong. I love cilantro. But too much can get soapy. Does the shallot dressing tame that a bit?


May 8, 2013

This sounds wonderful. I think I will try it with some tiny fava beans. One note: the recipe does not mention the shallots again after they are allowed to "cool and crisp." I see them in your photo, looking tantalizing - I'm guessing they are added at the end with the flowers?

HS: Love that idea Emma - and, yes, thanks for the catch, add the crispy shallots at the end (updated!) :)


May 8, 2013

I love the use of cilantro as the main ingredient! So creative + inventive (as always). I am loving these photos too ... the shadows are so gorgeous.


This is great! I can't wait to share this recipe with my CSA members. Thanks!


Wow, this looks gorgeous! I am a cilantro lover, but had still never thought to create a salad with cilantro as the main green. The dressing and crisped shallots sound divine. I bet a little fresh lime juice would complement the flavors, too.


May 8, 2013

Wow! Must try this-cilantro is starting to appear at the farmers market .


I love this. Reminds me of a middle eastern parsley salad only this is Asian. Frankly, I'm partial to this as I adore cilantro!


May 8, 2013

Some people seem not to like cilantro, but I love it-especially in salsa. I grow a pot of it by my front door to snip fresh when I need it, along with Parsley and some spearmint. This year I am adding basil to the 'step' community.

Cilantro is known to remove heavy metals, so I use it in my protein smoothies when I can.

Shallot bulb packets were marked down to $1 at Bimart. I had a pot of them in another home, but am still unfamiliar w/ their intrigue, so this should be the recipe to find out their particular taste in the oil.
This year I promised a neighbor I'd plant some Calendula for him, and I can't find the seed anywhere yet. This salad would look great w/ those yellow/orange petals, and would be another taste discovery for me. I'll keep my eyes open for seeds. They come back every year.
Thanks for another great recipe Heidi.


The Grazer
May 8, 2013

This sounds beautiful, pretty and delicious!

Anna x


May 8, 2013

This IS exciting! And Deborah is wonderful, isn't she? (Got to thank her myself in a slightly less-idyllic atmosphere in Davis' Avid Reader.) Have an enormity of ridiculously beautiful-tasting cilantro in the garden. Lunch?!


I recently got into cilantro and now I can't get enough! This salad looks great, and so different from traditional ones. I will be trying this soon!


Lucky for me I am a cilantro fan. Can't wait to give this a try!


May 8, 2013

could i replace the sunflower oil with olive oil as i don't used highly processed oils? would it alter the flavour?

HS: Hi Angela, I used unrefined sunflower oil, and made sure it didn't get too hot. Just hot enough to brown the shallots slowly. Olive oil would work, but will taste different.


May 8, 2013

Would peanut oil work? I know there are certain oils that don't benefit from heating, and I'm guessing with the flavor of the shallot the flavor of the oil would matter less.


Tina L.
May 8, 2013

Abbe, I am thinking that cilantro would be an awesome substitution for parsley on a tabbouleh salad!


OMG!! I LOVE all things cilantro! My husband makes a salad with equal parts cilantro and spinach with avocado dressing. This all cilantro salad sounds amazing! Can't wait to try it. :)


May 8, 2013

This looks amazing! What a creative way to use cilantro. Do you know if I could find chive flowers at the Ferry Plaza market? I have been getting the most beautiful arugula flowers and kale flowers there. Must look for herb flowers.


May 8, 2013

I use cilantro everyday but never thought of making it a star in salad. This sounds very interesting!


That looks gorgeous Heidi. I've previously only used cilantro as garnish or in pesto. It is super-adventurous to create a whole salad around it! And why not! We do it with arugula. This is a must make. With the shallot oil, I am wondering if using olive oil instead of sunflower might change the flavor too much.


May 8, 2013

I love the pictures of the salads you prepare they look especially nice in the dishes you put them in. Mind sharing where you get your dinnerware? Thx!

HS: Thanks Tina - I pick up individual pieces here and here. Antiques stores, on trips, flea markets, garage sales. Happy hunting!


yogi kitchen
May 8, 2013

Would have loved to meet Deborah Madision! Just watch out for the spoon ; ) I met one of my other heroes a few years back; Madhur Jaffrey. She wasn't very forthcoming actually, maybe just tired. Salad looks intriguing. As always.


Hilary Nichols
May 8, 2013

Where were you having lunch al fresco under blooming trees in Oakland? I am trying to guess. Downtown, Temescal or Elmwood, Rockridge? Maybe lakeside? I love that town, and it's many new wonderful restaurant options. Maybe more so since I have moved away. But I am growing cilantro in a flower box alongside my Ann Arbor home, since I love it so, so I will certainly try this salad.


david crossfield
May 8, 2013

I am going to try this. It looks great!


Alice Dishes
May 8, 2013

Cilantro has great health benefits too - it pulls heavy metals out of your system - (and presumably out of wherever it grows) - so be sure to use organic or pesticide free. Can't wait to try it!


Simply called food
May 8, 2013

This looks amazing! It is my favourite herb.


May 8, 2013

yummmmmm! i'm so making this!


May 8, 2013

Is it the flavour of the peanuts that is right or will almonds, walnuts or cashews work with this combination?
(btw - i love your work, thank you so much for sharing!!!)


May 8, 2013

Wonderful timing! As the weather warms up, the cilantro in my garden is bolting faster than I can use it, and I get a few spears of asparagus at a time, so this will be perfect.


Maureen Abood
May 8, 2013

I'm so inspired...this reminds me, in a way, of tabbouleh, which also uses an herb--parsley--as the star. I love cilantro and can't wait to try it this way.


May 8, 2013

This salad sounds so amazing! I am firmly in the LOVE CILANTRO camp, but I have never even thought to do anything like this...even though I'm sure I've seen recipes for salads made primarily of parsley, for instance. Super interesting!


May 8, 2013

very clever to highlight an herb in a salad. i'm not the biggest fan of cilantro. would you recommend using a different herb?


May 8, 2013

Could you post a photo of shallots?
I'm confused as to what ingredient you are talking about. Where I live a shallot is a smaller tastier version of a red onion but sometimes I think cooks are talking about green spring onions when they call for shallots. Which do you mean?


This looks like a surprise in a bowl! I have been obsessed with salads lately (created a vegan caesar salad that I'm posting next week) and adding cilantro to a spring mix with purple cabbage slaw, farm fresh cheese and a simple balsamic vinegar is DI-VINE! I've been afraid to use only cilantro for the leaf base. I can't wait to try this salad - looks like the dressing really pairs well with it!


May 8, 2013

Amazing salad... as always. I was wondering if you have any spots in Brooklyn, NY that you can recommend for 'super natural' style food? I have just moved here and while there is so much choice in terms of amazing food, I can't seem to find any of the kind of stuff you (and now I too) cook...


May 8, 2013

Very interesting salad! Adding peanuts or cashews to any salad has become a favorite thing to do for me. Give it that extra something special to it for some reason.


May 8, 2013

where in oakland out of curiosity? i live in oakland and we're so lucky to have the same level of produce as SF but warmier sunnier weather! cheers heidi for always being such a great inspiration.


May 8, 2013

Ohh so good!! I love it !! We also in Venezuela make some cilantro salad with avocados red , yellow and green peppers with a lime and garlic dressing olive oil sprinkle some cash nut toasted ummm delicious refreshing salad with asados bbq.LOL


May 8, 2013

So happy to see this recipe in my inbox this morning! I have a pot of cilantro in my garden and it's looking very healthy. Was just looking at it this morning thinking, hmmm....what am I going to do to use up all this cilantro before it starts turning yellow! Thank you!


La Torontoise
May 8, 2013

So interesting, never thought of cilantro salad, but I love so much this ingredient. Will make it tomorrow!
Thank you so much!!


May 8, 2013

Shallots AND cilantro? Oh I will be trying this for sure. This will be a staple summertime meal for me.


May 8, 2013

This was a wonderfully tasty salad. It was also the right recipe at the right moment as my cilantro plant has grown by leaps and bounds this week. I can't wait to experiment with the shallot oil.


Sue from Pleasanton
May 8, 2013

This recipe sounds wonderful! I'm sooo glad I love cilantro. Some people are genetically predisposed to find the taste of cilantro "soapy." I just read that Julia Child disliked cilantro and arugula, so you are in good company. I think those of you who cannot abide cilantro should be thanked by those of us who love it!


May 9, 2013

I love the idea of a cilantro salad. Never has one before. I just wonder if the cilantro strong taste would be a bit overwhelming in the long run...


Sounds so fresh and looks so vibrant, indeed. & the lovely lunch sounds gorgeous, how special. Imagine serving this with some fish!
Heidi xo


This sounds so so wonderful! I have been enamored with cilantro in everything lately, and an entire salad dedicated to the herb is so exciting! I'll absolutely have to make this!


May 9, 2013

Made this today and it's certainly a delicious salad! (It also solved my I-have-a-bunch-of-cilantro dilemna quite handily)

One word of warning. After eating this salad, it is a good idea to check the mirror to see if you have any stuck in your teeth. Cilantro is sneaky that way. :P I already had a nice and embarassing moment. ha ha...


May 9, 2013

Such a innovative idea!


May 9, 2013

Made this tonight, absolutely delicious, all at table raved. They don't know how lucky they are that I didn't eat the entire bowl by myself before they sat down. I used crimini mushrooms, blanched asparagus as you suggested, matchstick cut radishes and spring onions. Should have doubled the recipe.


May 9, 2013

Heidi ~ your post came just at the best time (for me)! i was asked to make curry w/jasmine rice for a dinner party last night and i thought this Cilantro Salad would complement it nicely - and it did! i substituted the nuts for grilled cubes of tofu. everyone loved it. i doubled the recipe, so had just a bit left over. i used it for filling fresh spring rolls for my lunch, today. YUM.


diary of a tomato
May 11, 2013

This dish is heaven for us cilantro lovers! It reminds me of a dish we once had in Thailand that was simply a plate of cilantro, both leaves and stems, and minus the roots.


May 12, 2013

I made this today for my special Mother's Day late afternoon lunch. My goodness, it is really awesome! I made my shallot oil with a combination of coconut oil and ghee. Yum. Happy Mother's Day to me! :)


May 12, 2013

I was and I am very excited about this, but I was more excited before I made it. I used tamari which gave it a lot of depth -- too much depth perhaps. I was expecting something more vibrant. Was the tamari the culprit? The ingredients were off the hook, beautiful big leaves of cilantro that were an inch across -- at least. I'm tempted to make this with a sharper vinaigrette. My partner described the dressing as fishy (!). Any thoughts? I'd love for this to be as delicious as 1) it can be from your post and 2) it looks.


May 13, 2013

I made this tonight for dinner with some sea bass and polenta. It was so, so good! I made it almost exactly as per your recipe Heidi. Just added some sushi vinegar to the dressing. And used cashews as I didn't have peanuts. I have always said that cilantro is my favorite herb and that if it didn't seem wacky, I'd eat cilantro sandwiches. So this salad spoke to me the moment are started reading! And yum. Great, in my opinion, to accompany something else (like our fish tonight) and give a really vibrant flavor burst. Thanks for this Heidi - this is going to be my new fave I think!


May 13, 2013

Truly one of my favorite herbs. Last year my garden yielded copious amounts of cilantro and this year looks to be no different. Pleased to have a new way to use all that green!

{The Board and Wire}


Just yesterday we've been talking with Tomasz how much we love cilantro. What a coinsidence.


Lorne Marr
May 14, 2013

I've never eaten a cilantro salad before but it looks so delicious that I don't think I can resist for much longer.


May 14, 2013

Heidi: I made it tonight for dinner, religiously following your reciper. Simply outstanding! Brava, again. And thank you for sharing these pearls.


May 14, 2013

Okay, mission tomorrow: find some great cilantro! Looks like such a wonderful recipe, and simple enough for myself to even manage ;). This would be perfect over a sunny weekend right now, perfect weather. As well, your pictures look amazing. You really have a knack, for taking pictures and getting the right angle and lighting.

Again thanks for posting, time to go check out the quinoa and breakfast recipes :).


May 15, 2013

Made this for dinner last night -- very, very tasty, thank you. I was out of soy so I used miso instead and it was fine. One mistake I made was to chop the cilantro, which I must have done out of habit. I'm making it for dinner again tonight, this time with soy and without chopping.


Taylor B
May 15, 2013

Shallots, asparagus & cilantro... I'm in. I love using fresh herbs in salads and this looks perfect for spring.


Simply called food
May 18, 2013

I just love cilantro and never thought of making a salad with it. I usually make it with parsley but you had a great idea! I am going to try it for sure. :-)


May 18, 2013

Made this salad last night for a friend. We were both blown away. I served it with faro. I have to say that because of you I have learned so much about cooking and my eating skills are improving every day! Wonderful work, you make a lot of people happy.


May 18, 2013

This was delicious!! Cilantro bolting in the garden- a perfect recipe to use it! Refreshing, lightly dressed, and I love the crunch from the peanuts and the bursts of rich umami from the fried shallots. Well done.