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 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 minutes - Cook time: 20 minutes

If you make this recipe, I'd love to see it - tag it #101cookbooks on Instagram!

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  • Heidi 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!

  • 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.

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

  • 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.

  • 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. :)

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

    Tina L.
  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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!

    Alexandra @ Delicious Knowledge
  • 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?!

  • This sounds beautiful, pretty and delicious! Anna x

    The Grazer
  • 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.

  • 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!

    Abbe@This is How I Cook
  • Wow! Must try this-cilantro is starting to appear at the farmers market .

  • 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.

    Allison (Spontaneous Tomato)
  • 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 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!) :)

  • 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?

    Melissa Laurel
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