Cilantro Salad

The best salad I've had in the past year was a cilantro salad. Meaning, no other lettuces. None. Unless you absolutely loathe cilantro, you 100% must try it. It is made with cilantro leaves and stems tossed with a simple shallot-forward soy sauce dressing, plus peanuts. I’ll often add asparagus.

Cilantro Salad

This cilantro salad came to my attention in a round-about way. And I'm so thankful! 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 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. I was thinking about something I ate.
Cilantro Salad in a Bowl

Cilantro Salad: You Need This Salad in Your Life

There was this one salad at the lunch that 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. I can't emphasize more strongly how much I want you to enjoy this salad as well.
Salad Ingredients in Large Bowl

The Inspiration

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, All Under Heaven. She used red bell peppers, but I've been doing versions with whatever spring produce I have on hand. You can see the asparagus version as well as an all-cilantro version down below. Unless you absolutely loathe cilantro, you must, must(!) try this salad.
Cilantro Salad Recipe

What is it Good With?

I love this salad as side to just about anything. It's great as a component to a grain bowl, wonderful in tacos, and I love it as a side salad to a rustic, savory tomato tart.

Cilantro Salad in a Bowl

Cilantro Salad: Pro-tip

This is the main thing that matters. The absolute key here is to use the brightest, best cilantro you can get your hands on. The stems should be crisp but not at all tough. The leaves need to be vibrant, with no shift in color (indicating onsetting spoilage).
Cilantro Salad Recipe

More Salads

I understand if cilantro isn't your things. Especially if you're one of the people who experiences it as soapy. Here are a bunch of other salad recipes for you to check out.

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Cilantro Salad

5 from 2 votes

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, as I mentioned above, 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).

Ingredients
  • 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
 (optional)
  • 1 bunch of cilantro with stems
  • 1 teaspoon shoyu / soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/2 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
Instructions
  1. 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.
  2. In the meantime, if you're adding asparagus, 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.
  3. Trim any tough stems from the cilantro, and give it a good wash. Dry completely.
  4. Just before you're ready to serve the salad, whisk together the soy sauce, sugar, sea salt, and 1/4 cup of the shallot oil.

  5. Place the cilantro, peanuts, asparagus, and sesame seeds in a large bowl. Drizzle half of the soy dressing over, and give a gentle but thorough toss. Add more dressing if you like. 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).

Notes

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, All Under Heaven, being published by McSweeney's in 2014.

Serves
14
Prep Time
10 mins
Cook Time
20 mins
 
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Recipe Rating




Comments

My cilantro is growing like crazy right now, and anyone that grows it knows how quickly it can go to seed. I was happy to finally make this terrific recipe while my cilantro is so young, fresh and plentiful. I prepped everything early in the day, making it very quick to throw together at dinner time. Thank you Heidi!

Oaklandpat

    Fantastic!

    Heidi Swanson

Woke up thinking about Cilantro...not sure why, though. Sat down with my coffee and began to scan through emails, when this one appeared. How did you do that?

akbright

Made this tonight with farmers market cilantro...all quite delicicious, but I'm wondering about the acidic counterpoint to the oil? Thank you.

    Hi Judith! You can add some if you like -a bit of lemon juice, etc. I like it as written, it's not a vinaigrette, but you could certainly make it one and see if you like it more or less.

    Heidi Swanson

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.

Jana

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.

Simply called food

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.

Jacqueline

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

Taylor B

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.

Julie

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 :).

Foods4Health

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

Lorne Marr

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

Marilena

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! Ash {The Board and Wire}

Ash

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!

Vara

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.

Sarah

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!

lisa

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.

diary of a tomato

Such a innovative idea!

ami@naivecookcooks

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. I already had a nice and embarrassing moment. ha ha...

Ali

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!

jodye @ chocolate and chou fleur

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.

shari

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.

sandy

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

Heidi - Apples Under My Bed

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...

MIke

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

Angelica

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.

ariyele

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.

Richard

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!

Suzanne @RollWithIt

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!

Eileen

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.

Maureen Abood

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!

Sue from Pleasanton

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.

val

yummmmmm! i'm so making this!

ashley

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.

Lisa

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