Cilantro – Pak Chee
by Kasma Loha-unchit
See also Kasma's information on Thai Basil (Bai Horapa).
Cilantro (pak chee): Also known as "coriander" and "Chinese parsley," cilantro is the most-used, leafy aromatic herb. In Thai cooking, the whole plant is valued, from the tender leaves to the firm roots. The sweetly scented leaves are tossed into soups at the last minute (cooking dissipates the refreshing flavor) and eaten raw in salads; sprigs serve as the ubiquitous garnish; and roots and bottom stems get smashed and added to soup stocks and stews, or minced and reduced with other herbs to make curry and chilli pastes.
Cilantro root (rahk pak chee) has a deep, earthy flavor lacking in the leaves and stems and is an important Thai flavoring ingredient. Pounded with garlic and white peppercorns, it makes a fragrant and peppery basic seasoning mix. Unfortunately, cilantro usually comes with its roots already cut off. Look for whole cilantro plants with roots at farmer's markets with ethnic Southeast Asian stalls, or grow your own, but if you must, the bottom stems substitute well in seafood dishes. If you are able to find cilantro with roots, rinse them well and use the roots along with an inch of the bottom stems to which they are attached. Store extra roots in a ziplock bag in the freezer; clean and let dry before freezing. Also, some Thai grocery stores carry frozen "rootlets" imported from Thailand. If you cannot find roots or rootlets, you may substitute with large stem sections, though the effect will not be quite the same.
Some people do not like cilantro, claiming it tastes like soap. This dislike frequently stems from previous experiences with dishes in which the flavor of cilantro is overpowering. When properly balanced with other robust herbal and spice flavors, however, it gives an exquisite dimension that adds depth and character to a Thai dish.
. . . Cilantro, too, is a known medicinal herb in Asia that offers many benefits, including aiding digestion and the removal of toxins from the body.
Our Ingredients Index contains links to many more Thai ingredients.