Sunday, August 22, 2010

fish tacos, or, the cilantro thing

Okay, let's talk about fish tacos. And also about...cilantro.
Let me preface this discussion with two warnings. I don't want you to feel like I've left you unprepared for what could happen here.
The first is that it is difficult to talk about fish tacos without also wanting to eat fish tacos immediately. I mean that, and I know you know what I'm talking about. If you don't have a certain future of lime juice dripping down your arm within hours of reading this, you are going to be unhappy. And if you're unhappy, I'm unhappy, because for better or worse, I'm like that. So get ready.
The second warning is that you might have a little bit less respect for me by the end of this post. Today I'm going to share something that might disappoint you, that might make you think that I'm a little less of a...oh what's that word? foodie. You might exclaim, "How can you survive in a world without flavor!" and "Well, I was about to invite you over for dinner, but now I won't! What on earth would I make for you?"

Okay, let's have it out then.

I hate cilantro.

I'm one of those people who they write about in the New York Times, the ones who think cilantro tastes like soap. Only, to be totally honest, soap feels like an understatement. I'd happily eat your soap if you gave me a choice between the two. People ask me if it's an allergy, and sometimes I say yes. Does it count as an allergy if being in the same room with it makes me want to scream, and to clench my face together and hope that I'm in some horrible dream that I'm going to wake up from any second? Does it count that when I eat it accidentally, the taste stays in my mouth for days?

For those of you who are baffled by we cilantro haters, I thought I'd answer a few commonly asked questions, a cilantro haters FAQ, if you will.

1. Is this cilantro hating really a genetic trait, or is it cultural?
I really don't know. I've heard that there is a cilantro hating gene, like the asparagus pee gene, and I've also heard that in cultures where children eat cilantro from a young age, there are no cilantro haters. I've also heard that Northern Italy houses more cilantro haters than any other region, but I don't have an ounce of Northern Italian blood in my body.

2. How did you figure out that you were a cilantro hater?
Twelve years old. Restaurant with mom. Salmon with salsa fresca. Horrible.

3. I was hanging out with you the other day, and you took a bite of something with cilantro in it, and you didn't die. Aren't you being a little bit over dramatic?
Of course. It's me we're talking about here. And yes, occasionally, if it is tucked into something, and cooked, I won't die.

4. Doesn't this cause problems for you at the Farmer's market?
When we have cilantro at the market, I make other people touch it. And I don't stand near it. And I pray that there will be so many cilantro lovers around that it will be gone within an hour.

5. But don't you claim to love Mexican food? What's the point without cilantro? How on earth do you eat fish tacos?
I thought you'd never ask.

Fish Tacos that have no need for cilantro
serves four

1 pound white fish (halibut, snapper, scrod, tilapia--really whatever you can afford)
olive oil
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon red chili flakes
1/2 small red cabbage, shredded
8 corn or small wheat tortillas
3 limes
1 avocado
1 peach, pitted and cut into 1 inch pieces
1/2 small red onion, diced
1 small hot pepper, seeds removed, diced
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley

Marinate the cabbage: Combine the cabbage, a pinch of salt and the juice of one lime. Toss to coat, and let sit at room temperature for at least an hour.
Make the Peach Salsa: Combine the peach, hot pepper, red onion, parsley, and salt to taste. Give it a quick squeeze of lime, and let sit for at least 20 minutes.
Prepare the fish: Combine the oregano, chili flakes, and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Rub it all over the fish. Drizzle with olive oil, and squeeze half of a lime over the fish. Grill or broil for 3-4 minutes on each side, or until opaque.
Prepare the guacamole: mash the avocado with 1/2 teaspoon salt and the juice of half of a lime. Add additional salt to taste.
Warm the tortillas for a moment, one at a time, in a cast iron skillet or in the warm oven.

Serve together with lime slices on the side. Make a mess!


  1. I must admit that I have come around to cilantro, though I certainly sympathize with your position. My mother has always loved it, and up until a couple of years ago, I thought she was crazy. Finally I realized that it's Mexican food that makes cilantro taste like soap--at least, in my opinion. I don't think the flavors go together at all. However, cilantro in Asian food is perfect--clean and crisp tasting, and most intriguing. Billy agrees with me, so on the rare occasions when we buy cilantro, it's for the pad thai--not the fish tacos.

  2. OK once I looked up cilantro and found out it is what we call coriander I was right with you! Foul foul stuff. The leaves, that is, but the seeds are delicious!

  3. And a coincident article in today's paper!

  4. Ha! And people keep trying to get me to train myself out of it- the stubborn 5-year old comes out- I just don't like it!

  5. I love cilantro and pity you. However, one of my smartest friends says that her cilantro hatred is a sign her brain is more evolved than others. It could be true.

  6. thank you for the validation. i hate it because it gives me an instant headache. i can detect it in nearly anything! but here's the question: do you like coriander seed?