Cilantro Salad with Shallots and Shrimp
Some people think cilantro tastes like parsley dusted with Bar Keepers Friend; others love it so much they want to rub their snouts in it. I belong to the latter group. If a bunch of cilantro would hold up as a bouquet, I would have carried it at my wedding. I wish someone would market a cilantro tincture that I could dab behind my ears.I make this salad, which is about 75% cilantro, at the end of winter when I’m daydreaming of my summer herb garden, where I plant cilantro every spring—and every July, and again at the end of August. It grows quickly; I harvest it by the roots, and plant it again. Unlike other soft herbs like basil and tarragon that can withstand regular picking and keep on producing, cilantro is what we garden-nerds call a bolter. It speeds quickly to the harvest zone, pausing like a new teenage driver at a stop sign (the rolling stop) before rushing straight to seed. After the leaves begin to frill, the flavor is gone.So when I see cilantro sold with its roots still attached—and in the winter, this can only mean that I’m shopping my favorite Asian market in nearby Fargo, North Dakota—I snatch up a few bunches. Any place that sells root-bound cilantro understands that the pungent perfume concentrates in cilantro’s roots, runs like nectar up through the stems, and dissipates through the leaves. As if that’s not enough to earn my devotion, Asian markets also sell sushi rice and toban djan (Chinese chili bean paste), ingredients essential to making this powerhouse of a salad.Built on a lump of leftover rice, this dish comes together as quickly as a fire built in my wood stove. Chili paste for kindling, onions and peanuts stacked crosswise to burn, and tons of quick-fire cilantro on top. The lime juice is like lighter fluid here, setting the whole thing aflame—a false igniter that at the end of the winter I’m not averse to using.Feel free to throw something grilled on top of this cilantro bed and call it dinner, but truth be told, I prefer it the next day, cold from the fridge, eaten straight from its storage container.