Sauces & Rubs

By Lindsay Hunt | June 13, 2011


Photo: Lindsay Hunt

Cilantro is a polarizing herb. Not beloved like earthy rosemary, which conjures up a nonna in Italy making a roast leg of lamb, or fantasized about like pungent summer lavender Southern France, for some unlucky tasters, cilantro is as unpalatable as soap. If you’re like me, then a handful of verdant leaves swirled into soup or sprinkled on tacos is a blessing. 

This recipe makes no apologies for copious cilantro. In fact, it’s a love letter to the herb, dressed up as a health sauce, adorned with only high-quality extra-virgin olive oil, a little sea salt, and freshly ground pepper.

Last year, food scientist Harold McGee wrote about the widespread dislike for the herb. According to the article, the bad taste in the herb comes from aldehydes, which are also released in soap making. A 2010 Japanese study posits that crushing cilantro leaves gives an opportunity to enzymes in the leaves to break down the aldehydes into unoffending substances. If you feel left out at a dinner party because of your hatred for this herb, this recipe might change your social status forever. Then again, it might just be a delicious topping for ricotta crostini or polenta. It’s worth a try, either way.

Intrigued but can’t abide the herb? This recipe would work equally well with parsley, fresh oregano, or a blend of your favorites.

  • 1 bunch cilantro
  • 4 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • Sea salt, to taste
  • Freshly ground pepper, to taste


Using a chef's knife, chop the cilantro until well minced. Transfer to a medium bowl and drizzle the olive oil on top of the herbs. Fold the olive oil into the herbs using a spatula. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Pesto will keep in an air-tight container in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

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