Written and photographed by Christine Miksis
Who knew the question “Do you like cilantro?” would stir up such a commotion? Certainly not a cilantro lover like me. “Ugh, it tastes like soap. Please don’t put it anywhere near me, let alone in the chili!” one friend sneered upon answering the question. After this open declaration of repulsion towards the Chinese parsley, I started to frequently notice more and more haters.
I was intrigued, and so I Googled. What I found was that the cilantro segregation was much greater than what I had actually suspected. Upon my surprise, writers from the Wall Street Journal, NPR and the New York Times were also intrigued and covered the controversial topic fairly recently due to findings at the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia, where scientific research on smell and taste is conducted.
Scientists there began a study on the smell and taste of cilantro to figure out why there’s such a fuss over the herb. They were able to separate the different scent components of cilantro for study participants to smell individually, and found that people who dislike cilantro are unable to detect the “pleasant” scent component that those who love cilantro can sniff.
However, people who like cilantro are still able to smell the “soapy, unpleasant” scent component, yet still have an affinity towards the herb. The study concluded that generally the smell determines whether we like or dislike the herb. Specifically, the inability to detect the pleasant scent component of cilantro and only detect the unpleasant soapy one is the reason why certain individuals dislike it.
Whether you’re averse or not, cilantro is a common ingredient on menus in Latin America and Asia. Lovers appreciate its citrusy bite and clean, fresh scent. In the U.S., it is usually associated with Mexican and Southwestern dishes enjoyed in the summer with margaritas. However, I’m happy to pack up the cilantro and transition it over to Snuggie season this November, as I’ve recently discovered it also goes quite well with chili.
My chili recipe has been tweaked and edited over the past two years, but I just recently discovered the addition of cilantro made it perfect. However, this chili can certainly stand alone for those who are anti-cilantro. If you really like the herb, the ingredient combined with a squeeze of lime juice lends a summery dimension to the fall/winter comfort staple, not to mention a pretty pop of color for presentation as well.
Cilantro, Black Bean and Lime Chili
Prep time:15 minutes
Cook time:1 hour 30 minutes
Makes 5-6 servings
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 1 onion, diced
- 1 yellow bell pepper, chopped
- 1 green bell pepper, chopped
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 1 tablespoon cumin
- 1 tablespoon paprika
- 3 tablespoons chili powder
- 1 lb. ground beef
- 1/4 cup dark stout beer like Guinness
- 1 15-oz. can black beans
- 1/2 28-oz. can San Marzano crushed tomatoes
- 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
- 3 tablespoons brown sugar
- 1 small jalapeño, chopped
- Handful of chopped cilantro per bowl
- 1 lime wedge per bowl
- 1 dollop Greek yogurt or sour cream per bowl
- Handful of shredded cheese per bowl
In a large skillet, add the vegetable oil and sauté the onion and bell peppers over medium heat. After about 10 minutes, add the minced garlic and cook for an additional 2 minutes. Stir in the cumin, paprika and chili powder, and cook for 2 more minutes. Set the vegetable/spice mixture aside.
Meanwhile, cook the beef over medium-high heat in a large pot for about 8 minutes or until browned, breaking up with a wooden spoon.
Add the vegetable/spice mixture, beer, black beans, tomatoes, Worcestershire sauce, brown sugar, and jalapeño pepper to the beef and mix well. Once the mixture starts to boil, reduce to a simmer, cover, and cook for 1 hour. If you don’t have the time, you can simmer it for at least 20 minutes.
Serve in bowls and mix in a handful of chopped cilantro and a squeeze of lime juice per serving. If you wish, add a dollop of Greek yogurt or sour cream and shredded cheese of your choice.