Eating for Life

Worldly cilantro packs flavor

Food styling by JILL WENDHOLT SILVA/Photos by TAMMY LJUNGBLAD/The Kansas City Star
Try adding cilantro to this chicken and brown rice dish. Flavorful but also low in calories, cilantro is known for aiding digestion.

W hen it comes to pumping up the flavor of food without adding excess fat and calories, herbs are always a good bet.

One of the most widely used herbs in the world? Cilantro.

Also known as Chinese parsley, the pungent herb packs a wallop to the taste buds but has just 1 calorie per 1/4 -cup serving. These tender green leaves are part of the coriander plant and play an integral role in pad Thai, Mexican salsas, Indian raitas, a yogurt-based condiment, as well as Caribbean dressings and marinades.

As cilantro moves into the mainstream in America, it’s showing up in new-wave, fusion-style condiments, including cilantro-flavored mayonnaise and cilantro pesto. In addition to its trendy flavor profile, The Star’s Cilantro Chicken offers the addition of brown rice, a whole grain with lots of fiber.

Other health benefits? Cilantro is reputed to be an aphrodisiac, an appetite stimulant and a digestive aid. It’s rich in vitamins A and C and contains phytonutrients thought to stimulate anti-cancer enzymes in the body.

In 2004 researchers at the University of California-Berkeley isolated an anti-bacterial agent in cilantro known as dodecenal. Contained in the leaves of the plant, large quantities of dodecenal have been shown to kill salmonella, bacteria that causes food poisoning.

Shopping tip: Available year-round in nearly every supermarket, cilantro is typically sold in bunches, often displayed near the parsley. Choose cilantro that is bright green and shows no sign of wilting.

Storage tip: Store fresh cilantro for up to a week in a plastic bag in the refrigerator or in a glass of water as you would a bouquet of flowers with a plastic bag covering the top.

Cooking tip: Cilantro has an intense (some say “soapy”) flavor that can become overpowering if it is added to a dish before it is cooked. It is wise to roughly chop cilantro; minced too fine, it releases the naturally bitter oils of the plant. The tender stems may be eaten along with the leaves.

Cilantro is often used with hot chilies. Chipotle chilies add optional spice to this dish.

Cilantro chicken

Makes 4 servings

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breast halves, cut into thin strips

1 tablespoon minced garlic

1/2 cup dry white wine

1 tablespoon butter

1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro

1/4 cup fresh lime juice

1 tablespoon chipotle chilies in adobo sauce, drained and chopped (optional)

2 cups cooked brown or white rice

Chopped fresh cilantro for garnish

Heat olive oil in skillet over medium-high heat; add chicken and garlic and cook until chicken is fully cooked and lightly browned. Add wine and simmer 2 minutes. Stir in butter. Add cilantro, lime juice and chilies if desired. Stir in rice. Sprinkle with additional chopped fresh cilantro.

Per serving: 324 calories (26 percent from fat), 9 grams total fat (3 grams saturated), 74 milligrams cholesterol, 27 grams carbohydrates, 29 grams protein, 123 milligrams sodium, 2 grams dietary fiber.

Recipes developed for The Star by professional home economists Kathryn Moore and Roxanne Wyss

Food styling by JILL WENDHOLT SILVA/Photos by TAMMY LJUNGBLAD/The Kansas City Star