Love your lettuces (cilantro too) while you can

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I associate cilantro, that refreshingly pungent herb, as a summer ingredient because it pairs well with citrus and because it’s essential in so many tangy dishes: salsas, chutneys, Thai salads. But to be honest, that’s kind of crazy.

Cilantro goes to seed in the heat, sending up tough flower stems with spindly leaves. When this happens, the plant’s usefulness as a culinary herb is pretty much kaput. Now is when cilantro is at its best, lush and full of clean flavor with no bitter aftertaste.

The herb is not alone in its aversion to the Georgia heat. Springtime is also the time to relish in dill, parsley, chives, fennel and sorrel, as well as tender salad greens such as spinach, arugula and leaf lettuces. Because farmers markets are opening now, you may think that the growing season has only just begun. But these heat-sensitive plants are already reaching their peak.

Sure, some farmers will continue to grow them into the summer in hoop houses or shade, but the plants’ availability will diminish as the weather warms. Others will appear in markets again in the fall. But in my opinion, they’re never quite as good as they are right now, when the flavor is unmistakably true and green, just like spring.

My suggestion: Go wild. Eat spring greens with abandon. Sprinkle all your meals with random combinations of chopped fresh herbs. Devour salads until you think you could produce your own chlorophyll. Enjoy them while you can, because when summer comes, these guys bolt.

 
 

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