Green Living

The Versatile Cilantro Sauce Recipe Chef George Azar Uses on Repeat

Chicken wings from Detroit's cult-favorite restaurant, Flowers of Vietnam, sit atop creamy cilantro sauce on a white plate

Welcome to Test Kitchen — a series dedicated to experimenting with our Edible Garden collection! Each month, we’ll speak with a chef or mixologist about one of our indoor herb garden or indoor vegetable garden plants. In addition to expert preparation and care instructions, they’ll share an exclusive food or drink recipe that’s as fresh as the ingredients themselves. Next up is George Azar of Detroit-based restaurant Flowers of Vietnam, who’s mixing it up with our cilantro plant!

No garnish elicits strong opinions quite like cilantro. This notoriously polarizing herb has sparked countless culinary debates; some sprinkle it on everything, while others avoid it like the plague and maintain that it has a soapy, almost metallic flavor. In other words, you either love it or hate it.

Detroit-based chef George Azar proudly falls into the former camp. “All of the exciting cuisines of the world use cilantro,” he tells Bloomscape. “Latin America, Southeast Asia, the Middle East, and India will all take you on a gastronomic adventure worth its weight in gold.” Azar heads up cult favorite restaurant Flowers of Vietnam in his native Southwest Detroit, which has been serving authentic vietnamese cuisine since 2015. Housed in a former Mexicantown Coney Island, Flowers of Vietnam is “as Detroit as it gets,” and has garnered national attention from the likes of Bon Appétit, GQ, Hour Detroit, and CBS News.

Detroit Chef George Azar preps for a busy night of service at the counter of his restaurant, Flowers of Vietnam

As a connoisseur of vietnamese food, Azar is well-versed in all things cilantro. Below, find his take on cooking with the controversial herb, plus his go-to great recipe for a cilantro-tinged sauce that adds zest to countless meat and seafood dishes.

How to Store Cilantro

To help your cilantro last as long as possible, spoil it with water and airflow. “First, I cut about a quarter inch off the bottom of the cilantro stems. Next, I store it in a designated fresh herb storage container that allows the cut stems to rest in freshwater and get airflow,” explains Azar. If you don’t have one of these on hand, he recommends mimicking that environment by “taking a tall plastic container, adding a little water to the bottom, and poking holes in it for air.”

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How to Prepare Cilantro

When you’re ready to start cooking, be sure to rinse your cilantro thoroughly in cold water to remove any excess dirt, and dry it off with a paper towel. Run a sharp knife softly through the stems, and return any excess to the storage container. Azar suggests making use of the entire plant, including the stems. “I’m a major advocate of the stems,” he explains. “To me, they give you the most bang for your buck in relation to flavor.”

How to Cook with Cilantro

With its complex, citrusy flavor, cilantro lends a distinct taste to every meal. But it’s still incredibly versatile — you’ll find it in salsas, guacamole, rice, chicken dishes, salad dressings, stir frys, and more. To get the most out of your cilantro plant, Azar recommends a super easy and versatile sauce that you can use in countless dishes.

His muối chanh ớt, which loosely translates to “salt lemon chili,” is a popular dipping sauce in traditional vietnamese cuisine that makes frequent appearances on the Flowers of Vietnam menu. “This is one of those ‘keep in your arsenal’ type recipes for grilled meats and seafood,” he explains. “It’s fresh, herbaceous, and unassumingly bold. You’ll find yourself making excuses to barbecue for every meal.” Below, find Azar’s versatile and delicious cilantro sauce.

muối chanh ớt – Vietnamese cilantro sauce recipe

Ingredients
  • 100g cilantro
  • 100g Rau Raum, or Vietnamese coriander
  • 50g Vietnamese mint
  • 50g peppermint
  • 10g thai basil
  • 100g palm sugar
  • 15g vietnamese ocean salt
  • 4 thai chili, whole
  • 4 limes, juiced and zested
  • 5 Makrut lime leaf, whole
Method
  • In a pot of salted boiling water, blanch all herbs and immediately shock them in an ice bath. Remove the herbs from the bath, squeeze out excess water, and set aside.
  • Combine all ingredients in a blender, as well as an ice cube or two (the friction from blending can heat and pre-oxidize the sauce, so adding an ice cube will keep the temperature down while they take the spin).
  • Blend until ingredients are incorporated. When finished, it should have the consistency of a thick fruit puree. Do not over blend!
  • Serve with your favorite meat or seafood. Enjoy!