Sawtooth or Culantro
Ok, so this picture is a bit of a rustic departure from my norm, but it was actually taken a while back when I visited a spice farm in Goa. At the time, this leaf was described to me as a version of cilantro that the locals cook with and that’s used for all sorts of medicinal purposes. I’ve since found out that this herb is called sawtooth and does indeed make a beautiful substitution for cilantro.
Sawtooth is actually native to South America and Mexico where it’s referred to as culantro or recao; it really has too many names to keep track of. It’s used in a lot of Thai, Cambodian and Vietnamese cooking where it’s called pak chi farang and even in West Indian cuisine as shado beni. For a long time, I used to wonder when I‘d read through West Indian and Trini recipes what the heck shado beni was – I always assumed it was cilantro, but now I know better!
And this herb shouldn’t be confused with cilantro though the taste is similar – sawtooth has a lot more punch. It’s brighter, more pungent and a bit peppery; the leaves’ oils have a more potent, volatile quality than cilantro. It’s fantastic in chutneys, curry pastes, to garnish soups or noodle dishes (pho is a great example), anywhere you’d typically use parsley or cilantro or another bright herb.
From my remedial understanding of gardening, sawtooth is apparently a lot easier to cultivate than cilantro. And what makes it particularly interesting is its long shelf-life. The herb keeps for a while, maintains its flavor and can even be frozen or stored in oil without losing its oomph.
I’ve found sawtooth in Chinatown in downtown NYC and at West Indian markets in Brooklyn. I’m assuming there are also Latin specialty stores that keep it as well. Not such an easy herb to find, but definitely worth seeking out and trying…