The Italians have their pesto, the French their pistou and the Lebanese have the cilantro pesto commonly called aliyyeh. It is a simple mixture of fresh garlic, cilantro and olive oil, sauteed for mere seconds till the fragrance is released and the ingredients bond together into a manageable paste.
The idea is to barely cook it, then set it aside and swirl the mixture into your dish as a final step. This is the secret step that gives the dish an intoxicating kick of flavor. In addition, the alyyeh can be conveniently frozen for up to 6 months in small containers or plastic pouches and pulled out of the freezer at a moment’s notice. As a child growing up in Beirut I knew when the fragrance of alyyeh was in the air that we would be eating soon and my mouth would water…
INGREDIENTS. This is for a single dish and if you want to store extra, just multiply the quantities.
1 Bunch of cilantro, stems removed and leaves chopped (2 ounces)
8 cloves of garlic (the equivalent of one tablespoon mashed)
3 Tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
dash of salt
- Wash and dry cilantro (use a salad spinner for speed). Chop leaves and discard the stems.
- Peel and chop garlic and mash with a teaspoon of salt in a wooden pestle or with a mini-processor.
- Chop the cilantro leaves either in a mini-processor or by hand, preferably by hand.
- Heat the olive oil for 3 minutes then add the cilantro and garlic. Mix it in the skillet with a spoon until it forms a compact mixture and the fragrance rises up, about 2 minutes, no more.
- Set it aside and either use immediately or cool and freeze the cilantro pesto in small containers with a film of olive oil for added protection for up to 6 months.
I strongly recommend multiplying the recipe to save time. Use a whole head of garlic and 4 bunches of cilantro and up to 1/2 cup of extra virgin olive oil to maximize your time in the kitchen; divide the remaining mixture into single servings and freeze.
If you like more garlic flavor, by all means bulk up the amount of mashed garlic in this condiment. It is a matter of taste.
This pesto is used to add flavor to stews, potatoes, soups, chicken, fish and any yogurt sauce, cooked or uncooked.
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