When I was 19, I lived in an apartment in Oakland. Across the low wall separating our backyards, I often saw a young Palestinian woman working in her garden. Although we could not speak each other’s languages, we always smiled and waved at each other.
One afternoon, she thrust an armful of cilantro to me over the wall. I thanked her with a big smile and put it in the refrigerator. Although I had no idea what to do with this exotic pungent gift, I was so touched by her generosity that I couldn’t bring myself to throw it away. Day after day, its powerful fragrance pervaded the refrigerator and the kitchen.
Years later, I realized the value of cilantro in creating my Asian and Mexican recipes. Each time I chop the sprigs, the aroma brings me back to that long-ago neighbor.