I have a theory about cilantro. Though it is well known that a distaste for the stuff has genetic foundations, I find it's not quite as cut and dried as that. Take dpaul (please! har.). The tiniest corner of a leaf in a huge bowl of pico de gallo will revolt him. Yet, one time we dined at a friend's house, and she served cilantro pesto as a dip for crudite. And he liked it.
So my theory goes: When cilantro is in something, it overpowers the palates of the haters. When cilantro is the thing, it simply stands on its own and paradoxically tastes less overwhelming.
I came to this deep, philosophical conclusion after going to Tequila last year. I was on a media junket to visit the Casa Noble tequila distillery, and once our group all arrived, we were shuttled off to the lovely and modern Guadalajara home of the distiller, Pepe Hermosillo (who later made me eat bugs.) As we settled into the airy patio, enjoying the balmy desert breezes, Pepe's wife Gina laid out some snacks for us while we got acquainted and, inevitably, drank tequila. One of the things was a vivid green mold, which elicited muffled yelps of pleasure as we took our first bites. Fresh, delicate and light, I knew this was something no one could not enjoy.
Later, one of the other journalists was able to extract the recipe from Gina, knowing that we all had to have it. Since then, I've made variations of it, and happily and proudly served it to cilantro lovers and haters alike. All have enjoyed it. You will, too.
The idea of a mousse is almost amusingly old-fashioned, a throwback to continental cuisine and things cased in aspic. Yet this mousse feels fresh and modern. It's great for Cinco de Mayo, of course, but I think really makes a great dish for all manner of summer entertaining. Tequila is optional, but highly recommended.
Adapted from Gina Hermosillo, who herself adapted it from Chef Iñaki of Goiti Restaurante
This recipe is enormously adaptable. Gina uses a combination of sour cream and cream cheese; Chef Iñaki's original recipe called for yogurt and mayonnaise, and no jalapeño. Dave Yan, marketing director for Casa Noble, uses goat cheese, and having tried that I can recommend it as well. Play with it, and find the balance you like.
1 packet unflavored gelatin *
1 cup plain yogurt (Greek yogurt if you like)
1 cup sour cream
1 jalapeño, seeds and veins removed, chopped
1 to 1-1/2 cups cilantro leaves, packed, stems removed **
1-1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
juice of 1/2 lime
Mix the gelatin in 1/4 cup cold water and let stand until it becomes spongy. Add another 1/4 cup warm water to turn it into a liquid.
Meanwhile, combine the yogurt, sour cream, jalapeño, cilantro leaves, lime juice and salt in a blender or food processor. Blend until fully integrated, then drizzle in the gelatin mixture while still blending.
Grease a mini loaf pan lightly with spray oil. Pour the mixture into the pan, cover with cling wrap, and refrigerate overnight.
To unmold the mousse, gently warm the sides of the pan by dipping it into hot water for a few seconds, dry, and invert. Serve with crackers or bread.
* It is theoretically possible to make this vegetarian by using agar, but I have not tested it myself.
** Plucking the leaves from the stems is tedious, but worth the effort, as they can be fibrous and mar the texture of the mousse.