It’s amazing the things you can learn from the preparation of food.
For example, there’s that old Oriental advice to not put in the peas and carrot until the water boils. Seems there’s something in that which translates to another of life’s pleasures.
Or, that old goodie, “A watched pot never boils.”
There’s something in both those that suggests the value — nay, necessity — of patience.
From personal experience, I never prepare fresh cilantro leaves without remembering an old grandfather I encountered once at the Yaqui Indian Center just behind Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in Guadalupe, Arizona (right on the southern border of Phoenix).
Every Sunday after Mass, besides the social at the church itself, the Indian Center hosts its own get together. Not to be missed, the homemade Menudo and fresh made Fry Bread Tacos.
One Sunday while waiting in line to place our food order, next to where the Fry Breads were being made, an old grandfather was stationed at a table, slowly hand plucking the cilantro leaves from the stems. It impressed me greatly. It was at once very fussy, but oh so respectful. Patient work, for sure. If you believe that the cook imparts his or her essence into the food, then those cilantro leaves were full of blessing.
If you use fresh cilantro in your kitchen you certainly know there are a few stems involved. Always, for me, it's a question of how much stem to leave on. Certainly for making into chutney or cooking into a sauce or stew, use it all. But for garnish, only the leaves will do.
I still have not stepped up to the lesson in patience from that wise elder who sat there so carefully separating the leaves from every stem. In my cooking, a little stem gets in there, and I get the job done quickly. Yet every time I’m about to chop cilantro leaves for a garnish grandfather taps me on the shoulder and reminds me of the best approach.
Also, a lesson of patience in general. As if to be saying, wherever you go, there you are. Be here now.
By the way, if you are lucky enough to get a bunch of fresh cilantro with the roots still on. Booyaa! Use those roots in a sofrito, or pureed into soups and stews. It’s all good.