Peppercorn-Cilantro Root Paste FAQs

What are cilantro roots?

After glancing at the ingredient list, you may be wondering, where the heck do I buy cilantro roots?! Supermarket cilantro tends to have the roots already lopped off although the cilantro at your local farmers’ market or Asian market can often be found with the dirt-encrusted, gangly roots still intact. And, of course, you’ll find the roots attached to whatever cilantro you pull from the garden or windowsill container. Be sure to give the grungy roots a good soak before pounding them.

How do I store cilantro roots?

Because this paste is so versatile, it’s handy to have a stash of cilantro roots in the freezer. Simply chop the roots and wash and store them in a plastic bag in the freezer. You don’t need to defrost them before using, as they can be chopped and pounded still frozen. And if you just can’t lay your hands on the roots, cilantro stems (minus the leaves) can easily stand in for the roots.

A mortar filled with ingredients for a Thai peppercorn-cilantro root paste--garlic, black peppercorns, cilantro stems

Peppercorn-Cilantro Root Paste

5 / 2 votes
This peppercorn-cilantro root paste may sound exotic but it's a classic Thai trick for imparting a lot of oomph without a lot of ingredients or expense.
David Leite
Servings2 to 3 tablespoons
Calories23 kcal
Prep Time15 minutes
Total Time15 minutes


  • 2 teaspoons black peppercorns
  • 5 to 6 large cloves garlic, coarsely chopped (about 2 tablespoons)
  • 3 tablespoons coarsely chopped cilantro roots (or stems)
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 teaspoon fish sauce


  • Place the peppercorns in a mortar with the garlic and pound to a paste.
  • Add the cilantro roots and salt and pound to a paste. This will take 5 to 10 minutes. If you have a small blender or other food grinder that can produce a smooth paste, you can use it instead. (We tend to toss in a few cilantro stems along with the roots when we make this paste—just for good measure.)
  • Stir in the fish sauce.
  • Use the paste immediately or store in a well-sealed glass jar. This keeps for up to 4 days in the refrigerator.
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Serving: 1 tablespoonCalories: 23 kcalCarbohydrates: 5 gProtein: 1 gFat: 1 gSaturated Fat: 1 gMonounsaturated Fat: 1 gSodium: 238 mgFiber: 1 gSugar: 1 g

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

Tried this recipe?Mention @leitesculinaria or tag #leitesculinaria!
Recipe © 2000 Jeffrey Alford | Naomi Duguid. Photo © 2021 Scott Phillips. All rights reserved.

About David Leite

I count myself lucky to have received three James Beard Awards for my writing as well as for Leite’s Culinaria. My work has also appeared in The New York Times, Martha Stewart Living, Saveur, Bon Appétit, Gourmet, Food & Wine, Yankee, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, The Washington Post, and more.

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    1. Happily, Shirley. I use it like a combination marinade/spice rub by slathering it under and over the skin on chicken (preferably thighs) before grilling (although I suspect it would work with roasting as well). I also use it in the same way on shrimp, and I suspect it would also be lovely on pork tenderloin that you’ve sliced into thin strips (cutting with and not against the grain) and then you can grill or broil them. I’ve also stirred a little of the paste into an ad-hoc soup made with canned full-fat coconut milk thinned with some chicken or shrimp stock to which I’ve added cooked chicken or seafood and then finished it with stuff like cilantro and scallions. I hope this helps.

  1. 5 stars
    Great suggestions. I overheard at a dinner party about using cilantro roots. Your article gave me real ideas. Like that they can be frozen too. Thank you.

    1. You’re so very welcome, Nathalie. When I first thought to freeze cilantro roots, it was life changing! So glad the tip has helped you, too. Thanks so much for taking the time to let us know!