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There is no middle ground when it comes to cilantro.

Lovers of the aromatic green herb can't get enough. They pile handfuls on sandwiches, simmer it into soups and sauces, chop it into salsas and even blender it into pesto.

Haters are well-represented by Julia Child, who said she would pluck it from her plate and "throw it on the floor." It tastes like soap, or worse, to its detractors, and they are legion.

Despite that, cilantro remains widely used through Indian, Central American, Asian and Caribbean cuisines.

If you buy a bunch of cilantro, don't wash it until you're ready to use it. It can sometimes be found with roots attached, which keeps longer. Keep either type in the refrigerator with stems submerged in a glass of water, like flowers, with a plastic bag over the foliage.

Cilantro is sometimes called Chinese parsley. It's also called coriander, though its seeds, when roasted and processed, are never called "ground cilantro." Dried cilantro leaves have so faint a flavor that they're useful mainly for color.

Seedy past: Coriander seeds have been found in Egyptian tombs dating back to 960 B.C.E., and the Old Testament book of Exodus.

Here, cilantro adds its green character, vitamins and flavor to a soup inspired by Turkish chef Yotam Ottolenghi's recipe in Bon Appetit.

>Cilantro and Spinach Soup

2 tablespoons butter

1 tablespoon paprika, preferably smoked

2 teaspoons ground cumin

2 cloves garlic, chopped

1 medium onion, chopped

1 cup sliced potatoes

4 cups chicken or vegetable broth

1 cup cilantro, chopped, plus more for garnish

1/4 cup chopped fresh mint, plus more for garnish

1 10-ounce bag spinach (or chard)

1/4 to 1/2 cup Greek yogurt, or sour cream

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Salt and fresh ground black pepper

Freshly ground nutmeg (optional)

In a large pot, heat butter over medium heat. Add paprika, cumin and garlic, and saute until fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes. Add onion and potatoes, and cook until onions are soft, 6 to 8 minutes.

Add broth, cilantro, mint and spinach. Bring to a boil, then lower to a simmer, partially covered, for 15 minutes, or until potatoes are soft.

Puree mixture in batches with food processor, blender, or immersion blender. Return pureed soup to pot. Rewarm if necessary. Heat through, but do not boil, and whisk in yogurt and lemon juice. Season to taste with salt pepper and nutmeg, if using.

Sprinkle with herbs, and serve.

ON THE WEB: Watch Andrew make a pot of vitamin-packed soup at video.buffalonews.com

email: agalarneau@buffnews.com