There’s something magical about cilantro — something that will inspire you to new creations in the kitchen.
Here in Beijing, like many parts of China, cilantro is one of the most ubiquitous herbs. In fact, if you patronize local vegetable vendors, they often give it to you free of charge with your purchases, resulting in a treasure trove of the stuff in your crisper in the refrigerator.
Even better, my husband and I both adore cilantro. Just a whiff of the stuff, with its slightly peppery aroma, gets my mouth watering and often thinking about what to make for dinner.
So I started experimenting by adding chopped cilantro to bread recipes I was making from scratch. Yes, cilantro!
I got inspired from those recipes that typically call for you to add basil or oregano — but instead of those, I turned to the surfeit of that fragrant cilantro in the fridge instead.
As it turns out, fresh cilantro, paired with generous amounts of minced garlic, will transform any humble bread into something so fragrant and delectable that it could grace the menu of an upscale restaurant.
In any event, after discovering the super powers of cilantro, naturally I had to see what it could do when applied to one of the most beloved foods around the world — pizza.
However, pizza — at least the typical variety — can be a tricky proposition in our home for a number of reasons. First off, my husband isn’t a huge fan of tomato sauce (except on those rare occasions when it doesn’t taste sour). Second, I’m vegan. And third, sometimes the ingredients we have on hand don’t always correspond to what you might find at your typical neighborhood pizzeria.
But who says you have to follow the beaten path of pizza purists?
I noticed I had a round eggplant, which of course reminded me of the baba ghanooj (Middle-Eastern eggplant dip) that I prepare almost weekly at home. It suddenly occurred to me that I could use a sort of baba-like eggplant sauce — with, of course, generous amounts of cilantro and garlic — to slather on the pizza.
And the meaty shiitake mushrooms in the pantry would round it all out as a savory topping.
The result — pizza perfection for this vegan in Beijing.
Jun and I each took one bite and declared it the finest pizza we had ever sank our teeth into, with fluffy, aromatic crusts bursting with garlic and cilantro flavor.
Even better, it recalls flavors from the East and West, and brings them all together, a beautiful representation of my own life and marriage, right on the plate.
If you happen to have a bread maker, you can whip this up easily for an amazing pizza night. But no worries if you don’t — see the notes for instructions on how to do your own dough from scratch.
Also, if you love the dough but not the sauce and toppings, see the notes for some inspiration on how to build your own heavenly cilantro pizza.
Let’s make some pizza and rediscover the joys of cilantro!
Vegan Cilantro Pizza w/ Shiitake Mushrooms and Savory Eggplant Sauce
- Bread machine (optional - see notes)
- Food processor
- 15 grams fresh cilantro
- 6 cloves garlic
- 360 grams bread flour
- 24 grams olive oil
- 6 grams salt
- 24 grams sugar (I prefer brown sugar, but white is also fine)
- 220 milliliters water
- 5 grams yeast
- 15 grams fresh cilantro
- 6 cloves garlic
- 1 medium-sized eggplant (I prefer round, but any kind of eggplant that's good for baking is fine)
- 5 grams lemon juice (fresh or bottled is fine)
- 10 grams olive oil
- ¼ small onion
- 7.5 grams tahini or other sesame butter of choice
- 1.5 grams salt
- 5 shiitake mushrooms finely sliced
Prepare the dough
- Finely chop all the cilantro -- for dough and sauce -- then set aside in a bowl.
- Finely chop all the garlic, then set aside in a bowl.
- Add half the chopped cilantro and half the chopped garlic into your bread machine pan. Then add the flour, 24 g of olive oil, sugar, 6 g of salt, water and yeast into your bread machine pan as per your breadmaker's instructions (see notes for alternatives, should you not have a bread machine). Select the dough setting and start the machine (for mine, the process takes 1 hour 30 minutes).
- Once dough is finished, let it rest for up to 30 minutes for fluffier dough (though if you are in a hurry, you can use the dough right out of bread machine).
Prepare the sauce
- While dough is in progress, cut the eggplant into four equal pieces. Rub olive oil on the exposed meat of the eggplant, then place on an oiled baking tray. Bake for about 45 minutes to 1 hour at 230 C (450 F), flipping the pieces at least once during the process, and ensuring both sides are seared. Let cool for about 5-10 minutes
- Peel the meat of the eggplant off the skin, then place eggplant meat into a mesh bag. Twist the top of the bag to place pressure on the eggplant, squeezing the majority of the water out of it. (Be careful not to squeeze too much -- otherwise you'll reduce the amount of eggplant).
- Add the remaining half the garlic and the cilantro to a food processor, along with the lemon juice. Then add in eggplant, onion, tahini, 10 g of olive oil and 1.5 g of salt. Pulse it until the eggplant mixture has the consistency of a paste; the onion may still be in small chunks or pieces, which is fine.
- Finely slice the shiitake mushrooms.
- Lightly oil your pizza pan. (I use a rectangular one that measures 22 cm x 30 cm (9 in x 12 in)).
- Work the dough into the shape of your pizza pan, then transfer it to the pan and continue working it with your hands, pushing down from the center out to form a crust on all sides.
- Spread the sauce generously on top of the pizza base.
- Top with the sliced shiitake mushrooms.
- For a crispier crust, brush the crust with olive oil.
- Bake the pizza for 20-25 minutes at 200 - 215 C (400 - 425 F), until the crust is golden brown. Cut and serve immediately.
- Dissolve the yeast in the water (making sure you use warm water) and let it sit for 10 minutes, until the water looks creamy.
- Add the flour, olive oil, sugar, salt, garlic, cilantro and yeast/water to a large bowl. Mix everything well to combine all the ingredients, until you have a sturdy dough.
- Cover the dough and let it rise until it has doubled in size -- for at least 30 minutes.
What do you think?