Coriander

Coriander is one of the most versatile spices and herbs.

Coriander is considered both, spice – coriander seed - and aromatic herb – coriander leaf, or cilantro. The flavor of the leaves and the seeds are completely different.

Facts about coriander

The seeds have been well known and treasured from the Mediterranean to the Middle East, Indian and China since early history. Indeed, there are references to coriander seeds in old Sanskrit writings and they have been one of the treasures retrieved from early Egyptian tombs.

Be brazen when using coriander seeds, as its mildness will prevent it from overpowering the dish. It blends well with garlic and chili, flavoring lamb, sausages and other cooked pork products in Western cuisine, spice meat dishes in the Caribbean and curries in Asian cuisine. It is also used with vegetables. Crushed coriander seeds are favorite Greek flavoring for olives. The seeds are used whole for pickling and in drinks, ground for baking, spice mixes and soups, imparting a flavor between sage, caraway, and lemon.

Coriander leaves are pungent, bitter, and one the most widely used aromatic herbs in the world, from Mexican cuisine to south Eastern Asia. They are not so much used in Western cuisine, and those whose palate is used only to European and North American cooking find that fresh coriander leaves require some adjusting of taste. Chopped and minced like parsley, the leaves can be added to salads and other cooked food. Nevertheless, it is preferable to add them to those Mexican, Caribbean, Indian or Thai dishes where they bring authenticity.

How to identify coriander

The coriander we see at the store is the leaves or seeds from a plant of the parsley family. Coriander is a resilient annual herb with a fine stem and bright green, fan-like, lobed leaves at the bottom, pale, feathery leaves at the top.  Flowers bloom in mid-summer; they are minute with a whitish to light lilac color. The plant can grow up to 2 ft (60 cm) and the dried seeds are small with a cream to light beige color.

Coriander was native to the Middle East and southern Europe, but it is now grown worldwide. It is widely used in South American, Indian, and south eastern Asian cuisines.

The leaves are sold in bunches, very much like parsley. The seeds are available whole or ground. They have a fresh perfume, slightly evocative of oranges.

How to use and store coriander

It is preferable to buy whole seeds and toast them lightly in the pan before grinding them. This brings out the flavor and they are very easy to grind; flavor and aroma disappear quickly in ground coriander, as it happens with most spices. Fresh leaves can be used whole or chopped.

Coriander is used to flavor meat, fish, vegetables, sausages, salamis and many deli meats. Its flavor, fresh or dried, is typical in northern African and Middle Eastern cuisine. It is one of the few fresh herbs widely used in Asian cooking. Thai cooks use the leaves and also pound the root to a paste, with garlic, to flavor meats. Coriander is frequently added to Thai curries and nearly always to Indian curries; coriander is one of the ingredients of garam masala.

Fresh coriander leaves are an every day herb in South America, Central America and south of United States, flavoring guacamole, salsa cruda, arroz con pollo, tacos, salads, and soups.

Coriander perfumes sauces, pates, marinades, and meats, lamb and pork in particular. It goes well with cabbage, sprouts, spinach, beans, and pulses; and it can give a distinctive aroma to soups and salads.

How to grow coriander

It is an easy herb to grow in a kitchen garden, the deck or in a pot by the window. The easiest is to get the seedlings from a nursery, garden center, or grocery store and re-pot them. Otherwise, sow the seeds in early spring. Coriander needs light, well-drained soil, and likes sun. Set the plants 8 in (20 cm) apart. Coriander grows fast, blooms copiously, and set seeds easily.

The smell of the coriander plant is strong and that of the unripe seeds is not pleasant. Use the fresh leaves when convenient. Harvest the seed heads when their color changes from green to light brown and their smell becomes nice. Hang to finish the ripening process in a paper bags.

Cooking with coriander

As coriander is a popular ingredient in many cultures, there are many recipes to choose, and it can be used in a variety of dishes. You can perfume your perfect rice with coriander by adding 1 tsp ground coriander to the cooking water or strive for a crisp flavor by mixing 2-3 tbsp of coarsely chopped fresh coriander leaves with the cooked rice. Give a coriander flavor to any white rice by using a sprig of coriander when cooking.

Coriander substitution - if a recipe calls for fresh coriander and you don't have it, substitute 1 Tbs chopped fresh coriander leaves with:

  • 1 Tbs chopped frehs parsley leaves
  • 1 Tbs chopped fresh tarragon
  • 1 Tbs chopped fresh dill

If a recipe calls for coriander seeds and you don't have them, substitute 1 tsp coriander seed with:

  • 1 tsp caraway seeds
  • 1 tsp fennel seeds
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1/4 to 1/2 tsp cardamom seeds

Experiment

Cream cheese, or any other soft cheese with a very mild taste, profits from some chopped coriander leaves. Add some of those finely chopped leaves to ground meat and your hamburger will attain a new dimension in taste.What about mixing your own garam masala and try your hand at an Indian curry?

Fresh coriander leaves.

Coriander leaf