Coriander leaf counts among the aromatic herbs while the seeds, whole or ground, count as spice.
Coriander is one of the most used and versatile of all the spices and herbs. It is considered both, spice –coriander seeds- and aromatic herb –coriander leaves, or cilantro. The flavor of the leaves and the seeds are completely different.
Curious 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 widely used, there are many recipes using coriander. Try chickpea puree, couscous salad, or the Tunisian fattoush for a Middle East flavor. Have a look to the chicken satay or green chicken curry recipes for the flavor of Thailand. Experiment with this coriander sauce over grilled tuna, for a modern twist.
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
Cooking your way with coriander
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 this garlic white rice by using a sprig of coriander instead of parsley.
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?
coriadrum sativum: coriander, Chinese parsley - French coriandre - German koriander - Italian coriandolo - Spanish cilantro - Arabic kizbara - Indian dhania.