Thursday, May 1, 2014



(Coriandrum sativum)

Coriandrum sativum is probably one of the first spices used by mankind, having been known as early as 5000 BC.  It is also believed to be one of the first herbs cultivated by the colonists dating back to 1670 in Massachusetts and soon appeared in Latin America where the leaves became most popular.  An annual of the parsley family, the two parts of this plant are referred to as a different herb and spice.  The herb,  cilantro, is the lower leaf with its distinctive fragrance which is sometimes called Chinese parsley and the spice is the sweet and aromatic seed known as coriander.  In addition, the entire plant is edible and many cuisines also use the citrusy tang of the pale flower umbels and the cooked tender roots as a vegetable.  The unique odor emitted from the leaves and fruit as it grows brought about its botanical name from koris, the Greek word for bedbug which referred not only to the smell but the appearance of the young seed!

If you grow this plant for its popular leaves, you must plant successively to be successful and it doesn’t transplant well, so sow the seed where you want it to grow every 7-10 days to keep a steady supply.  It is a cool weather plant, requiring part shade to full sun and well-drained soil.  Harvest and keep the plant pinched back to restrain it from going to seed too quickly as soon as a couple months after planting.  You can also harvest the entire plant and use the roots in soup.  The leaves should be used fresh or frozen as they lose their distinctive flavor when dried. When the plant bolts and starts to flower, the leaves become bitter and unusable, but the coriander seeds will mature and can be harvested.

Cilantro is the perfect herb for salsa and adds a fresh flavor to even canned ingredients especially tomatoes, however experiment with a small amount because it does have a strong, unique flavor that some think tastes like soap.  The tender, young leaves are the tastiest and may be also used in chutneys, salads, dips, with beans and in soups in a number of cuisines including Asian, Mexican, Indian, Caribbean, North African and of course Tex-Mex.  The leaves attract beneficial insects and deter harmful ones with their strong odor but are also high in Vitamin A and C and steeped as a tea are said to have stomach soothing properties. 

Coriander seeds are usually coarsely ground or finely powdered before use except in pickling spice mixtures where they are used whole.  The tan-brown seeds have a sweetly aromatic flavor which is slightly lemony and are an integral part of seasoning blends such as curry, marsala and recados as well as used in desserts and sweet pastries.  The flavor of the seeds may be enhanced by a light roasting.   Unlike cilantro, the flavor is rather mild and can be used by the handful rather than just a pinch.  These seeds which symbolize hidden worth are the secret ingredient in both apple dishes and chili recipes plus aid digestion, reduce gas and improve the appetite.  Employed by the food industry especially in meat products and to flavor liquors such as Chartreuse and Benedictine, the oil from coriander seed is also used to flavor tobacco.

If you're not fond of fresh cilantro,
try sprinkling a little ground coriander
over fresh parsley
equal to the amount of cilantro
called for in a recipe and chop fine.
You will get a hint of the flavor
without the "soapy" taste!

May is National Salsa Month and May 5th is Cinco de Mayo, so here are some perfect recipes for celebrating using cilantro and coriander seeds:     
2c chopped tomatoes                                 
1c chopped peppers
1c chopped onion                            
1 clove garlic, minced
1Tbs vinegar                                     
1 lime, juiced
1Tbs fresh chopped cilantro                      
salt to taste
          Combine all ingredients and refrigerate until ready to serve.
1 1/2 pounds hamburger               
1 large onion, chopped
1 bell pepper, seeded and chopped          
3Tbs dried parsley
1Tbs ground chile flakes                
1Tbs ground cumin
2tsp oregano                                               
1 1/2tsp salt
1tsp ground coriander                               
1/2tsp ground black pepper
2 bay leaves                                      
1-28oz can chili beans in sauce
1-28oz can tomato sauce
            Brown hamburger and drain. Add onion and bell pepper and cook 5 minutes. Stir in remaining ingredients. Rinse canned beans and pour into chili with tomato sauce.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat. Simmer at least 15 minutes, the longer the better.  Remove bay leaves before serving.
8oz cream cheese                           
1/4 cup chopped cilantro                                
3Tbs coriander seeds                                 
2Tbs freshly ground black pepper
            Crush coriander seeds with mortar and pestle. Process all ingredients in food processor until just mixed.  Serve with crackers or use to stuff celery stalks.

"Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you.
I have given you all things, even as the green herbs
.”  Genesis 9:3

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