Tuesday, January 10, 2017


(Coriandrum sativum)

The herb known as both cilantro and coriander has been chosen “Herb of the Year” for 2017 by the International Herb Association. The IHA is a professional trade association providing educational, service and development opportunities for those involved in herbal endeavors. The Herb of the Year is chosen based on being outstanding in at least two of the three major categories: medicinal, culinary, or decorative.

Coriandrum sativum is probably one of the first spices used by mankind, having been known as early as 5000 BC.  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 Hebrews originally used cilantro root as the bitter herb in the symbolic Passover meal.  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 are done.  They become bitter and unusable, but the coriander seeds will mature and can be harvested.  To harvest the seeds, wait until they have turned from green to brown, then dry and store.

Although a fairly recent arrival to the American kitchen, Chinese, Thai and Indonesian cuisines are well known for their use of both cilantro and coriander.  The Chinese call cilantro “fragrant greens” and add it to stir fries and sauces as well as boil the whole plant and eat as a vegetable.  The roots add zest to Thai curries and Indian curry powders use ground coriander seeds.  Cilantro is not native to Latin American cuisine, but now adds its distinctive touch to many dishes as a garnish even if it is not listed as one of the ingredients.

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 citrus-y, spicy flavor.  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.  Use cilantro flowers in salads or as a garnish.  The leaves and flowers attract beneficial insects especially bees 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
along with dill seed, cinnamon, bay leaf, peppercorns and clove.  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 and should be crushed just when you are ready to use them.   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 apple dishes and chili recipes plus aid digestion, reduce gas and improve the appetite.  They are combined with cardamom, caraway, fennel and/or anise to settle an upset stomach.  Employed by the food industry especially in meat products like sausages and to flavor gin, pickles and liquors such as Chartreuse and Benedictine, the oil from coriander seed is also used to flavor tobacco and make medications more palatable.
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 just a hint of the flavor!

1c mayonnaise
1/4c lime juice
8 sprigs cilantro
1tsp ground chili powder
            Combine all ingredients in a blender and serve with sandwiches.

4Tbs butter
1/4tsp lemon zest
2Tbs finely chopped cilantro
1/4tsp finely chopped serrano chiles, seeds and membranes removed
1/2tsp ground coriander
1/4tsp finely minced garlic
1/2tsp finely grated ginger root
            Soften the butter, add the remaining ingredients and mix until well. Place on plastic wrap and form a log about 4" long, then freeze until ready to use.  To use: cut ¼” slices and place on fish or chicken during the final few minutes under the broiler or on the barbecue, just long enough for the butter to melt.

2Tbs mustard seed
1Tbs whole allspice
2tsp coriander seed
1tsp ginger
1tsp red pepper flakes
2 whole cloves
1 bay leaf, crumbled
1-2” cinnamon stick, crushed
            Combine all ingredients and store in an airtight jar or container.  Use in your favorite pickle recipes.
"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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