One of my favorite herbs is also one of my favorite spices.
I’m talking about cilantro, the leafy greens of the coriander plant, whose seeds have a warm, nutty and slightly lemony flavor.
Parsley may be more widely consumed, but cilantro gives the assertive sense of place.
Coriander’s leaves and seeds figure prominently in Mexican cuisine but also are used widely throughout Europe, Asia and the Middle East. This is a legacy of spice trade along the great Silk Road. I am envisioning camels laden with bags of spices, coriander seeds falling to the ground where they sprout along the roadside.
Ground coriander is the spice I run out of most often. Its flavor is mild, warm and sweet. I add ground coriander to black bean soup and bean salads, especially if there are Southwest flavors going on. To coleslaw, coriander adds just a little something extra in the background.
Coriander is an essential ingredient in many Indian masala spice blends. When paired with cumin, coriander seems to tame cumin’s bitter edge. I can’t imagine a feast of Indian cuisine with no cilantro-mint chutney.
Fun fact: Coriander oil is said to be one of the secret ingredients in the original formula for Coca-Cola. You might say that without coriander, Coke wouldn’t be the real thing.
For this month’s column, I thought it would be fun to share an entire menu of dishes highlighting cilantro and coriander seed. These and other recipes are why I sometimes keep a second jar of coriander in the pantry.
Marrakech Carrot Salad
This is one of my favorite salads, especially when dinner guests are vegetarian. Cilantro and coriander make an appearance. There’s lime juice for brightness, an unexpected sweetness of dates and a salty kick from the feta. It hits all the taste buds.
• 4 cups grated carrots
• ¾ cup cooked lentils, rinsed and drained (use the small, dark French-style lentils because they hold their shape better.) Chickpeas work, too.
• 7 Medjool dates, pitted and chopped
• ¼ cup minced red onion
• 5 scallions, white and green parts, finely chopped
• ½ cup cilantro, roughly chopped
• ½ cup toasted pistachios (can substitute toasted sunflower seeds)
• ½ cup feta cheese, crumbled
• 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
• Zest and juice of 2 limes
• ½ teaspoon ground cumin
• 1 teaspoon ground coriander
• ¼ teaspoon fresh grated nutmeg
• ¼ teaspoon turmeric
• Pinch of red pepper flakes
• ¼ to ½ teaspoon sea salt, to taste
• ½ teaspoon fresh ground pepper
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Source: Adapted from sproutedkitchen.com
Salsa Verde with Basil, Cilantro and Mint
You’ll find many ways to use this versatile salsa as it complements all sorts of dishes and flavors. I love it with soft goat cheese on warm corn tortillas. For party food, it’s delicious (and pretty) drizzled over a big bowl of curried egg salad.
• 1 jalapeno, seeds removed
• 1 large bunch cilantro, stems removed
• ½ cup basil leaves
• ¼ cup mint leaves
• 2 small garlic cloves
• ½ cup plus 2 tablespoons olive oil
• Grated zest and juice of one lime
• Sea salt
Put pepper, herbs and garlic in a food processor and pulse a few times to chop. Gradually add the water, olive oil and lime juice and zest.
Source: Local Flavors by Deborah Madison
This is similar to the green chutney served at many Indian restaurants, so feel free to enjoy it with anything curry spiced. The recipe also calls for a small green chile, such as serrano. Omit if you don’t care for heat, or use a very mild jalapeno instead.
• 1 cup mint leaves, chopped (don’t use mint stems as they are bitter)
• 1 cup fresh cilantro leaves, chopped
• 1 serrano chile, seeds removed and chopped (or more if you prefer greater heat)
• ½ inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped
• 1 teaspoon cumin powder
• 1 to 2 tablespoons lemon juice
• Salt to taste
• 3 tablespoons water
In a blender or food processor, mix all of the above ingredients into a smooth paste, adding one more tablespoon of water if you prefer a more liquid consistency. Store in a glass jar in the refrigerator.
Source: Adapted from vegrecipesofindia.com
Coriander Cornmeal Cake
The faintly citrus notes of coriander really shine in this recipe. Using fresh coriander seed pays off in flavor, so buy a new jar if the one you have has been sitting around for a while. Toasted, freshly ground coriander seeds provide the best flavor, though.
• 8 tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature, plus more for greasing the pan
• 1 cup sugar
• 1½ tablespoon whole coriander seeds, toasted and ground (or purchased ground coriander)
• ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
• 2 large eggs, at room temperature
• 1¼ cup all-purpose flour
• ½ cup yellow or white cornmeal (if using stone-ground meal, whirl it in the blender for a good 45 seconds before measuring)
• ½ teaspoon salt
• 1 teaspoon baking powder
• ¼ teaspoon baking soda
• ½ cup buttermilk
Mix 3 tablespoons powdered sugar plus 1 teaspoon ground coriander seed in a small bowl.
If using whole coriander seeds, toast in a heavy pan on medium high heat until fragrant. Let cool for 10 minutes, then process in a spice grinder until finely ground.
Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter and flour an 8-inch springform pan.
Combine flour, cornmeal, salt, baking powder and baking soda in a small bowl and set aside.
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Beat butter, sugar, ground coriander and vanilla using an electric mixer until it’s light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.
Add flour mixture and buttermilk in alternating amounts, beating on low speed until combined.
Scrape the batter into the pan. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes or until a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean. Remove from oven and cool for 10 minutes, then remove from pan. When cool, sift ground coriander and powdered sugar over the top.