Coriander

Coriander

By
Greg Malouf, Lucy Malouf
Contains
6 recipes
Published by
Hardie Grant Books
ISBN
9781740667678
Photographer
William Meppem

Coriander leads an exciting dual life as both a herb and a spice, and the need for one will not be satisfied by the other. When it comes to these harmless-looking lacy green leaves, passions start to run high – people either love them or loathe them. The scent and flavour of coriander are curiously hard to define. The name ‘coriander’ comes from the Greek word ‘koris’, meaning ‘bug’, and it is often said that the plant smells just like a bed bug. It is hard to imagine, though, that there are many people around these days who would recognise the smell of a bed bug if it jumped up and bit them on the nose. One of our very dear friends calls it ‘stinkweed’, which probably sums up the feelings of its detractors pretty succinctly.

Coriander – the herb – is a vitally important ingredient in cuisines as varied as Mexican, Thai, Vietnamese, Indian, Middle Eastern and North African. It is at its best very fresh – in salads or garnishes, or ground up, roots and all, into a paste. In cooked dishes it is best thrown in at the very last moment, otherwise it can add a soapy flavour to the entire dish.

In Middle Eastern food, fresh coriander is one of the most commonly used herbs. People buy it in great armfuls and use it with abandon. Its vivid green leaves are scattered into salads, and generous bunches are used to garnish grilled meat, seafood and poultry, numerous rice dishes and all kinds of mezze. Coriander is also responsible for the surprising bright-green colour you find in a falafel.

Used on its own, coriander adds a tantalising flavour to many dishes, but when combined with other ingredients such as garlic, lemon juice and chilli it really comes into its own, adding vibrant, zingy flavours which fairly dance across the taste buds. This can be best appreciated in the marinades and the numerous pastes and relishes which feature all around the Middle East. In Lebanon, for instance, roughly chopped coriander leaves and stalks are mixed with garlic and lemon juice to make a tangy marinade for grilled poultry and fish or to pour over rice pilafs. Some of the most popular relishes are zhoug – a fiery hot chilli–coriander salsa which originates in Yemen, but is now very popular in Israel as an accompaniment to just about everything – and tabil, a spicy coriander relish from Tunisia.

Even if you are not partial to fresh coriander, there is no reason why you should not enjoy the flavour of its dried seeds. These tiny golden balls are often found in pickling mixes where they create little citrussy explosions in your mouth. More often, they are toasted and ground to a fine powder to be used as a spice. Coriander is commonly combined with ground cumin and together they form the basis of numerous spice mixes throughout the Orient. Indian spice mixes, for instance, nearly all start with this classic combination, as do the North African mixes chermoula and ras el hannout, and the Egyptian dukkah. In many Arabic countries they use a spice blend known as ‘baharat’ (which literally means ‘spices’). Every household will have its own particular blend of freshly ground spices, but all feature ground coriander and cumin, with the addition in varying quantities of peppercorns, cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg, cloves and paprika.

Selecting and storing coriander

Sometimes all that you can find on the shelves are those flat vacuum-sealed plastic boxes of weedy little coriander sprigs. Buy these only as a last resort. It is best to buy big, healthy bunches with the roots still attached. The roots prolong the life of the herb and have a strong concentration of that spicy, citrussy flavour. Some recipes for pastes and relishes actually require the roots to be well pounded and incorporated into the mixture.

As with most fresh herbs, store coriander in the refrigerator. Place the plants, roots still attached, in a jug of water in the fridge, covered with a plastic bag to create their own little micro-climate. They should last 4–5 days – longer if you change the water regularly.

You can buy little bottles or plastic packets of ground coriander powder. Of course it is hard to know how long they have been sitting on the shelf and, once ground up, most spices quickly lose their aroma and flavour. It is far better to buy whole coriander seeds, which are also widely available, and to roast and then grind them yourself when needed. A coffee grinder (thoroughly cleaned first) will make easy work of the task, but it is really quite satisfying to grind them into a powder using a mortar and pestle.

Using coriander

Before chopping, you always need to wash fresh coriander very carefully, as the leaves are often sandy and the roots harbour mud and dirt. If a recipe requires you to use the roots then you may even like to scrub them well to make sure you get rid of all the dirt.

When grinding coriander seeds to make a powder, first dry-roast them for a minute or so in a hot dry pan. This toasting brings out the full flavour of the spice.

Recipes in this Chapter

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