Have you ever wondered what this lovely green herb that they sell on the local markets is actually used for! Coriander is grown in southern Europe, North Africa and southwestern Asia.
It is a soft, hairless plant that grows up to 50cm tall and is called cilantro in Spanish. The leaves, which look a bit like parsley, are variable in shape, broadly lobed at the base of the plant, and slender and feathery higher on the flowering stems. Stand the Coriander upright in a glass containing 1-2cm water, cover loosely with a plastic bag and secure with an elastic band. It should keep in the fridge for up to five days.
All parts of the Coriander plant are edible, but the fresh leaves and the dried seeds are the parts most commonly used in cooking. The leaves spoil quickly when removed from the plant, and lose their aroma when dried or frozen. They can be chopped up and added raw to salsas and salads, or used to garnish soups. They are fantastic when added to vegetable stir-fries (such as Chinese and Thai) and can even be added to poultry dishes for a taste of the Orient. When adding fresh cilantro to a hot dish, ensure that you add it at the last minute so the flavour and colour of the leaves does not diminish through cooking.
Coriander is commonly found both as whole dried seeds and in ground form. Seeds can be roasted or heated on a dry pan briefly before grinding to enhance and alter the aroma. It is often used in Indian food and is one of the spices found in garam masala. Ground Coriander seed loses flavour quickly in storage and is best ground fresh.
The Coriander seeds have a lemony citrus flavour when crushed and for an interesting alternative use of coriander seeds, they may be distilled to produce an essential oil. One of the oldest essential oils available, it is used commercially for baked goods and meat products. The oil is sometimes even used in liqueurs.
Coriander roots have a deeper, more intense flavour than the leaves. They are used in a variety of Asian cuisines. They are commonly used in Thai dishes, including soups and curry pastes.
Coriander seeds can be boiled with water and drunk as indigenous medicine for colds and whilst not very commonly used these days, Coriander root is also edible. It can be ground and used as a substitute for coffee.