Saturday 30 September 2006

coriander two ways

This weekend is the one year anniversary of Weekend Herb Blogging, as started by Kalyn at Kalyn’s Kitchen.

Even though most weeks the “herb” flexibly includes vegetables, fruits and all things plant-like, this weekend we have to stick to herbs because Kalyn is taking a poll on the most popular herb.

This is an extremely difficult task.

Mint is so good in dips, cocktails and mixed through fruit salads.

Basil makes pesto, one of my all time favourite things to eat. It’s also wonderful in a caprese salad or on a magherita pizza.

Parsley is very diverse and makes such a fresh accompaniment to meals in tabouleh or on pasta.
Chives provide a kick to salads, soups and go so well with dairy food.

Rosemary reminds me of Greece, ANZAC Day, potatoes and lamb.

What to choose?

Well, my heart must go to coriander. (I’m sure Kalyn will be pleased to here this!)

I never ate coriander as a child. I still recall the first time I ever tried it. I was physically ill. No kidding. The flavour was so repugnant to me that I couldn’t continue eating and was nauseous all night. My mum thought I had food poisoning because I didn’t know what was making me feel so ill.

A few months later my mum started a herb garden and I helped her plant the young herb shoots. Patting the coriander plant into its pot I got a huge wiff and immediately experienced waves of nausea. I explained to mum that this was what had made me feel sick and she found it hilarious that little old coriander could make me gag.

I was also amazed with the power this herb’s mere smell had over my body and every day after school I’d go to the herb plot and break off pieces of coriander, daring myself to smell it, lick it and eventually eat it.

Thus I built up a tolerance . . . and an addiction.

It’s funny to think the herb that once made me vomit is now my favourite.

These days I use coriander in abundance. I can’t get enough.

I’ve made salsas with so much coriander that my father overdosed and hasn’t touched the herb since (that was about 10 years ago now!) and Jonas is starting to build up limits to how much he can ingest because of my obsession.

One of my favourite things of all time (and one I listed on my Top Five list for Foodbloggers Guide to the Globe) is Batata bil Kizibra. This Lebanese side dish is deliciously pungent and tangy from an excess of coriander and lemon juice. Jonas has elaborated and perfected a recipe given to him by an old colleague, Haas, who was a chef and of Lebanese origin.

Batata bil Kizibra (Potatoes Coriander)
Recipe by Jonas & Haas. Serves 4 as a side.

1kg potatoes
Juice of 2 lemons
Pinch of chilli flakes
Pinch of salt
Pinch of pepper
1 heaped teaspoon ground coriander
1/3 cup chopped coriander
1/3 cup chopped parsley
5-6 cloves of garlic, crushed
2 tablespoons olive oil
1. Preheat oven to 180’C – 200’C.
2. Cube potatoes into 1cm cubes. Mix all ingredients in a large bowl until potatoes are well coated.
3. Put in large baking dish, lined with baking paper, and space so potatoes are not too crowded.
4. Bake for 45min to 1 hour or until golden brown and a little crispy.
5. To get the best results and crispier potatoes, turn them every 20 minutes and add a squeeze of lemon juice.
Note: You can also sprinkle in a pinch of citric acid to get very tangy results.

Another wonderful, spicy coriander recipe is Madhur Jaffrey’s chutney of chilli, yoghurt and fresh coriander. Beautiful with just-fried pappadums.

Coriander and Yoghurt Chutney
Recipe by Madhur Jaffrey. Makes 1½ cups
1 packed teacup of chopped fresh mint
1 green chilli
285g plain yoghurt
2 tablespoons lemon juice
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground cumin
Pepper to taste
1. With a mortar and pestle, blend the chilli, mint and 2 tablespoons of water to form a smooth paste.
2. In a non-metallic bowl, combine all ingredients to create sauce. Season to taste.
3. Refrigerate until use. Best eaten the same day it’s made.

By picking coriander I’m cheating a bit because it’s both a herb (leaves, stem, root) and a spice (seeds, which are actually the dried fruit).

Coriander (Coriandrum sativum), called by its Spanish name "cilantro" in North America, is an annual plant.

It was probably native to south-west Europe, which is amazing since it is rarely used in traditional European dishes. It was used extensively in medieval European cooking as its strong flavour masked spoilt meat, but it fell out of favour in the period before industrialisation. Now only the Portuguese area of Alentejo uses the herb in traditional dishes.

Coriander derives its name from two Greek words meaning bedbug and resembling because it is said to smell like crushed bedbugs (and people wonder why I gagged initially!!!)

It has been cultivated in Greece since 2000 B.C. where it was used as a spice, a herb and an ingredient in perfume (which is still is today).

The use of coriander seed is mentioned in the Bible (Exodus) and records show the Ancient Egyptians enjoyed it too.

Coriander arrived in North America in the 1670s and was one of the first spices grown in the new colonies by the settlers.

The herb has feathery leaves and all parts of the plant are edible. Coriander stems and leaves are used in soups, sauces and garnishes. Fresh leaves as used heavily in Thai, Vietnamese and Mexican dishes. In India the leaves are used as a garnish for many dals.

The roots of the herb as used mostly in Thai cooking.

People that grow their own coriander can make their own ground coriander by dry roasting the seeds then grinding them with a mortar and pestle.

Coriander leaves loose their flavour and freshness fairly quickly so it's best to consume them shortly after purchase. Similarly ground coriander looses it's flavour too and should only be ground when needed. Whole seeds can be kept indefinitely.

Coriander seed is used regularly in African, Moroccan, Indian, Malaysian, Indonesian and Arabic cooking. It is key to the Indian spice blend garam masala as well curry powders, Lebanese falafel, Egyptian dukkah, German sausages, Tunisian harissa, Russian rye bread, Ethiopian berbere and Belgian wheat beers where the flavour of the seeds is blended with orange peel.

The Arabic spice blend, taklia, is a combination of garlic and coriander seed crushed and then fried.

Coriander is believed to help flush lead, aluminium and mercury from the body and in the past it was used as a cure for stress, anxiety and insomnia.

Elizabeth and Ian “Herbie” Hemphill’s book Spicery divides spices into groups to assist the blending procedure: sweet (eg cinnamon, vanilla), pungent (cardamom, cloves), tangy (sumac, tamarind), hot (chilli, mustard) and amalgamating (paprika, sesame seeds).

They classify coriander as an amalgamating spice. They call amalgamating spices the “unsung heroes” that “make a very important contribution to spice blends” and say that “with coriander seed it is almost impossible to use too much” in your spice blend.

So my vote goes to the herby spice that inspires both revulsion and swoons of bliss.

Be sure to visit this week's Weekend Herb Blogging recap at Kalyn's Kitchen. Leave a comment with me or Kalyn to put in your vote for your own favourite herb. We'd all love to know which herb reigns.



  1. Sage. No, I change my mind: it's Vietnamese mint

  2. Woo Hoo. I agree completely with your choice. Beautiful job as usual, and I must try this recipe for coriander chutney.

  3. Anna, forgot to say that when I come back for the recap I will count how your commenters have voted!

  4. Hi. Just stumbled across...your beautiful blog (via Field to feast).
    My husband's vote is always with the coriander. He thinks NO dish is complete untill it has been garnished with fresh chopped cilantro!
    I would have never thought it originated in the West! It is used all over Asia (and, yes, Mexico!). Good that you overcame your childhood revulsion (you were quite determined toyzcdar!).

  5. What a wonderful post!!! And my mouth is watering from looking at the pictures. I need to make those potatoes---soon! :)

  6. and for those who want to know the score - coriander won by a mile!!!

  7. Made the Coriander Potatos for dinner last night. I was instantly transported to Cleveland St (a hotspot of Lebanese food in Sydney), as mouthwatering as I remembered.

  8. The coriander potatoes sound great! I will have to try them. Possibly tonight, with some roast duck legs... yuuuuuum!

  9. What can you do if you have too much coriander in a recipe. The taste is too overpowering. Please help


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