Thursday, May 7, 2015

Cooking with Coriander Seeds

 Coriander seeds and cilantro

During my first year at the community garden, I planted cilantro for Honey, my spunky, produce-loving bunny.  She enjoyed sprigs of the tender herb throughout the summer. By September, it started to look tired and spindly, and I turned my attention to the local farmer’s market.  During the weeks that followed, the plants’ scalloped leaves turned feathery. Teensy-weensy white flowers appeared, eventually morphing into green pods. Then, as if by magic, the pods turned as tan as a paper bag and formed ridged. I was elated…nature had gifted me with, coriander seeds, a spice essential to my repertoire of recipes.

Coriander seeds are used to flavor delectable non-vegetarian Indian dishes including Spicy Fried Beef, Beef Cutlets, Kerala Beef Puffs, and my Mom’s Chicken Biryani. They are also a key ingredient in Sambar Powder, a dynamic masala used to season my all-time favorite comfort food. You will always find a jarful tucked alongside cardamom pods, turmeric, mustard seeds, cinnamon sticks, asafoetida, and tamarind in my cupboard. 

Purchasing Coriander Seeds

Like most spices, coriander seeds should be purchased whole. Once ground, they begin to lose their robust flavor, much like a pricked balloon seeps out air. Be aware that coriander seeds and cilantro (the beloved and oft despised herb it produces) can both be referred to as coriander in Indian recipes and ethnic markets. (Not sure if that is something else to pin on the British?) Either way, do not substitute one for the other as their flavors are dramatically different. Coriander seeds are warm and nutty while cilantro has a fresh, slightly grassy taste.

Cooking with Coriander

Coriander seeds are encased in a basket-like husk, which acts as a thickener in moist dishes, such as Sambar. For added texture when coating meat or fish, grind them roughly rather than pulverizing them into a powder. To heighten the seed’s flavor, dry roast them in a heavy bottomed pan before you grind them. 

Dry roasting coriander seeds 
Coriander seeds in a spice grinder

Ground coriander seeds


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