Double the flavour with Coriander!
This one of those trendy herbs! Well, when you realise that in culinary circles that its leaves have acquired the name “Cilantro”, from the Spanish, you may begin to understand it’s escalation to “posh herb”. For a small green plant it is making a huge comeback due to its name change. Did I say “comeback”? Coriander (pardon me for using its common name) has been used extensively in Asian, Chinese, Indian and Mediterranean cuisines for the last 6,000 years.
Indian Sanskrit writings refer to Coriander though in what connection is unclear. However, the fact that coriander seeds were often founds in Egyptian tombs as well the inference in books by the Greek author and physician, Dioscorides, that coriander spice could heighten a man’s sexual potency, the inference is that the spice was considered to be an aphrodisiac!
The plant is a member of the parsley family and its leaves have a unique aroma which is reflected in its unmistakable fresh, slightly bitter taste. In contrast, the ripe seeds produce a lovely lemony flavour, quite different from the leaves. The ground-up seeds are therefore considered as a SPICE! The difference in taste between the leaves and the seeds isn’t a surprising or unique occurrence because both plant parts produce different aromatic oils which smell different and most certainly taste different.
Coriander, being an annual, needs to be grown afresh each year from seed. It is really easy to grow and the seeds can be sown from early May through to August outside in a sunny sheltered position, where you want them to grow. This can be in the ground or in pots. The seedlings hate having their roots disturbed so leave the plants alone and don’t transplant them. If you sow some seeds every 3 -4 weeks throughout the summer, this will ensure that you have enough leaves and seeds for all your needs!
Coriander is a great herb to grow indoors too, on your windowsill, as long as it can get about 3-4 hours of bright light a day. Without this light, plants become yellowish and straggly. As coriander leaves are soft and quite floppy, you need to ensure that your plants have sufficient water and that the soil doesn’t dry out otherwise your plants will wilt!
If you want to grow coriander for its useful seeds, in order to make the spice, plant it in full sun. This will “stress” the plant and this will trigger seeds production rather than leaf production
CORIANDER, THE SPICE!
Coriander is one of the crucial spices lending its flavour to Garam Masala. There are lots of recipes for Garam Masala, depending which part of India you were from, what your Granny used to make etc etc. However, this recipe is the one my family use.
Garam masala is best made fresh just before you begin cooking, but if you haven’t got the patience (like me!), make a batch ahead. You can store this for several months in an air-tight container in a cool, dark place.
- 4 tbsps coriander seeds
- 1 tbsp cumin seeds
- 1 tbsp black peppercorns
- 1 ½ tsps black cumin seeds (shahjeera)
- 1 ½ tsps dry ginger
- ¾ tsp black cardamom (3-4 large pods approx)
- ¾ tsp cloves
- ¾ tsp cinnamon (2 X 1” pieces)
- ¾ tsp crushed bay leaves
- Heat a heavy skillet on a medium heat and gently roast all ingredients (leave cardamom in its pods till later) except the dry ginger, until they turn a few shades darker. Stir occasionally. Do not be tempted to speed up the process by turning up the heat as the spices will burn on the outside and remain raw on the inside.
- When the spices are roasted turn off the heat and allow them to cool.
- Once cooled, remove the cardamom seeds from their skins and mix them back with all the other roasted spices.
- Grind them all together, to a fine powder in a clean, dry coffee grinder.
Store in an air-tight container in a cool, dark place
I have suddenly thought – some of you may not know what Garam Masala is!!
Garam masala is a dry spice mixture which is used throughout India and in parts of Asia. In India, “masala” refers to a mixture or blend, while “garam” generally implies heat or warmth: garam masala means “hot mixture”. The spice mixture is not hot in the way that spice mixtures with lots of chilli in are, although it can be aromatic and pungent. It usually adds a kick to foods like curries, and is also believed to create a sense of happiness and well being.
You can find out much more about Garam Masala in our Recipe section.