JEFF TIEDEMAN: Cilantro vs. corianderHerb known by two names claims different identities,uses.
Cilantro is one of those herbs that you either love or hate.
I couldn’t help thinking about that the other day while sitting on the steps outside our kitchen door, my fingers getting a little stained and a pungent aroma wafting about, the result of pulling green leaves and yellowish-brown seeds from some of the numerous stems of volunteer cilantro that grew wild in my garden.
It was the second time this summer that I harvested some of the herb — also called coriander — which one friend insists tastes like dish soap. I’ve heard others say the smell reminds them of rancid socks. And in a New York Times story I came across recently, a reader compared the taste of cilantro to hair spray.
I happen to be one of those people who loves cilantro, which is the Spanish word for coriander leaves. It sometimes is called Chinese or Mexican parsley and is a member of the carrot family.
Technically, coriander refers to the entire plant. Cilantro describes the leafy stage of the plant’s life cycle. Once the plant starts to flower and bear seeds, it’s referred to as coriander. (Its use can be traced back to 5000 B.C., making it one of the world’s oldest spices.)
Chopped fresh cilantro leaves are widely used in Mexican and Tex-Mex cooking, where they are combined with chilies and added to salsa, guacamole and seasoned rice dishes.
A friend of mine, Gloria (Contreras) Mozinski of Ardoch, N.D., whose family moved to the Red River Valley from Texas in the early 1970s, said she grew up eating food that contained cilantro. And although she hasn’t cooked much since her kids grew up and her husband works irregular hours, she does use cilantro when making food that’s indigenous to her culture.
If you’re going to purchase cilantro or pick it from your garden, look for leaves that are tender, aromatic and very green. If it has no aroma, it will have no flavor. Avoid wilted bunches with yellowing leaves.
I’ve found that fresh cilantro does not keep well, and the flavor of dried is not comparable. If you’re going to store it fresh, pick out any wilted leaves and put it in a jar with water like a bunch of flowers. Cover the leaves with a plastic bag and put the jar in the refrigerator. Change the water every two days or so, picking out any wilted leaves.
Coriander is used extensively in Chinese, Indian, Middle Eastern and North African cuisines — the whole sprigs as a garnish or minced and added to salads, soups, sauces and relishes. The seeds, either whole or ground into powder, are used in curries, curry powder, pickles, sausages, soups, stews and ratatouille.
Coriander seeds have a healthly reputation. In some parts of Europe, coriander traditionally has been referred to as an “anti-diabetic” plant. In India, it historically has been used for its anti-inflammatory properties. And in the U.S., recent research has been looking into coriander’s cholesterol-lowering effects. (Studies — though still on animals — have confirmed all three of these healing effects.)
Many of the above healing properties of coriander can be attributed to its exceptional phytonutrient content. It also qualifies as a very good source of dietary fiber and a good source of iron, magnesium and manganese.
What’s not to love about that?
Tiedeman is food editor at the Herald. Reach him at 780-1136 or toll-free at (800) 477-6572, or e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.