Unlike many herbs, all parts of the coriander plant are useful in cooking, but the terminology can be confusing. The seeds and leaves have very different flavors and are not interchangeable. It’s important to know that when a recipe calls for coriander, it usually refers to the dried seeds, which are often used in meat marinades and dry rubs. Recipes calling for cilantro need the young leaves which provide a strong, fresh flavor. The roots can be frozen for use over time and are often used to flavor soup. The tiny, white flowers are a fun addition, contributing a light cilantro flavor to salads.
When using the leaves, add them toward the end of cooking to maintain the bright green color and flavor. The strongest concentration of flavor is in the stems, so chop the smallest stems finely for maximum oomph. Don’t go too far down, though: they will become too tough and fibrous for cooking. Cilantro is a central herb used in many Latin dishes, such as salsa, guacamole, and ceviche, but also try it muddled in a margarita, or with chopped shrimp and avocado. Coriander seeds are usually roasted and ground before use in cooking or kept whole for pickling. While the cilantro leaves are a key ingredient in Latin dishes, ground coriander is popular in many Indian dishes, such as curries and masalas.
Did you know?
Coriander might also be called Chinese parsley in addition to cilantro. Cilantro and coriander have been used for thousands of years in Latin American, Middle Eastern, Central and Southeast Asian, Indian, Mediterranean, Chinese, African and even Scandinavian cooking. Some people find cilantro to be completely unpalatable, describing a soapy, bitter, metallic taste left in their mouths. The cause is often purely genetic, and nothing can be done to mitigate its effects.
Know to Grow
Like many herbs, cilantro can be a finicky grower, preferring cool weather to heat. For many people, outdoors is just too darn hot for happy coriander plants. Growing indoors is ideal, where soil and ambient temperatures are more easily controlled year round. Due to its delicate, intertwining root structure, cilantro doesn’t transplant well, so start it from the seed and keep it in the same pot throughout its life cycle. Sprinkle seeds fairly densely in your container and cover with about a half inch of soil. Seeds typically take 2-3 weeks to germinate, so water occasionally and be patient!
Cilantro also sprouts well from cuttings; simply stick the stem end in an inch of water on your windowsill and watch roots emerge from the bottom. Choose a short stalk to avoid leggy growth from the beginning. Cilantro likes well-drained soil even more than other herbs, so create a 50/50 soil and sand mixture to ensure drainage and increase airflow around the roots. Water only when the soil is dry to the touch. Cilantro grows quickly, rapidly becoming spindly with narrow leaves. Prevent this by harvesting low, cutting the stem an inch above the bottom-most large leaves or those second from the bottom. The dormant nodes at the base of the remaining leaves will then sprout, creating a dense, healthy plant. Cilantro requires high light conditions, needing a minimum of fourteen hours of bright light per day. The higher-than-average light requirements make cilantro an ideal option for indoor growing under LED bulbs.
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Gina Kegel is a freelance copywriter in Southern California. Like a heat-seeking missile for human interest angles, underlying driving factors and the hidden gem that connects, Gina engages readers across a wide variety of businesses and industries, from startups through multinational corporations. Find her at LinkedIn.com/in/ginaiswrite.