The Inevitable Coriander…….
It took me a while to think of an apt adjective for this ingredient. Basically being a herb it does find itself more often than not in most of the savoury dishes cooked right from the Middle East to Latin America, hence inevitable. The role in each country’s cuisine is varied and different but most certainly a star ingredient from the herb kingdom.
Since ancient times herbs have ruled the kitchens around the world with their aroma, flavour, texture, colour and varied uses. They are one of the few ingredients who find a place in foundation stages as well as in the finale of so many culinary creations. This is a very unique quality of the god gifted herbs. Coriander is no exception to this. You will find in many recipes spanning across continents where coriander is used in the marinade/ Masala and also as a finishing ingredient. It is also a very common garnish especially in Indian cooking.
Often the best things in life are very simple and this is true in the case of coriander. It is very basic when it comes to looks, shape and structure, just like any other plant. It does not grow very tall and often can be found in backyards of houses, scattering along the lawn. Also once it grows a little old it starts growing flowers, which give an unpleasant character when used in cooking, so chefs always avoid coriander stems which have flower shoots.
A very unique facet of this herb is that most of the flavour is hidden in the green stems and not in the leaves and it is such a pity that many times these stems are just chopped off and thrown in the garbage. These are seriously underrated in terms of flavour and texture. It is only when it is chopped or trimmed that the captivating aroma spreads all around. In many Indian curries the sprinkling of coriander once the curry is done lets out this wonderful aroma which not only highlights the coriander but also brings out the flavour of other ingredients used. This is one of the reasons coriander is used widely in Oriental cooking also, where it is known by the name Cilantro and is used as an aromatic, often in soups, stir fries and stews.
The finest creation which I can think of is the Lemon Coriander soup. In this epic soup, the coriander is paired with the citrus lemon which compliments the herb so well and gives it an interesting dimension. The overpowering and manipulative citrus flavour is balanced off by the presence of coriander and the meat, fish or vegetable in the soup is taken to a different level altogether. This is the reason this soup finds a spot for itself in countless Oriental menu cards all across the globe.
A similar success is enjoyed by coriander in an Indian soup, the Tamatar Dhaniya shorba, which is the Indian take on the cream of Tomato with the twist involving use of coriander and as it turns out, it works wonders!!! More often than not you will find this soup featuring extensively on menus in weddings and banquets all over the country. It is the coriander along with the cumin and garlic tadka that plays the vital role of lending the Indianness to the soup and makes it into a Shorba.
Herbs have to be handled with utmost care, because of their delicate nature and the fact that they are basically tiny plants. The flavour is considered to be a high value asset. In case of the coriander, I have observed many a times that this herb is not handled so well. Unlike other herbs which are trimmed or plucked and then used, coriander is chopped most of the times. And if not used immediately it starts to lose its beautiful green and soon turns into black and also looses its beautiful flavour. In many kitchens coriander is first chopped and then washed, probably because it’s a little difficult to hold the bunch together when you try to chop it after washing, but this also affects the flavour and may change the colour too.
The expanse of the repertoire in terms of culinary use of coriander is incredible.
The emotional cook falls for the inevitable coriander…..
Here’s the recipe of the quintessentially Maharashtrian preparation celebrating the inevitable coriander, the KOTHIMBIR VADI
1) Fresh Coriander leaves – 3 cups
2) Red Chilli Powder – 3 tsp
3) Chopped Green Chilli – 3 tsp
4) Cumin Seeds – 2 tsp
5) Turmeric Powder – 1 tsp
6) Asafoetida – 1tsp
7) Oil – for Frying
8) Split Bengal Gram Flour (Besan) – 1 cup
9) Rice Flour – 2 tbsp
10) Salt to taste
11) Water – ¼ cup
1) In a large bowl mix together Coriander leaves, green chillies, red chilli powder, turmeric, asafoetida cumin seeds, besan and rice flour.
2) Add the water and mix it to form hard dough.
3) Roll the dough into cylindrical shape (like a sausage).
4) Steam the rolled dough in a pressure cooker for 5-7 mins.
5) Remove from the cooker. Cut small circular pieces and fry in oil till crisp on the outside.