Sunday, July 10, 2011

Homegrown Greens/Herbs: Coriander/Cilantro (Coriandrum sativum)

Growing coriander, Chinese parsley or cilantro is not only very easy, it is a must for many important cuisines. The entire plant is edible including flowers, seeds - mature and immature, and roots! Once you taste homegrown cilantro, you would want to keep some growing for that special taste. Store bought coriander/cilantro cannot compete with the amazing flavor of the homegrown. Even if you are not a fan of cilantro, do try the homegrown before completely writing it off.

Coriander is grown in many parts of the world and is one of the earliest plants used and cultivated by humans. According to Ancient Herbs by Marina Heilmeyer, it was used both for flavoring food and medicinally in antiquity. Coriander was an essential ingredient in cooking, baking, and ale-making as well as in various remedies for digestive tract disorders. Ms. Heilmeyer writes that "Moses compared coriander seeds to the heaven-sent manna"!

Coriander is known as Kothamalli (Tamil), Malli (Malayalam), Dhania (Hindi), Cilantro (Spanish), etc. Both the seeds as well as leaves are indispensable to Indian cooking; the seeds are important ingredients in various Indian spice mixes such as Sambar Powder, Rasam powder, and Garam Masala. The leaves and tender stems are quintessential in chutneys, salads, snacks and as a flavor booster and garnish. The seeds, leaves, and sometimes the roots are used in many countries around the globe besides India and other Asian countries, the Middle-East, Central & South America, Mexico, etc - it is unthinkable to make Mexican salsa without cilantro!

Here are a few suggestions for trying the fresh citrus-scented coriander leaves (cilantro) in various dishes: Bhel Puri, Salsa I, Salsa II, Avocado Salsa, Chopped Salad, Pesto, Dressing, Chutney, Dals, Soups & Corn Chowder. Sambar, Rasam, and other curries use both the seeds and leaves. Fresh leaves lose their flavor upon heating and therefore are added to the dishes just before serving.

Growing directions: Just throw a few seeds over good soil in a pot or in the ground and cover lightly with more soil and keep it moist. The pot/plot should get at least a little sun daily. Have a little patience though, since it might take about two weeks for the seeds to germinate. Once the plant is big enough, start harvesting a few leaves from each plant as you need. They will bolt (flower and go to seed) in warm weather so succession planting - planting a few seeds every two or three weeks - will ensure a constant supply of the leaves. Although it is an annual, it will reseed itself and grow when the weather warms again if the seeds are allowed to fall to the ground. Enjoy!!

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