Meet Herb

Sometimes known as Cilantro or Chinese parsley, this hardy herb looks a lot like flat leafed or Italian parsley. One way to tell the difference for sure is to rub the leaves, they give off a distinct aroma which some find offensive; kind of a cross between lemon peel and sage. Strangely enough the smell wears off in cooking or drying leaving only the distinctive taste.

Coriander grows naturally on the shores of the Mediterranean and for centuries has been cultivated in Asia. This is one of those herbs that does equally well in a sunny spot in your garden or in pots on your window sill. Sow the seeds in early May and you will have usable leaves in relatively short order. However, unlike most herbs, it doesn't do well for extended harvesting, quickly producing its lacy white flowers and going to seed. If a longer harvest is what you're looking for, then it's best to sow the seeds in succession every three weeks or so, much as you would radish or leaf lettuce. It can grow to be about 24 inches in height and looks very pretty as part of an herb border.

The Ancient Egyptians were among the first to study the possible uses of herbs and can be credited with the discovery of many culinary, medicinal and aromatic uses. Herbs were also placed in tombs to accompany the soul on its journey into and through the afterlife and they were placed on altars as offerings to the gods. Cilantro was one of the herbs offered to the gods in temple ceremonies; and it was made into poultices for the treatment of broken bones. A massage with a coriander essential oil is said to have a stimulating effect in fighting off lethargy and tiredness.

With the ever-growing popularity of Latin American cuisine, many North American cooks are becoming more and more familiar with cilantro. In even the smallest Mexican taverna you will find saucers of essential seasonings on the tables at all times. Coarse salt, wedges of green limons, salsa picante and a mixture of chopped onions and cilantro. No self-respecting taco is considered complete without a dash of cilantro and onion and a splash of salsa.

Fresh Coriander Chutney

Serve this with Indian curries.
  • 2 cups, well packed, of fresh coriander leaves, coarsely chopped, in 1/2 cup batches
  • 1 cup lemon juice (or vinegar) in 1/4 cup batches
  • salt to taste
  • 2 or 3 chili peppers, stems removed, chopped
  • 2 tbsp grated fresh ginger
  • 2 tbsp chopped green onion
  • grated coconut (optional)

Blend 1/2 cup batches of coriander with 1/4 cup batches of lemon juice, adding a bit of water if necessary to keep it smooth. When all the herb has been processed, add salt, chili, ginger, green onion and coconut. Stir to combine well.

Avocado Salad with Coriander

Serve this as an appetizer or a vegetable course.
  • 2 large ripe avocados, peeled, seed removed and diced
  • 350gr tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped
  • 2 bunches green onions, sliced
  • couple of dashes of Tabasco
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 tbsp lime juice
  • 2 tbsp sunflower oil
  • 2 tbsp fresh coriander, chopped
  • salt
  • fresh ground black pepper
  • lime slices for garnish

Combine the tomatoes, avocado and green onion in a bowl.

Add the Tabasco, the lemon and lime juices, oil and coriander in a separate bowl. Whisk together to blend well and season to taste with salt and pepper. Pour over the tomato, avocado and green onion mixture.

Garnish with lime slices and serve.

  • Yields: 4 - 6 servings
  • Preparation Time: 20 minutes

Couscous and Coriander Salad

  • 3/4 cup precooked couscous
  • juice of half an orange
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 3 tbsp chopped coriander leaves
  • salt and black pepper
  • 1 1/4 cups boiling water
  • 2 oranges
  • a 3 inch piece of cucumber
  • 4 tomatoes, quartered
  • 3 eggs, hard cooked, peeled and quartered
  • 1 can of anchovy fillets, drained and halved lengthwise
  • 12 black olives
  • 1 tbsp pine nuts
  • coriander for garnish
For the dressing:
  • 2/3 cup plain yogurt
  • juice of half an orange
  • 3 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tbsp chopped coriander leaves
  • large pinch of coriander seed
  • salt and black pepper to taste

Line a strainer with cheesecloth, rinse the couscous, drain well and transfer to a large bowl.

Mix together the orange juice, olive oil and chopped coriander and season well with salt and pepper. Pour over the couscous and mix well. Pour the boiling water over the grains and stir gently as they swell. When all the water is absorbed, transfer to a large serving dish.

Peel and slice the oranges. Thinly slice the cucumber and arrange the cucumber and orange over the couscous, then arrange the tomato and egg wedges, the anchovies and the olives. Sprinkle with the pine nuts cover and chill.

To make the dressing, combine the yogurt, orange juice, garlic, oil, chopped coriander leaves and ground coriander seed and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Dress the salad with the dressing and serve garnished with coriander sprigs.

  • Yields: 6 - 8 servings
  • Preparation Time: about 30 minutes excluding chilling time

Steamed Halibut with Cilantro

Serve this accompanied by steamed rice and stir-fried vegetables.
  • 4 halibut fillets or steaks
  • a large bunch of fresh cilantro
  • a one inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and sliced thinly
To garnish:
  • fresh cilantro sprigs
  • 2 green onions sliced on the diagonal
To serve:
  • 2 tbsp soy sauce

Make a couple of slashes across both sides of each halibut fillet or steak. Line the bottom of a bamboo steamer with half the cilantro and a few slices of green onion and ginger. Put the fish on top and cover with more green onion and ginger and the remaining cilantro. (If there isn't room to put the fish in one single layer in the steamer, use a double-tiered steamer or steam in batches, keeping the cooked fish warm.) Cover the steamer and put it over a pan of simmering water. Steam until tender. As a rough guide, cook the fish for ten minutes for each inch of thickness, measuring the fish at its thickest point.

Remove and discard the cilantro, green onions and ginger and transfer the halibut to a warmed serving dish. Garnish with sprigs of cilantro and slices of green onion and put the soy sauce in a small bowl for dipping. Serve immediately.

  • Yields: 4 servings
  • Preparation Time: 20 minutes

Stir-Fried Zucchini with Herbs and Spices

This is great as an accompaniment to curried poultry, fish or veal.
  • 750gr zucchini, peeled and cut into 1 inch chunks
  • salt
  • 3 tbsp sunflower oil
  • 1 tbsp curry leaves
  • 3 green onions, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
  • 1 tbsp chopped fresh ginger
  • 2 tbsp chopped fresh coriander
  • 1 tsp light soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp chicken stock or hot water

Sprinkle the zucchini with salt lightly, place in a colander and leave to drain for thirty minutes then pat dry with paper towel.

Heat a wok and add the oil allowing it to heat till almost smoking. Add the curry leaves and cook for one to two minutes, until they brown, then add the green onion, garlic, ginger and coriander.

Stir-fry over high heat for one to two minutes.

Add the zucchini and stir-fry for two minutes more over gentle heat. Add the soy sauce and stock and cook for one minute further. Turn into a warm serving dish and serve immediately.

  • Yields: 4 servings
  • Preparation Time: 30 minutes

Coconut Cilantro Relish

This relish makes an ideal accompaniment to spicy foods and cold meat platters.
  • 3 cups peeled, seeded and chopped tomatoes
  • 1 /12 cups grated fresh coconut (or grate the flesh of one coconut weighing 10 to 12 oz)
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup white vinegar
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 4 tbsp roughly chopped cilantro leaves

Put all the ingredients except the cilantro into a saucepan with 2/3 cup of water and simmer over medium to low heat, covered for about 50 minutes, until the mixture becomes syrupy. Remove from heat and allow to cool. Stir in the cilantro.

If you're making this to keep, transfer it to sterilized jars once it's cooled and seal. Store in the fridge and use within one month.

  • Yields: about 1 pound
  • Preparation Time: 1 hour and 15 minutes

Cilantro Salsa

This is great served as a dip with tortilla or corn chips.
  • 1 cup canned crushed tomatoes
  • 3 small shallots or 1 small onion roughly chopped
  • 1 fresh red chili, seeded and chopped finely
  • 4 tbsp roughly chopped fresh cilantro

Put all the ingredients in a food processor and process for about 10 seconds so there is still a bit of texture. Transfer to a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for five minutes. Cool and serve.

  • Yields: about 1 cup
  • Preparation Time: 20 minutes

Coriander is one of those herbs that seems to invoke extreme reactions -- people either love it or hate it. Personally I think it's wonderful, but you'll have to make your own judgment.

See you next month. We have a special treat in store for you.