Going to Seed

Coriander-the multipurpose seed.

By Lucretia Bingham

Published on March 4, 2002

It seems appropriate that cilantro sprouts from a multipurpose seed, coriander, the oft-unheralded ingredient in various cakes and liqueurs, sausages and pickling mixtures, curries (of course) and court bouillons. Today, most coriander comes from Morocco, Egypt, and India. Clusters of seeds develop in the small flowers that appear when the plant grows beyond its peak leafy stage. When the leaves of the plant fall away and only the stalk (with the seed heads) is left standing, coriander is harvested in a process similar to that used for wheat—either with combines, which comb the fields, pull the stalks, and separate the seeds, or by hand, in which case the stalks are cut with sickles, tied into shocks, allowed to dry, and then threshed by hand. Coriander has a warm, sweet flavor reminiscent of sage, cardamom, and orange peel—quite unlike the piney astringency of cilantro. It is available both ground and whole, but for best results, buy it whole (only as much as you can use) and toast it in a dry skillet to enhance its flavor before grinding. Store in an airtight container in a dark place.

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