In the United States, coriander is known by its more common name: cilantro. This name exchange can be a bit confusing, however. In most supermarkets, cilantro is sold as a leafy green herb in the produce section while its dried seeds (fruits, really) are in the spice aisle labeled as coriander. That’s how I differentiate between the two: cilantro is fresh while coriander is dried.
While they come from the same plant, coriander seeds and cilantro are different in what they can bring to a dish.
Cilantro has a bright, lemony flavor and both the leaves and the stems can be eaten. The leaves have a subtly sweet lemony essence while the stems are reminiscent of bitter lemon. Fresh cilantro actually tastes good…
However, I personally dislike it. To me, cilantro smells so incredibly soapy that it completely overpowers my sense of taste. I’m not alone. There are actually social media sites devoted to the hatred of cilantro because for many people, the smell is not just soapy, it’s downright gross. I’m not quite there, but for me to actually be able to convey to you what cilantro tastes like, I had to plug my nose. I think if I could eat cilantro without actually having to smell it, I’d probably really enjoy it.
Why? Because I love the coriander seeds. They’re citrusy yet earthy and that duality of comforting freshness makes food intriguing and different. Then there’s the crunch. When I toast and grind coriander seeds, I never grind them completely because I love the surprise little pop I get when I bite into them. Indian food would seem incomplete without an infusion of coriander.
But so would many other cuisines. Coriander shows up in German sausages, Russian breads, and Mexican, Thai, Mediterranean, African, and Chinese cuisines (to name a few). For such a polarizing ingredient, coriander has left its mark in the wide world of food. There’s no escape!
Well, actually there is. If you’re one of those people who simply cannot abide coriander in any form, you can always substitute granulated lemon peel for the seeds or fresh lemon zest and parsley for the leaves. This is important because tomorrow I'm posting a dish that features coriander. Even if you don't like coriander, you can still make the recipe with one of these substitutions...and I really want you to be able to try my recipe. It's really good!