- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 8, 2006

Coriandrum sativum is a fascinating plant that, in its early stages, produces tender cilantro leaves and, when mature, yields, from its seeds, the spice we call coriander. It’s a rarity that two such different seasonings come from the same plant.

Growing it is easy. Cilantro loves cool weather, and it’s not until temperatures consistently reach 75 degrees that the plant will form a seed stalk, producing coriander.

Yet there are a few things that cilantro lovers can do to prolong the fresh leaf harvest. The foliage, which resembles parsley, can be pinched back to form bushier plants.

Even in containers, cilantro should be grown from seed, not from transplants. It forms a long taproot that resents being disturbed. Choosing a planting site in the garden that offers morning sun and afternoon shade helps because it slows down seed formation.

Sowing new seeds every few weeks will extend the harvest. In fact, cilantro can grow well into the winter in cold climates with a little bit of protection.

A useful tool for growing coriander is floating row covers. Made of a translucent spun fabric, the covers are laid directly over the plants. Gardeners can let the stems hold up the row covers or use wire hoops as support.

To extend the season even longer, grow the plant in containers that are at least 18 inches deep to accommodate the taproot.

Note that the leaves will become bitter as the plant sets seed. That’s when the coriander production starts. Coriander fans don’t need to worry about picking the leaves, if they are really only after the seeds. (Although why not pick the leaves and save them or give them away?)

Harvesting the seeds at the right time is essential. Young seeds taste awful and seeds that are too old will shatter, falling everywhere.

In the kitchen, cilantro is well-known as an ingredient in salsa, but it is delicious in salad dressings, with chicken, fish, pork and potatoes. Experiment with the herb using a little at a time. It has a strong and unique flavor.

The leaves can be stored by chopping them and putting them in an ice cube tray with a little water. Or the whole leaves can be frozen in plastic bags. Just add the cilantro cubes or frozen leaves to any recipe — but don’t try to dry cilantro. It loses its flavor when dried.

Coriander is often used in Indian food, in curry spice blends. The seeds are ground or finely powdered, depending on the texture desired. Ground coriander loses its flavor quickly and should be stored in an airtight container. However, the dried seeds will last for years. Growing two herbs on one plant. What could be better?

Lime-cilantro vinaigrette salad

2 bunches cilantro, leaves only (about 1½ cups)

1 cup lime juice

½ cup white vinegar

1/3 cup brown sugar

1 clove fresh garlic

1 teaspoon salt or to taste

3 tablespoons Dijon mustard

3 cups extra-virgin olive oil

Greens, nuts, fruit and cheeses of choice

Puree cilantro, lime juice, vinegar, brown sugar, garlic and salt to taste in a food processor or blender. Add mustard, then slowly pour in oil while blending until you reach the proper consistency. Toss with greens, nuts, fruit and cheeses of choice. (Dressing will keep for a week; whisk before serving. It also makes a good marinade for seafood and chicken.) Make about 4½ cups vinaigrette.

Tomato-pineapple salsa

4 cups diced fresh tomatoes

1 cup diced pineapple

1 cup chopped scallions

1 whole jalapeno chili, seeded and finely chopped

1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro

5 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1/4 cup fresh lemon juice

Combine tomatoes, pineapple, scallion, chili, cilantro, garlic and lemon juice, and mix gently. Can be used as a dip for pita or tortilla chips and is tasty with grilled chicken. Makes about 6 cups.

Creamy cilantro chicken Here’s a recipe that uses both fresh cilantro and ground coriander.

11/4 teaspoons ground coriander

2 tablespoons cornstarch, divided

1½ pounds boned and skinned chicken breast

2 tablespoons butter

1 pound sugar snap peas

1 to 2 tablespoons vegetable oil

3/4 cup chicken broth or stock

½ cup dry white wine

1/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves

1 garlic clove, minced

3 tablespoons heavy whipping cream

Cooked rice or pasta, optional

Combine coriander with 1 tablespoon cornstarch and pat onto chicken. Melt butter in pan over medium heat. Cook chicken for about 4 minutes on each side, or until cooked through. (The time with vary with the thickness of the chicken.) Place chicken in a 200-degree oven covered in foil to keep it warm.

Stir-fry sugar snap peas in a separate pan in 1 tablespoon oil until tender-crisp, adding more oil, if necessary, to prevent sticking. Remove from pan and set aside.

In same pan, combine broth or stock, wine, cilantro, garlic and remaining cornstarch. Bring to a boil then reduce heat to simmer and cook for a couple minutes. Stir in cream and cook over low heat until sauce is desired consistency.

To serve, place chicken and sugar snap peas on serving platter or individual plates. Ladle sauce over or around chicken and sugar snap peas, and serve with cooked rice or pasta, if desired. Makes 4 servings.

Grilled potatoes with cilantro and green beans

8 to 10 small red or yellow potatoes, unpeeled but washed

2 tablespoons butter

5 garlic cloves, chopped

½ teaspoon chili powder

Salt and pepper

½ cup chopped fresh cilantro

Cooked green beans

Boil potatoes in a large pan for about 10 minutes, or until tender. Drain. Melt butter in a medium saucepan. Add garlic and cook for 2 to 3 minutes, or until garlic is softened but not browned and scent is released.

Add potatoes, chili powder, salt and pepper to taste and cilantro and toss to cover. Place on hot grill to heat through and develop flavors. Toss with cooked green beans and serve. Makes 4 to 6 servings.

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