I come away from Chestnut Park in a car scented with fresh coriander and limes, dreaming of Thai food.
Alasdair Smithson, organic farmer and owner of the Munch Crunch Organics home-delivery business, relocated months back from the ReGenesis farm at Myocum to lush land at Newrybar – which, apart from enabling him to continue growing over 25 different types of vegetables or- ganically, is host to a sizeable lime orchard which supplies the citrus to most local restaurants.
Coriander and lime are a beautiful partner- ship; perhaps I will cook Mexican instead? Certainly versatility is a principle feature of coriander, a plant of which all parts are edible: leaves, seeds, stems and roots. It is sometimes referred to as cilantro as well as Chinese parsley – the latter possibly due to its resemblance to continental parsley. Belonging to the carrot family, its fragrance is faintly orangey; a cook alongside whom I once worked would toss freshly ground and roasted coriander seeds in to the tail- end of her ratatouille to provide precisely that note.
I think it smells wonderful – floral, spicy, a little tangy – and yet its name derives from the Greek word meaning ‘bed bug’ because it was believed to give off a similar aroma. The pounded roots, along with garlic and peppercorns, are emblematic of Thai cuisine – their flavour is more intense than the rest of the herb. The leaves lose theirs upon the application of heat and so are mostly used raw or thrown in toward the end of cooking, just before serving. I often make a glorious lamb tagine into which I hurl freshly chopped coriander leaves at the absolute end, and they endow the spicy dish with a quality both refreshing and floral.
The seeds when crushed release a lemony, nutty, citrus flavour; they also keep indefinitely. It is best to dry-heat or roast then grind them rather than rely on the little packets of invariably stale powder. Because they are quite mild you can be lavish – a handful rather than a pinch. You will often find them paired in recipes with cumin seeds similarly roasted and ground, as the basis for Indian curries and in garam masala – or in Middle Eastern dishes like felafel and dukkah. In Europe the seeds find their way into sausages like mortadella and black pudding, pickled vegetables, even certain breads like rye bread. Chinese,Vietnamese,Turkish,Span- ish, Portuguese, North African and Latin American cuisines all use coriander in one form or another. Chilli is another natural partner – and here I am coming back to my first cooking idea, a Thai-inspired dish in which I pour over quickly seared salmon a dressing composed of coriander roots (the leaves reserved for garnish), chopped red chilli, garlic, brown sugar, fish sauce and my juicy limes. Or perhaps rub over a jointed chicken a paste of whizzed together coriander, roots and all, garlic, whole black peppercorns, salt and lemon juice – then leave it for an hour before pan-frying both sides till gold then adding coconut milk and simmering to tenderness.
My much-plundered Waverley Root says of coriander that ‘For so egoistic a spice it … goes with almost everything, no doubt because of its contradictory nature, which permits it to be assertive and arrogant with game, pork or in sausage, subtly caressing with lamb, chicken or fish; unobtrusive in curry powders, from which it is almost never omitted; exotic in blood pudding, cheese or omelets; peppery with rice, mashed potatoes, Chinese noodles or Oriental soup; fiery in Ethiopian berbere sauce; and pungent in bread, cakes, puddings or confectionery.’