Because it's popular in Latin, Indian and Asian cooking, coriander/cilantro never disappoints. Try it in your culinary herb or vegetable patch. If you think parsley will do just as well in regional recipes, you'll be surprised at how much a little cilantro brings to the table when used in salsa, gremolata, avocado cream and dozens of other mouthwatering specialty dishes.
Using Substitutions for Cilantro and Coriander
There's a big difference between the flavor of cilantro (leaves) and coriander (seeds). Substituting one for the other in a recipe is not a good option. Some recipes recommend substituting parsley for cilantro if you don't like the flavor of cilantro, or adding cumin, caraway, fennel or a combination of the three if you don't have coriander on hand. As with most herbs, the specific flavors they impart are hard to duplicate with substitutes.
For authentic flavor, stick with the real thing. Using a substitute is almost always disappointing. When making regional recipes, part of the allure is in creating distinctive dishes. When you start leaving out or substituting ingredients, it's easy to destroy what makes a dish special. Often recipes rely on a complex blend of ingredients designed to work in harmony. No one flavor takes precedence, but they all have an important role to play.
If you're primarily interested in the leaves:
- Install plants in early spring and keep them pinched back to encourage leaf growth and delay bolting as the temps increase.
- Once plants reach 6 to 8 inches in height, harvest up to a third of the plant at a time, allowing regrowth between partial harvests.
- The leaves can be used fresh, dried or frozen for later use. (See note below)
- Cilantro is also easy to grow in containers or indoors.
For my cilantro plant profiles with detailed growing instructions, see:
How to Grow Cilantro
Growing Cilantro in Containers
|Immature Coriander Seeds|
If you wish to harvest coriander seeds, don't pinch back plants:
- After flowering, the immature seeds will look small, round and green. Wait for the entire seed head (flowering top) to turn brown.
- Harvest the entire plant by cutting it at soil level and upending it (top down) into a paper bag.
- Place the bag in a warm location for a week or even longer to allow the seeds to dry.
- Shake the bag vigorously to release the seeds.
- Place seeds in an air tight container and use or discard any dry leaves.
- Store seeds for up to a year in a dry location out of direct sunlight.
Pinching back - After flower production begins, most herbs focus on reproduction rather than leaf development. Pinching back is the process of removing flowering buds from plants as soon as they appear. By pinching (snipping or clipping) undeveloped flowers, it's possible to keep leaf development high for an additional period -- maybe a couple of weeks if the temperatures aren't brutal.
Harvesting recommendations - Dried cilantro leaves lose their flavor after a few short weeks, so prefer freezing for long term storage. You can easily place chopped, fresh cilantro in water and freeze it into ice cubes, or freeze washed leaves and stems in plastic storage bags. Either method makes it relatively easy to use frozen cilantro in cooking. Another option is to start more new plants early in fall and bring them indoors during the winter months.
Bolting - If you've had trouble with your plants bolting early in summer, there are a few tricks to getting more leaf growth from each plant. You can find additional information in my post: How to Keep Herbs from Bolting
Growing tip - If you want to get both leaf growth and seeds from your coriander plants, you certainly can. Pinch back flowers sparingly, though. Instead, use multiple plants over the season and stagger planting times (always a good idea for fast growing plants like dill, cilantro and lettuce).
Photo 1 By Yoko Nekonomania (Flower, Coriander) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1/1c/Flower%2C_Coriander_-_Flickr_-_nekonomania.jpg http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AFlower%2C_Coriander_-_Flickr_-_nekonomania.jpg
Photo 2 By H. Zell (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/7/78/Coriandrum_sativum_002.JPG http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Photo3 Forest & Kim Starr [CC-BY-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AStarr_070906-8875_Coriandrum_sativum.jpg http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/f/f6/Starr_070906-8875_Coriandrum_sativum.jpg