Sunday, 4 July 2010

Grow crazy Coriander and add zest to your food!

There is something about the citrusy aromatic flavour of Coriander (Cilantro or 芫茜) that captures the essence of South East Asian cuisine.  Tom Yum soup, Thai green curry and Thai style fried noodles are just some of the dishes that simply do not taste right without a generous amount of chopped up coriander added into them right at the end.

And it is because dishes like these frequent our dinner menu so often, that when I started gardening a few months ago, one of my top priorities was to grow Coriander and lots of it.  Too often had I brought home bunches of it from the market, and within a day or two, the leaves would have turned into a black slime.  I had even tried the "Living Coriander" pot plants found at the supermarket but these had such thin stems and tiny little leaves that they would completely disappear without a trace into my Tom Yum soup, much like a prawn cracker dissolves to nothing on the edge of your tongue.

Close-up of Coriander at 8 weeks growing amidst Spring Onions

Now, imagine being able to have fresh coriander straight from the garden whenever you desire!

It was with some trepidation that I decided to grow my first ever coriander.  To me, it seemed like a plant that would only flourish in the warmth of the Asian climate and it was early April in England and we were still experiencing the occasional frost.  However, I went ahead and sowed some seeds anyway.  Into a container outdoors they went, and when they had grown to approximately two inches tall, I planted them out into the 'Chinese wing' of our garden and into whatever containers I could find.

A few months on, and we now have a whole forest of Coriander!

These amazingly lush plants are rewarding us with colanders full of zesty leaves and stems every week. It has become more than just a herb for garnish -we have so much of it that sometimes it doubles as a vegetable substitute!

So what do you do with all this Coriander?
In these hot summer months, I have been whizzing it up with peanuts and olive oil to make a really nutty pesto sauce for pasta.  Perfect for those evenings when its just too hot to be cooking, and knowing that this beautiful uncooked sauce was made with coriander freshly picked just moments ago makes each bite taste all the more incredible.   (See "Coriander Pesto" recipe here)

Coriander Pesto over Fiorelli pasta

I have also been adding it to pineapple tossed in a homemade Malaysian inspired 'Rojak' Sauce for a tasty and zesty summer salad, which I can only describe as being the perfect balance of fruity sweet and shrimp paste saltiness with the occasional sharp tanginess of coriander.

And why limit yourself to just spring onions with your Peking Duck?  I've been adding Coriander as well to counteract the slight bitterness of the onions.

(L) Pineapple & Coriander 'Rojak' (R) Crispy Duck with herbs on a pancake

Tips for Growing Coriander
The thing I noticed about Coriander is that the ones in the ground, given a little space, grew into these tall and bushy plants. The seedlings that were planted out into containers were stunted by the size of their housings and did not grow quite as tall.

Coriander grown in a container
And what about the seeds that we sowed directly into pots indoors? These plants ended up with spindly stems and tiny leaves, which were quite mild in flavour and more suitable for use in salads or as a pretty garnish for small bite sized finger food.   So it seems the same seeds, grown under varying conditions produced a variety of coriander for different uses.

Coriander would definitely be on my list of top ten easiest vegetables to grow from seed and the best news is that there don't seem to be many insects or birds that are attracted to it, so you will always have perfect leaves. I love the taste of strong, aromatic Coriander and my choice would be to grow them into tall, juicy stemmed plants with lots of leaves.

If you feel inspired to do some gardening and grow your own vegetables, then here is more information:
Seeds:Thompson &Morgan Coriander: Calypso
Compost: Vegetable Compost (Organic & Peat Free) from New Horizon
Sowing: I sowed mine early April which is Spring in the UK (although to be safe, you should probably follow the advice and wait until its warmer eg: May)
Growing: My coriander was spaced approximately 3 inches apart although they looked like they could have done with more space. Also, coriander plants have really long roots so take note if growing in a container
Harvest: After six weeks. We have been able to harvest continuously late May to now.
Pests: Did not experience any, not even the slugs liked this one

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