The people of Israel called the bread manna. It was white like coriander seed and tasted like wafers made with honey.
Chanuka is a holiday of miracles – a small, grassroots army achieves victory against the large, professional army of the Greek super power, and then a small flask of oil is able to light the Menorah for eight days. There are those who give historical-scientific explanations for this and account for it all within the limits of logic. There are those who claim it was all a matter of luck, and those who allow the miracle and wonder fill the gaps of reason…
This is when I remembered that in our field we, too, have an herb entitled “fate” or “luck,” and the opinions about it are just as controversial. Please meet the “lucky charm of the field,” the coriander. Some would kill for it; others would rather be killed than eat it… This week we complete our seasoning herb trilogy by dedicating the Newsletter to the unique, contentious coriander.
Almost every discussion about coriander begins with a sentence like “the world is divided into those who are crazy about it and those who despise it.”
Coriander’s Hebrew nickname, “the lucky charm of the field” was bestowed upon it by someone from Group One, I guess. The manna the Israelites ate in Sinai is described as “white like coriander seed and tasted like wafers made with honey”. The Aramaic scholar Yonatan ben Uziel identifies the coriander seed as having given the manna its shape, making it one lucky herb thereafter. The name “coriander” originates from the Greek word for bedbug, Koriannon, perhaps because of their similar scent. (In America, coriander leaves are called “cilantro,” from the Spanish name for the plant.)
Legends concerning the miraculous manna purport that when it was eaten, its taste corresponded with whatever the eater was craving at that given moment. The association with coriander may seem a little strange to some of you, but it is indeed a multi-talented seasoning herb. On the one hand, it adds a distinctive taste to salads and cooked items. On the other, it tones down the piquancy of spicy herbs, making it a mainstay of the Asian and South American cuisine. Coriander seeds are also a component in a magical delicacy, the sugarplum, which started out as sugar-coated coriander seeds.
Coriander belongs to the Umbelliferae family, sister to the dill, carrot, fennel and others. The family’s name was coined from the shape of its flowers, resembling small parasols or umbrellas. Little branches jut out of the main branch, and others emerge from them. It is an annual plant. Unlike the biennial parsley, which can be harvested many times before it blooms, coriander only allows a limited number of harvests (1-3, depending on the season) before growing a blossom pole. In wintertime this process is slower, and in summer we sometimes can’t harvest it fast enough before it blossoms.
Coriander originated in the Mediterranean Basin, but today it is an honored guest in almost every kitchen in the world. Coriander is generously sprinkled over dishes in Iran, Georgia, the Caucasians, in Morocco and Arab countries, plus certain places in Africa. And of course, coriander is having a ball in India, China and Thailand, and in Mexico you would be hard pressed to find a dish that does not contain coriander.
Coriander is one of those streamline-built plants where you can make use of all its parts: the leaves, seeds, branches and even its root. The root can replace garlic and it is popular in the Thai kitchen especially, though it was once used as “bitter herbs” on the Seder plate. The leaves are the part you’re familiar with–the source of the dominant taste and smell, which is the bone of contention between lovers and loathers. The seeds, however, are not as strong. They’re sweeter and more aromatic, and they constitute an excellent seasoning herb for preserving and for slow-cooking.
Here is a look at the seeds, root and leaves:
If you don’t like lots of coriander, use it to season your oil. It’s gentler that way:
Fill a jar with two cups of coriander leaves, lightly warm up a vegetable oil (canola, sunflower, safflower, olive), and add to the jar. Seal jar for two weeks, after which you can remove the coriander stems or leave them in the oil, depending on your preference. (If you plan to keep them in the oil, chop leaves very thin before you fill the jar.)
Julius Caesar’s soldiers used coriander seeds and leaves to preserve meat. Modern researches found out why it worked: coriander contains antioxidants that prevent the decomposition of animal fat. It also has components that prevent the development of worms, bacteria and fungi that spoil the meat.
Coriander arrived in Israel many years ago. It is mentioned often in Talmudic literature, making it clear that it was already very popular during the Mishnaic and Talmudic eras. For expectant fathers and mothers, there is one source from Tractate Ktuvot that promises “fat and healthy boys” to mothers who eat coriander. One Thousand and One Nights tells of a merchant who was childless for 40 years and then became cured by drinking a potion that includes coriander… (Who knows?)
I found no scientific evidence to support supernatural attributes in the realm of childbearing, but in folk medicine, coriander is known to ease insomnia and anxiety. In addition, where digestion is concerned, coriander is a well-known remedy: add coriander to legume dishes to reduce gas that can be created by the beans. In conventional medicine, its seeds are used as a component in laxatives and to remedy intestinal diseases (indigestion, gas and the prevention of spasms in the gastrointestinal tract). For a medicinal tea, pour 1 liter boiling water over 5 tablespoons of coriander seeds, sweeten with honey, and let steep for 5 minutes. Drink 1-3 cups a day.
The prime medicinal use of the coriander is from ethereal oil extracted from the fruits of the plant. The main oil, coriandrol, is used to make vitamin A capsules and as a medicine for constipation and to cleanse the stomach (for instance, before x-rays and surgery). The same quality that explained the Roman soldiers’ success in preserving meat is probably what helps kill intestinal worms, bacteria and parasitic fungus (like the infamous E coli). Recent research has found that while it is treating intestinal activity, coriander also binds itself to toxins and removes them from the body, making it efficient in cleansing the body of such toxic metals as mercury, lead and aluminum.
Another attribute of coriander has been known in folk medicine for years – it helps treat diabetes. Now there is scientific support. Research has found insulin-releasing and insulin-like activity in coriander. It has been proven to be Hypolipidemic, i.e., reducing the amount of fat in the blood, thus preventing bad cholesterol and assisting in the prevention of diseases of the blood vessels.
Tips and suggestions for cooking and storing coriander:
- To keep a bundle of coriander fresh, do not wet the leaves. Place it in a sealed plastic box and store in the refrigerator for a week and more. Wash only before use.
- Spices made of dried, chopped coriander leaves are scentless. But also tasteless. Use fresh leaves.
- Coriander leaves and seeds cannot substitute for one another in recipes. They taste different!
- Add coriander to a dish only at the very end of cooking. Extended cooking dulls the taste (unless that’s your intention…)
Having read the important and interesting qualities of the “lucky charm of the field,” coriander lovers can simply rub a leaf, inhale the aromatic scent and add it to any salad or dish. But perhaps some of the loathers will take the plunge (maybe while holding their breath) and add some of this wonderful manna to his/her plate.
And a personal word from me: on Wednesday I gave birth to our fourth daughter, sweet little Noga. Over the upcoming period of time, I will be acting behind the scene while Dror and Maya take over my chores in their loyal, professional manner. Once again, I take the opportunity to thank my “immediate” family for allowing me the space and efforts to “raise” Chubeza, and to my “secondary” family at Chubeza for all its love and everlasting support.
May we share an abundance of happiness, health and rain,
Alon, Bat Ami, Dror, Maya and the Chubeza team
WHAT’S IN THIS WEEK’S BOXES?
Monday: Carrots, kale/Swiss chard, tomatoes, fennel/kohlrabi, cauliflower, parsley/dill/coriander, cucumbers, Jerusalem artichoke/broccoli, lettuce/arugula. Small boxes only: Beets, daikon/turnips/radishes
Large box, in addition: Spinach/totsoi, scallions/leeks, eggplant/cabbage, celery/ celeriac, pumpkin/sweet potatoes
Wednesday: Cilantro/dill/parsley, kale/Swiss chard, cucumbers, fennel/kohlrabi, tomatoes, cauliflower, carrot, broccoli/Jerusalem artichoke, lettuce/arugula/baby green mix, small boxes only: beets, daikon/small radishes
Large box, in addition: Leek/scallions, cabbage/eggplants, slice of pumpkin/sweet potatoes, celery/celeriac, spinach/tatsoi
And there’s more! You can add to your basket a wide, delectable range of additional products from fine small producers: flour, fruits, honey, dates, almonds, garbanzo beans, crackers, probiotic foods, dried fruits and leathers, olive oil, bakery products, pomegranate juice and goat dairy too! You can learn more about each producer on the Chubeza website. On our order system there’s a detailed listing of the products and their cost, you can make an order online now!