Spice Rack: Cumin and Coriander, the Ancient, Dynamic Duo
Coriander and cumin. They go together like... peanut butter and jelly?
Well, sort of. While cumin lends a musky perfume, coriander is more citrus-like, even a little dusty. They complement in each other in cuisines around the world -- Cuban, Mexican, Indian, Turkish, Lebanese -- and they've been pals for ages.
These spice girls have been hanging together a really long time.
In fact, there are biblical references to both plants in the book of Exodus (16:31):
And the house of Israel called the name thereof Manna: and it was like coriander seed, white; and the taste of it was like wafers made with honey.
And in the book of Isaiah (28:25):
When he hath made plain the face thereof, doth he not cast abroad the fitches, and scatter the cummin, and cast in the principal wheat and the appointed barley and the rie in their place?
In this country, coriander (coriandrum sativium) refers to the fruit seeds of the green leafy plant known as cilantro,but in many other parts of the word, coriander is used to refer to both the fresh and dried versions. The green leaves are pungent in a citrusy sort of way; they've been described as soapy. You either love it or hate it, but you might like it when its seeds are ground and mixed with other spices, as it's lighter and brighter without the intensity of cumin.
Pickling is one of the few applications when whole seeds are used; otherwise, they're ground and incorporated into curries, spice pastes, stews, even desserts. It figures into the cuisines of the Middle East, India, Thailand, Vietnam, and in some countries, the whole plant is used, even the root.
Nutritionally, coriander is quite the hot number. It has been studied for its abilities to control blood sugar, which would be helpful for diabetics, and has long been considered useful for its anti-inflammatory properties. I've also read of its antibacterial qualities, as for its detoxifying power, which means remember to take your coriander when you've in bed with a cold or flu.
Unlike its multifaceted cousin, cumin (cuminum cyminum) is used in seed (or ground) form only. Bigger and darker than the fennel seed, but difficult to pick out in a lineup with the caraway seed (another relative), the cumin seed packs a major flavor punch and plays well with others, such as cinnamon, cayenne and ground herbs such as oregano and thyme.
It figures into spice powders, mixtures and masalas around the world -- chili powder in Mexico, curry powders of Southeast Asia, berbere of Ethiopia and Eritrea, plus the sofrito of Cuba and Puerto Rico. I can't imagine not cooking without cumin. In fact, when I smell that musk, I know things are really happening in my kitchen.
If you haven't done so, try toasting whole cumin seeds rather than using the ground stuff and cooking them with onions as a zing-y option for soup garnish and a pot of dal.
Nutritionally, cumin is known as a good source of iron, as well as a digestive aid, which I thought was limited to fennel seeds (a la the fennel candy served at Indian restaurants).
Cumin and coriander. Get to know them if you haven't already. They're seriously old dogs with an infinite number of tricks.
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