Monday, August 07, 2006

The Local Spice is Right

Local spice, local ingredients. This is my entry for The Spice is Right 5: Fresh and Local. Barbara at Tigers and Strawberries this time asked us to come up with a locally grown spice if we could and pair it with as much local produce as possible, in honor of the lush and prolific growth of summer.
My local spice is coriander, the seeds of cilantro, and their terroir is my backyard. I've been growing cilantro for more than ten years, and sometimes now it reseeds itself, which I love. But I don't take any chances--I plant it every year, somtimes twice, because I love it so much.
The cilantro wars have been fought fiercely at my house, because D is one of those people who are genetically disposed to dislike the taste of cilantro. To some of these unfortunates, cilantro tastes like soap; D says it tastes like wet cardboard. I used to think he was just giving me a hard time, or that if I snuck it into enough dishes he'd get to like it. But I can't fight a genetic disposition.
In doing a little research on coriander/cilantro, I was glad to find out that its name derives from the Latin coriandrum, which in turn derives from the Greek corys, a bedbug, supposedly referring to the scent of the crushed leaves (I'm not going to tell D about this). It's both a spice (the seeds, whole or ground) and an herb (the leaves). The seeds have been found in Egyptian tombs (I've noticed this is claimed for a lot of plants--those Egyptians must have been fiends for seed burial). It was one of the 1st herbs grown by the American colonists, and the Roman legions carried it along on the march to flavor their bread. It is still used in cough medicine in India. There's a website for cilantro haters: I Hate Cilantro! And it's the name of the title character in I, Coriander.
I got my recipe from The Serendipitous Chef's Fiery Cool Cucumber Soup. Here's my version, only a little different:

about 3 medium cucumbers, seeded and cut in large pieces
(I peeled them, but left a little on for green flecks)
half an onion, cut in chunks
1 tbs dill
a small handful of basil
a small handful of mint
about 1 tbs of green coriander seeds, smashed a little with a knife
3 cloves garlic
1tsp chipotle chile powder
1 tsp paprika
pinch of sea salt
a pinch of cumin seeds
a splash of olive oil
and another of white wine
about 2 cups of yogurt
I put everything except the last 3 ingredients in the food processor and whirred it up until it was small-chunky. Then I put in the olive oil and white wine, and started adding yogurt about a quarter cup at a time. When it got to a nice soupy, not-too-thick consistency, I stopped (hence the imprecise measurement). I chilled it in the freezer for about 20 minutes (since it was very close to dinnertime), and brought it out and garnished it with mint sprigs (forgot them in the picture).
As for locality--the cucumbers was from D's father's garden, the onion from the farmers market. The herbs and the garlic were all from my garden, the white wine was a local wine, leaving only the salt, chile powders, olive oil, yogurt from out of town.
It was great--so good that I ate some for a bedtime snack later that night--chilled and icy, with a snap of spicy pepper and the pleasant tang of the yogurt--so good that I'm planning on adding the Chef to my blogroll--I don't want to miss anything else this good.

(Neither of the photos do it justice--I swear it didn't look that brown in real life!)


Liz said...

Sounds delicious!

I can't believe that people hate cilantro enough to make a website about it. Shocking! I adore it, and it's seed coriander.

lucette said...

Crazy, isn't it? I think someone should start an I Love Cilantro to combat cilantro misconceptions and rumors.

K-Oh said...

Yum! Bring some of this over.

I used to hate cilantro, even though the smell of it made me recall riding my horse in this one sort of swampy meadow back in California. For some reason, I now love it. When I was in Afghanistan, someone made cole slaw with cabbage, cucumber, yogurt and cilantro, and it was probably my favorite dish of the whole trip.

lucette said...

I really like the idea of riding through fields of cilantro--an herbal dream.