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Common Chinese ingredient: Coriander leaves

I have to start with my own story first, I am sure you are going to laugh.

Since coriander is one of the most popular ingredients in Northeast Chinese cooking, after I came to England, buying coriander was on the top of my food shopping list. Where I used to live was not far from a few Asian vegetable shops. There I saw big bunches of ‘coriander’, at least, at that moment, I thought it was coriander — there were a few different but similar leaves in one box without label. But, somehow it looked different, and I smelled it, — yes, I did pick it up, and placed it close to my nose to smell, here, I bet in England, not many people would ‘smell’ the vegetables when buying them. :)) Anyway, it did not smell like coriander, but I still bought it, and thought the problem was with my nose.

Cut it short, I cooked it as how I would use it in Chinese dishes — it tasted …so wrong, very wrong, I had to bin the whole plate, along with the rest of unused leaves. Then I became very sad, I was homesick badly, because, far away from home, even the coriander did not taste like coriander, how I could even pretend I was creating some homey feeling? I was honestly in sorrow for a long while.

Only later, when I got to know Western cuisine, I realized, of course it was not coriander, because it was parsley!!! :)) Ha…

So now you know, I actually use lots of coriander in my dishes, although not a lot appeared in the recipes that I have posted so far. Coriander in Chinese cuisine acts as ‘seasoning’ as well as a vegetable, which is probably different to parsley. Especially using it as vegetable — means that you have use a lot of it, you can imagine when I saw coriander was ‘preciously’ packed in the small bag in the supermarkets, how surprised I was.

In most of Chinese dishes, only the green leaves and stems of coriander are used, never ‘coriander seeds’. (I still don’t know how to use its seeds. ) Because of its distinctive fresh smell, it is called ‘Xiang Cai’ in Chinese, means ‘fragrance vegetable’.

According to Chinese traditional medicine, coriander has plenty of medical benefits; for example, it can help maintain healthy stomach and digesting system, cause sweat, cool down skin rashes, and is good for detoxing… Coriander is rich in vitamin C (much richer than carrots, tomatoes …)

However, in Chinese cuisine, there is no recipe such as ‘stir-fried coriander’, where coriander is the main ingredient. Because of its distinctive taste and smell, it would be a bit ‘difficult’ to finish a whole plate of such a dish. So in most of Chinese dishes, coriander is chopped into small pieces for giving the food a fresh taste, or a small bunch of the coriander can be cooked with other vegetables.

Methods of using coriander can be classified into two categories. The first one is where the coriander acts as a seasoning, and it is added on top of the dish either after cooking or at the very latest stage of cooking; this way of using coriander is particularly popular for fish or lamb dishes, which can help greatly to mask the ‘fishy’ or ‘lamb..ish’ smell. On fish dish, it can also function as ‘decoration’. For lamb soup, it can be added on the surface of the soup along with white pepper, for example. Or even in salad, for example, dried bean curd salad, and beef salad.

the other way is to use coriander as one of the main ingredients; this is rarely the case when stir frying and it is much more common when boiling. For example, in the famous Chinese hot pot, coriander is a popular green vegetable plate on the table; or for ‘Sichuan chili pot’, coriander is cooked along with other vegetables, or seafood. It is not only giving the pot a very fresh strong ‘fragrance’ influence, but also you can have it a normal ‘healthy’ vegetable.

There is a dish where coriander is the only ingredient — pickled coriander. Well, again, like most of the Northern Chinese pickles, it is more salty than sour. SO pickled coriander can be made just with salt and sesame oil, and some garlic of your option.

However, a few years ago, I learned from a friend, who was a chef in a Cantonese restaurant, how to re-make soy sauce with coriander. The soy sauce would have a very nice flavor with coriander influence. I will put the recipe out next time.

Related posts:

Chinese health theory: the body heat
Surprising and nice encounter with Tibetan food (II)
At the beginning
Cooking Note: Making ground Sichuan peppercorn

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