Thursday, July 16, 2020

Cilantro Life

Even though I love having lots of fresh cilantro from the garden, I don't despair when the hot weather makes it bolt. Sooner or later cilantro wants to fulfill its destiny and make seeds. You'll know this is happening because the stems lengthen and thicken, and the new leaves stop growing flat and wide; they become narrow, feathery. Then come the flowers, sprays of tiny, white blossoms. Enjoy the flowers, and enjoy the bees that will come, too. They love cilantro flowers. All parts of the plant are edible, and you don't want to miss out on what comes next!
These are coriander seeds, and they came from my cilantro plants. In cooking, the dried fruit we know as coriander is the seed of the cilantro plant, and it's a wonderful and popular flavor in many dishes, including garam masala, albondigas, sausages, and pickling. I keep mine whole, until I am ready to cook with it. Toasting it will heighten the intensity of the citrus-spicy flavor. I crush and grind the dry seeds in my molcajete, a traditional Mexican mortar and pestle.
When cilantro has bolted, the plant gets surprisingly tall, and I love seeing it in the garden, white flowers floating in the breeze. The flavor of the leaves intensifies, though there are fewer to collect. That's ok, I am looking forward to seeing the seeds form. Each tiny white flower, with help from the bees, will make fruit, the coriander. I want them to stay on the plant as long as possible, so they have time to mature, ripen, get round, and full. And as this happens, the plant will look pretty scraggly, acabado. Don't be too hasty to pull it up!
I let my cilantro hold the seeds for as long as possible, and about when the plant keels over, I pull it up from the roots, and find a place to hang it, so the seeds can dry and harden a bit more. I pulled mine out on July 5th, and by the 8th, I saw they were turning from bright green to a pale green, almost golden color. Also, they were attracting birds! Time to save the seeds!
I snipped off the umbels... the stalks of short stems. The seeds are still holding on and this is, along with the hint of green, a sign that they should dry a bit longer. They will dry and harden in this old pan.
This pan has been sitting in my kitchen for seven days. Most of the seeds are golden to toasted brown, and you may notice the distinct ridged texture of the globular fruit... it is a schizocarp. It's time to collect the seeds, a favorite activity of mine. I simply roll or pop the seeds from the stems. They are dry and ready to come off easily. Tiny bits of dried flower parts come off, too, and those can be seperated with a metal strainer. I'm not too concerned about it.

If I am lucky, some of the seeds stayed in the garden bed, and the cilantro will reseed itself. But just in case, I will be planting seeds in a cooler part of the garden, since hot summer days are coming. And I will have plenty of coriander left for cooking with, as well.


Ruth McCormick said...

Thank you for this culinary lesson. What a journey! Loved it. You are an awesome cook, so I'm sure something wonderfully tasty will come of this.


Natalie, the Chickenblogger said...

Thank you, Ruth. You've been a teacher and inspiration in the kitchen for me.
It's a special pleasure and honor to have experience, along with stories, and memories, and
to share it... It makes me happy.