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‘Kothimbir vadi (Photo: Nandita Iyer)
‘Kothimbir vadi (Photo: Nandita Iyer)

Never have I ever wasted coriander

How to grow, nurture and fully use every part of this essential herb in your cooking

When the first lockdown was announced, green leafy vegetables, including herbs like coriander and mint, were the first to become unavailable. Possibly, their short shelf life along with transportation issues made them difficult to come by, making them all the more valuable and dear.

Indian cooking minus coriander feels a bit washed out and lacking in freshness. Coriander lives on the fringes as our chief garnishing agent. Its importance is fully realized in a green chutney, without which no self-respecting chaat can be made. The sweet and sour chutney can still be done without, but the green chutney is a must.

Going by updates on my social media timelines, people are sorely missing their friendly neighbourhood chaatwala and are making their own puris (for pani puri), papdis and more. YouTube videos showing how puris can be made from scratch have been garnering some few million views during these weeks.

When my sister sent me photographs of the pani puri she had made from scratch, I too was inspired. After watching half-a- dozen YouTube videos of varying levels of complexity, I decided to stick to making my usual bhel puri.

The coriander chutney recipe I am sharing with you gets a nice consistency from the peanuts. You can add it to all kinds of chaat and sandwiches without making the dish soggy. Fried gram can also be used instead of peanuts to get a similar consistency.

In these lockdown times, you want to make full use of every scrap of fresh produce. But that is not the only reason you should never discard coriander stems and roots. These are the parts of the herb with the maximum flavour.

Use coriander stems and roots in Thai curry pastes. These can also be used to flavour stock along with other vegetable peels and scraps. Coriander roots with a small length of stem attached can be kept in a glass of water and they will start producing leaves in three-four days. Change the water every day to keep it smelling fresh. These can later be planted in soil to quickly grow your own coriander.

While many Indians love coriander, some people cannot stand the smell or taste. They are not exaggerating when they say it tastes like soap. The typical aroma of coriander is the result of a combination of substances called aldehydes, which are also a common compound in soaps and bugs (sorry!). Those who say coriander tastes like soap or lotion are genetically predisposed to perceive the aldehyde components more strongly than the rest of us, due to a variation in a group of olfactory receptor genes.

However, I have no such genetic predisposition, which is why I buy coriander in big bunches whenever I can find it fresh. One of the best ways to use a big bunch of coriander is a Maharashtrian recipe called Kothimbir vadi, a steamed and fried snack. This is a recipe from my aunt Geeta, who is a Tamilian from Mumbai—it is probably not 100% authentic but it is definitely 100% delicious.

KOTHIMBIR VADI

Makes 12 pieces

Ingredients

1 cup besan (gram flour)

A pinch of baking soda

4 green chillies

1 tsp salt

3 tbsp white sesame seeds

1/4 tsp turmeric powder

1/2 tsp red chilli powder

1 tsp coriander powder

2 cups chopped coriander (100g)*

2 tsp oil

Oil to shallow- or deep-fry

Method

In a large bowl, mix besan with baking soda. Crush the green chillies along with salt in a mortar-pestle to get a coarse paste. Add the green chilli paste, 2 tbsp sesame seeds, turmeric powder, chilli powder, coriander powder and chopped coriander to the bowl.

Crush the coriander well into the flour so that it releases its moisture—this will help bind the dough. Do this for 3-5 minutes and the dough will start coming together. At this point, sprinkle water, around 1 tbsp at a time, kneading well to get a hard dough. Do not use more than 3-4 tbsp of water. Smear 1 tsp oil over the dough.

Grease a 5-inch round or square dish which is at least 1-inch deep with 1 tsp oil. Sprinkle half the remaining sesame seeds on the dish. Press the prepared dough to cover the dish and sprinkle the rest of the sesame seeds over the top, pressing it down so it sticks.

In a steamer or pressure cooker without the weight, steam the dish with the dough for 20 minutes. Remove and allow to cool. Cut into squares.

Kothimbir vadi is traditionally made by deep-frying these squares but it can be eaten as is, shallow-fried or with a tempering of more sesame seeds and mustard seeds.

*Wash the coriander in several changes of water so it is completely free of grit and mud. Use only leaves and tender stems. Reserve the stems and roots for other dishes.

Coriander peanut chutney
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Coriander peanut chutney (Photo: Nandita Iyer)

CORIANDER PEANUT CHUTNEY

Makes 200ml

Ingredients

2 cups chopped coriander*

1/4 cup mint leaves

1/4 cup roasted peanuts**

3 green chillies

3 cloves garlic

1/4 tsp turmeric powder

2 tbsp lime juice

1/4 tsp sugar

1 tsp salt

Method

Blend all the ingredients until you get a smooth consistency using 3-4 tbsp of water. Save in an airtight container in the fridge. Use within five-six days.

*For the chutney, use the stems along with leaves, discarding any that are too woody, dried or soggy.

**Leave the peanut skin on.

Double Tested is a fortnightly column on vegetarian cooking, highlighting a single ingredient prepared two ways. Nandita Iyer is the author of The Everyday Healthy Vegetarian.

Twitter - @saffrontrail

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