Carrot soup is greatly improved year-round by the addition of coriander, one of the wonderful aromas that we often attribute to the Christmas season.
By Rachel McLeod
Caraway, cloves, cinnamon, and coriander. What marvelous aromas these names evoke, especially at Christmas time when they are used so frequently in festive cooking.
These ingredients raise the question of the difference between herbs and spices. Both categories fulfill the definition of a herb – that is, a plant that is useful to people. Within that definition I find it useful to describe as herbs plants which grow in temperate climates and are usually green and leafy with aromatic scent, characteristic flavors, and are used for cooking and/or medicinal purposes.
Meanwhile, spices are tropical plants, different parts of which are dried and used both to flavor food and for medicine. Spices are usually stronger in flavor than herbs and used in smaller amounts. Both herbs and spices are used in herbal crafts, especially for gifts. Not only bottles of dried herbs, oil and vinegar, but wreaths, pomander balls, Christmas tree ornaments and jewelry made from herbs and spices are welcome gifts.
Coriander (Coriandrum sativum) is a cousin to caraway but is a much more interesting plant. It is one of the few herbs that is both a leafy herb and a dried spice. The fresh leaves (often called cilantro) have a strange and to me rather unpleasant smell. However, this does not affect the flavor, which is delicious and used extensively in dishes from eastern Europe, the Middle East, India, the Far East, and Latin America.
The dried seeds are a widely used spice and one of the main ingredients of any curry dish. It is easy to grow coriander wherever the summers are long enough to allow the seeds to ripen. The seeds have a delicious, aromatic flavor, far removed from that of the fresh leaves. The seeds are easily crunched in a mortar and pestle and it is fun to use your own home grown coriander! In addition to being a basic spice in curry mixes, ground coriander is used in large quantities for festive breads and gingerbread. One of my personal favorite recipes is this simple carrot soup with coriander.
Carrot Soup with Coriander
2 medium onions
1 clove garlic
2 oz butter
1 lb carrots
1 cup chicken [or vegetable] stock
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 to 1 Tbsp coriander seed
3 oz dry sherry
1 cup milk
Sauté finely chopped onions and crushed garlic in the butter until they are golden brown. Add thinly sliced carrots, seasonings and the sherry. Cover the pan and simmer slowly for 30 minutes. Add the stock and continue simmering for another 30 minutes. Puree in the food processor, then add milk. Heat before serving and garnish with parsley and croutons. I make two or three times this amount and freeze it for later use, leaving out the milk until I am ready to reheat this wonderfully aromatic carrot soup.
Rachel McLeod founded Kiln Farm Herb Garden in Puslinch, Ontario in 1974. A version of this article was first published in Natural Life Magazine.