CORIANDER IS A PLANT that gives its name to both its aromatic seeds and a pungent herb. The fresh herb (also known as cilantro) is of the parsley family but has a stronger flavour than any other type of parsley. The small seeds have a subtle flavour that is very different to the fresh herb. Fresh coriander and coriander seeds cannot be interchanged in recipes.
Fresh coriander is used in many Asian and South American cuisines. The whole plant is edible, including the roots. The seeds tend to be used in places where the fresh herb is not as popular (in much of Europe, for instance) and the reverse also seems to be true because the seeds are rarely used in Asian cooking. India is an exception, utilising fresh coriander and the ground seeds, which are an essential part of many spice blends. In Western cuisines, whole and ground seeds are used in baked goods for making pickles and flavouring soups and stews.
Fresh coriander has a unique flavour and aroma that some people dislike, but those of us who like it couldn't do without it. In Chinese cooking it's particularly popular with seafoods and strong-flavoured meats such as beef. The pungency of the herb complements other strong flavours and tempers any fishy taste the seafood might have. In Chinese food it's usually added at the last minute because prolonged cooking destroys the flavour.
Fresh coriander goes beautifully with chillies and lime. In Thai cuisine it is used in everything from curries to salads and is also used in a lot of Vietnamese food, adding flavour to soups and spring rolls.
Mexican and other Latin American cuisines incorporate coriander in salsas, marinades and sauces.