Once upon a time...
(Our granddaughter Sabina knows that all good stories begin this way.)
Once upon a time, the Sultan Schahriah, who had caught his sultana cheating on him, resolved to marry a different woman every day — and to have her beheaded on the following morning, so no wife could ever get the chance to be unfaithful to him again.
(Sound familiar? It's the premise of The Thousand and One Arabian Nights.)
Scheherezade, daughter of the Grand Vizier, begged to become his next wife, so she could put a stop to this nonsense. To forestall her own death and the death of any other unlucky bride, she crafted a story-within-a-story so intriguing that, night after night, the Sultan spared her life.
In one tale, she told of a merchant, childless for forty years, who was "cured" by a love potion containing coriander. And though this story was very old (the tales were first published in Arabic in 850 AD, from stories handed down through generations before that), Scheherazade might have gotten the idea from the Chinese, who for thousands of years had used coriander as an aphrodisiac.
Coriander — both the leaf and the seed have the same name; cilantro is the Spanish name for the fresh herb — may have been named after koris, the Greek word for "bedbug", as it was said they both emitted a similar odor. Maybe not, according to some scholars, but I'm one of those people who doesn't like the taste or aroma of fresh coriander (it smells like bedbugs to me), so I like this theory.
Native to western Asia and the Mediterranean, coriander is cultivated in eastern Europe, India, the US and Central America, and it features in the cuisines of all of those regions. After the seeds are thoroughly dried, they're often roasted before being ground with other spices to form the basis of curry powders, masalas, harissa, ras el hanout, advieh, baharat, and dukka.
Coriander combines well with fruits of this season (quince, pear, apples), and with potatoes. Considered one of the "sweet" spices, it finds a home in the kitchen pantries of Mexico, France, Cyprus, Russia, North Africa, the West Indies, Iran and India, where it's cooked into dishes so intriguing that Scheherazade's Sultan would, I'm sure, have loved them.
An easy and unusual appetizer, great with pita chips or crackers.
1/2 cup smooth peanut butter
1/4 cup minced onion (or less, to taste)
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1 Tbsp reduced-sodium soy sauce
2 large cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp ground coriander
1/4 cup fresh parsley, minced
In a food processor fitted with metal blade, or in a blender, combine all ingredients and blend for one minute or until well mixed. Serve at room temperature.
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