Hating on cilantro; in love with coriander

I spent the better part of 30 years disliking cilantro, everything related to it and everything it stood for.

But a funny thing happened about six or seven years ago. I got more into the New Jersey food scene and found that the folks running the Latino, Peruvian and other ethnic restaurants really how to use the stuff.

And around the same time, I started playing with coriander, realizing it was at the root of many of my favorite dishes.

You know they’re related but have nothing in common, right? Coriander is the seed from which cilantro sprouts. Cilantro is pungent and grassy, and one of the more pronounced herbs. Coriander has an exotic, awakening aroma and flavor that reminds me — in a good way — of fresh hay.

I’m going on and on about this now because I’m out of coriander in the camp kitchen. I had no idea how much we were using it.

It’s in our coleslaw and meatsauce and, of course, our chili. We dust fish and cauliflower with it. It’s in our Ultimate Nacho meat. A pinch is in our homefries and cheesy hash browns. It goes into sauces, chutneys and relishes.  We wouldn’t make sausage without it.

At home, it’s part of the crust for my wife’s favorite dish, pecan-crusted lamb chops.

And that leads me to the recipe.

Walter Scheib, the former executive chef at the White House for the Clintons and Bushes prepared it as part of his audition with the first lady. He made it in The Record kitchen for me and a photographer while telling us the story of how he was hired, along with other tales from his decade-plus in government work.

I’ve read his book. I’ve cooked some recipes. None stand up to this.

It must be the coriander.

Pecan-Crusted Lamb With Morel Sauce and Red-Curried Sweet Potatoes

For the Pecan Crust

2/3 cup pecan halves (about 2 1/2 ounces)
1/3 cup fresh white bread crumbs
Pinch of ground cumin
Pinch of cayenne
Pinch of ground coriander
Pinch of freshly ground black pepper

For the Lamb

One eight-rib lamb rack (about 1 1/2 pounds), trimmed of excess fat
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 1/2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1/2 tablespoon honey
3/4 teaspoon roasted garlic puree

Directions

1. Make the breading: Lightly toast the pecan halves in a small, heavy-bottomed sauté pan over medium heat until fragrant, 3 to 4 minutes. Let cool, then transfer to the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade and pulse to a medium-fine grind. Transfer to a medium bowl. Add the bread crumbs, cumin, cayenne, coriander, and pepper and stir to combine. Set aside. (At this stage, the breading can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 24 hours. Let it come to room temperature before proceeding.)

2. Precook the lamb: Preheat the oven to 325ºF. Season the lamb on both sides with salt and pepper. Heat the canola oil in a large, heavy-bottomed sauté pan set over high heat. Add the lamb and sear well on both sides, 2 to 3 minutes per side. Transfer to a plate and let cool.

3. In a small bowl, stir together the mustard, honey, and roasted garlic to make a glaze. Using a pastry brush, paint the glaze onto the meat portion of the lamb. Coat the lamb with the pecan breading by rolling the meat in the breading and lightly pressing it on by hand. (Be careful not to get any glaze or breading on the bones or it will scorch or blacken them.)

4. Put the lamb in a roasting pan and roast until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part reads 135ºF to 140ºF, about 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and let rest for 8 to 10 minutes.

5. To serve: Put the sweet potato puree in a pastry bag fitted with a medium tip, if using. Reheat the sauce, if necessary. Slice the lamb between the bones to make 8 chops. Pipe or spoon about 3 tablespoons of sweet potato puree in the center of each of four dinner plates. Place two lamb chops on each plate, spoon some sauce and mushrooms around the lamb, and serve.

To Make the Roasted Garlic Puree:

Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Put a head of garlic in a small ceramic baking dish or ramekin. Drizzle with 1 tablespoon olive oil and 1 tablespoon water and season with salt and pepper. Cover with a lid or aluminum foil and bake until the cloves are soft, about 40 minutes (a small, thin-bladed knife will easily pierce right through). Remove the dish from the oven. When the garlic is cool enough to handle, separate the cloves and squeeze the garlic out of the papery skin. Mash smooth with a fork. One medium head of garlic will yield 3 to 4 tablespoons of puree. The puree can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 3 days. Stir leftover puree into soups and sauces, or into softened butter for an extra-flavorful spread.

Red-Curried Sweet Potatoes

2 medium sweet potatoes (about 6 ounces each)
1 1/2 cups orange juice, preferably freshly squeezed
2 teaspoons packed light brown sugar
About 3/4 teaspoon red curry paste, depending on desired heat level
3 tablespoons coconut milk solids (skimmed from the top of a can of unsweetened coconut milk)

1. Preheat the oven to 325ºF. Arrange the sweet potatoes in a single layer on a baking sheet or baking dish. Roast until tender to a knife tip, about 1 hour. Remove from the oven and let cool. Peel the potatoes and transfer them to the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade. Puree until smooth, then push them through a fine-mesh strainer set over a large bowl, pressing down with a rubber spatula or the bottom of a ladle to extract as much puree as possible.

2. Put the orange juice and brown sugar in a small, heavy-bottomed saucepan. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat and cook until reduced to a syrup, about 10 minutes. Stir in the curry, then fold the mixture into the sweet potato puree.

3. Transfer the puree to a large saucepan over medium heat. Thoroughly fold in the coconut solids. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the mixture dries to a piping consistency, 3 to 4 minutes. (At this stage, the puree can be kept warm in a double boiler set over simmering water for up to 2 hours.)

4. Serve with a spoon, or transfer to a pastry bag fitted with the medium star tip.

Morel Sauce

3 ounces lamb stew meat, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 tablespoon chopped shallot
1/4 cup cabernet sauvignon or other full-bodied red wine
Freshly ground black pepper
2 sprigs fresh thyme
1 cup veal demi-glace (available at specialty grocers or online)
1 teaspoon roasted garlic puree
Salt
1 teaspoon canola oil
1 ounce morel mushrooms, trimmed and cleaned

1. Heat a medium, heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the lamb stew meat and cook, stirring often, until well browned, about 5 minutes. Add the shallot and cook until softened but not browned, about 3 minutes.

2. Add the wine and stir, scraping up any flavorful bits stuck to the bottom of the pot. Add a pinch of pepper and the thyme. Simmer until the wine is reduced by three quarters. Add the demi-glace and the garlic puree and simmer until reduced by one fourth.

3. Strain through a fine-mesh strainer set over a bowl and season to taste with salt and pepper. Keep covered and warm. Discard solids.

4. In a sauté pan, heat the oil over medium heat. Sauté mushrooms 3 to 4 minutes until tender. Add to sauce. Serve. Add the sautéed morels before serving. (Sauce can be cooled and refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 24 hours. Reheat gently before proceeding.)

Photo credit.

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