Of all the spices coriander has to be one of my absolute favorites, its distinctive warm, citrus aroma permeates soups, sauces and braises like no other. Coriander seed comes from the small coriander plant also known as cilantro or Chinese parsley. When ripe the seeds are a dull green color, which turn a pale, dusty brown when dried. The plant can be found growing in Asia, the Middle East and Europe and is cultivated in many others such is the demand.
The ground seeds are an important ingredient in the masalas of India whilst the North Africans prefer the fresh leaf, using the seeds for pickling meats instead. The seeds have long been associated with English cookery and in particular the chutneys and pickles that were commonplace in the old English larder.
I would always recommend buying dried coriander by the whole seed rather than ready ground, roasting the seed prior to grinding helps to warm the natural oils and release its heady aroma. By doing this you are maximizing the full potential of coriander in your dish, the seeds keep well and are easy to grind into a powder. Although coriander seeds are best known for their part in curry powders they also make an excellent flavoring for oil based dressings for fish, vegetables and meat such as sauce vierge, a simple olive oil based dressing with diced tomato, fresh basil and lightly crushed coriander seeds.
Every year I grow coriander especially for seed, once the plants have finished producing quality leaf simply leave them to run to seed and shake the flowering heads to release the seeds. Place the seeds on a tray and leave in a warm, dry place to dry out and keep in a sealed jar. The taste of freshly dried coriander seeds is vastly superior to shop bought but do not be tempted to use them in their green or still ripe state, the taste can be disagreeable.