Shang-Hai Gimlet; Tebu Tebu
Shang-Hai Gimlet; Tebu Tebu

The herbalcohol way

From its piquant leaves to the warm depth of flavour its seeds impart, coriander is the latest herb to find itself as more than a garnish in food

Call it the American cilantro, the desi dhaniya or the Bambaiyya kothmir, coriander is one herb that we can’t seem to get enough of. Displaying its versatility in a tangy chutney, as a zesty garnish sprinkled atop a myriad of dishes or its powdered seeds in a masala, the herb has always ruled our kitchens.

Now it is making for the bar. Bartenders use coriander in a range of drinks; alcoholic, mocktails and fruit punches. Partaking in several libations across the country the fresh, almost citrus-y taste, gives the drink a je ne sais quoi that’s hard to pinpoint. From its leaves and flavour-packed stalks to its seeds—that seem to take on a whole new form when roasted—coriander is as versatile as Steve Martin and Ayan Ali Bangash put together.

Tequila Tastes

Let’s start with a cliché: A pretty obvious coupling of coriander with a Mexican-inspired tequila margarita. The Centro Paradiso at Mehico, a Mexican restobar in Kolkata, is a spicy, citrus-infused tequila cocktail complemented by herbaceous notes from zesty coriander leaves and a touch of even more freshness from cucumber and yuzu, with the heat coming from jalapeno pepper. “Coriander adds depth and complexity to the cocktail, balancing the heat of the jalapeno and the crispness of the cucumber,” says Manoj Singh Rawat, head mixologist at Mehico.

Veering down a similar path is Vishan Kashyap, mixologist at the SFX bar, Taj Fort Aguada Resort and Spa, Goa. The twist he brings to the drink, however, is a spicy roasted coriander and chilli salt that he uses to rim the glass, which holds forth a spicy cocktail which is also garnished with a coriander frond. “I needed the roasted coriander to bring in an Indian element. The two food and drink cultures of Mexico and India—especially Goa where we are located—are so similar with plenty of coriander used, that I had to put in my own spin,” says Kashyap.

A bunch of coriander
A bunch of coriander

Leave it be!

But it’s not just the obvious tequila that fronts coriander-based cocktails. Coriander is spicing up vodka and greening the gin craze in India too.

Calling it a great “entry level cocktail” Vaibhav Billava, bar manager at Mumbai’s revamped iconic Italian restaurant, Napoli by Shatranj, created the Giulio Cocchi cocktail as an homage to Giulio Cocchi, an Italian distiller and herbalist who founded the Cocchi company in the late 19th century. “Inspired by his legacy, we created a refreshing cocktail using gin, watermelon, coriander, and garnish it with watermelon rind pickle,” says Billava. “Coriander gives a refreshing flavour, which is perfect for those new to cocktails.”

At The Blue Bar, Taj Palace in New Delhi, the Shang-Hai Gimlet offers a twist on the classic. One that is made from Grey Goose vodka, La Grande Passion liqueur, ginger, coriander, lime, cumin, garlic, chilli and orange shrub. “Our reimagining of a classic gimlet embraces the essence of coriander. The herb’s freshness adds a unique dimension, elevating the overall experience,” believes Joel Scholtens Lindsay, liquid chef and head mixologist.

Tripling with two other popular herbs, basil and fennel, coriander is found in all its punchy glory in the aptly named cocktail Feelin’ Good. Available at Cobbler & Crew in Pune, this gin cocktail sees coriander in its seed form along with the aforementioned fennel and basil. “Feelin’ Good gives a new twist to a traditional summer favourite. It’s made with refreshing basil, cucumber, and a hint of coriander seeds and fennel. This combination brings out herbaceous and aromatic notes, making every sip a ‘feeling good’ experience,” says Mayur Marne, partner at Cobbler & Crew.

Centro Paradiso
Centro Paradiso

Zero-proof Wonders

Interestingly, it’s not just cocktails that are going down the fragrant coriander-lined path. There are a few non-alcoholic libations that seek to give you all the requisite coriander freshness, sans the buzz.

Pandan Club, Chennai’s hippest restobar, has on its menu the Tebu Tebu which they say reflects its commitment to using locally sourced ingredients like homemade sugarcane juice, which provides the base, infused with the citric flavours of yuzu, the aromatic essence of galangal, and the subtle earthiness of coriander seeds. “The coriander seeds add a spicy kick. It is the stealth ingredient of mixology: cutting through sweetness like a seasoned pro, yet often overshadowed by its leafy counterpart,” believes co-founder at Pandan Club, Manoj Padmanaban.

As one of Ahmedabad’s newest fine dining restaurants, Pepito sends out a host of non-alcoholic drinks. One such is the coriander-fronted Guava Picante. “This one is a zesty mocktail where the sweetness of guava is blended with the refreshing kick of coriander,” says mixologist Arjun Aasava.

Zesty, refreshing, flavour-packed—all adjectives that perfectly describe the familiarity and comfort of coriander. A herb that we’re only too happy to see, not just atop our plates, but now in our glasses as well.

The New Indian Express