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Fresh and Aromatic - Coriander, Basil, and Mint

[Do Not Use]DK Publishing's logo[Do Not Use]DK Publishing 02-07-2014 DKBooks
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Coriander, Basil, and Mint

Fresh herbs are essential to good food all across the vast region of Asia. Cilantro, mint, Thai basil, chives, watercress, Vietnamese mint, shiso, Asian celery, long-leaf coriander, dill, curry leaves—all are used to provide perfumed freshness in the vibrant patchwork of dishes that make up an Asian meal.

In Vietnam, many dishes are served with what is known as a “table salad.” This accompanies soups, salads, spring rolls, and curries; diners tear a selection of fresh leaves into their food. A typical table salad includes cilantro leaves, mint, Thai basil, Vietnamese mint, bean sprouts, and lime wedges. Turkish and Central Asian food also feature accompanying bowls of fresh herbs.


Coriander (Coriandrum sativum) is said to be the most-consumed herb on the planet, spreading its appeal across South, East, Central, and Western Asia; the Middle East; and much of East Africa and South America. Native to the Middle East, it is documented as being in China around 200 BC.

Fresh coriander, or cilantro, heightens the flavor of other ingredients, while also moderating rich flavors with its fresh citrus taste. It is often sold with its roots intact; used chopped and pounded to form a base in curry pastes, sauces, and dressings, these provide an intense depth of flavor for dishes such as Thai green curry. Coriander seeds are a foundation ingredient in an Asian spice collection and bear little similarity in taste to the fresh herb. They benefit hugely from dry-roasting and are used in Middle Eastern, Indian, Thai, and Malaysian dishes.

Long-leaf, or saw-leaf, coriander (Eryngium foetidum) has a more pronounced taste. It is best when chopped finely or cooked, and is found in Vietnamese and Thai cuisine.

“Fresh coriander heightens the flavor of other ingredients, while also moderating rich flavors with its fresh citrus taste.”


Holy basil (Ocimum tenuiflorum) is also called sacred basil or tulsi. An important plant in the Hindu religion, it is also used in ayurvedic medicine. Thai basil (Ocimum basilicum) is also known as Asian basil and licorice basil, and it has an intense lemony aniseed aroma. It works well with spices such as cinnamon, star anise, and ginger. The common cultivar “Queen of Siam” has dark green leaves with a purple tinge, and purple stems.


Mint (Mentha spp.) is very versatile and widely used throughout Southeast Asia, in particular Vietnam. This herb originated in Greece and from there spread widely into West and Central Asia, and down into India. There are said to be 30 different varieties. Two of the most widely used are common or garden mint, with its sweet smell, and spearmint, which has a narrow leaf with a serrated edge and a distinctive fresh flavor.

Vietnamese mint

Vietnamese mint (Polygonum odoratum), or rau ram, has many names, including Vietnamese coriander, Cambodian mint, and hot mint, yet it is not actually a true mint. Its dark green spear-shaped leaves flecked with purple have a strong, pungent, and peppery acidic taste—a few leaves go a long way. It is used in Singaporean and Malaysian soups, as well as Thai salads and Vietnamese summer rolls and table salads.

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