If you find your pantry bare of coriander, the key to a successful substitution lies in identifying what makes the herb stand out, honing in on the distinct flavors of the spice and replicating those flavors with what you have on hand. Coriander, which appears in many Indian and Mexican dishes, has two key flavor elements: an earthy base taste with sharp, lemony highlights. Fortunately, you have plenty of options with comparable flavors.
Like coriander, easy-to-find cumin often shows up in Indian and Mexican cuisine. You can substitute cumin, which serves as a versatile coriander alternative for everything from curries to cakes, at a one-to-one ratio. While it retains coriander's warmth and spice, it lends your dish a slightly earthier taste than coriander, without the citrus accents.
Coriander and cilantro are actually close cousins -- ground coriander comes from the seeds of cilantro plant, while the herb simply referred to as "cilantro" comes from its leaves. Turn to cilantro leaves for a sharper, cooler and less spicy flavor for soups, stews, curries and meat dishes. If you're into herb gardening, the lesser-known culantro, also called sawtooth coriander, is a closer alternative. Culantro essentially hits the same flavor notes as coriander, but its flavor is more pungent and concentrated -- use a little less culantro than you would coriander.
While cumin nails the earthy undertones of coriander, other substitutes replicate the lemony, pine-flavored side of the herb. Try lemony oregano for a substitute when preparing Mexican cuisine, or pine-like sage for a cooler flavor. Thyme offers a more subtle flavor that's a bit richer in lemon notes, accenting poultry and sauces particularly well. While these alternatives might not be your best bet for fruit chutneys, desserts or other baked goods, they work well in tropical dishes, curries, chicken and seafood.
Mixed Spice Subs
If you're dishing up Indian food, try curry powder, dukkah or garam masala in place of straight coriander. These seasoning mixes typically include a bit of coriander alongside other spices such as cumin, pepper, cloves and nutmeg, so use sparingly and avoid doubling up on herbs. Most pre-made pickling spices also contain coriander, alongside other spices such as bay leaves, mustard seeds and peppercorns. Like Indian spice blends, these makes for a more intense and complex flavor than plain coriander.