This post continues the Curry series I started with: Britain’s National Dish is… and Curry, A World Traveler I am continuing my exploration of these them and future posts will cover curry beyond, India and Britain. Like Salad Oliveh this is truly a global dish and has influenced many cultures.
I have seen curry leaves in the markets I frequent around San Francisco, and remember seeing them on rare occasions at the Asian markets that dotted the DC suburbs, but had never given them more than a passing glance. I confess to being a bit confused about them in context with curries (curry dishes) and curry powder. None of my curry powder contains curry leaves (link to site listing ingredients in several curry powders. For the record, some do contain curry leaves), what do they have that curry powder doesn’t? Is that leaf the single source of curry flavor? Why is it not in my curry powder, have all the random brands I selected over the year been wrong? How do you use it? Do you use it fresh, or dried, and what’s the difference? What have I been missing? (You can probably see at this point, why I mostly grocery shop solo; otherwise, I’d drive my long suffering husband to distraction.)
What are curry leaves?
They are the young leaves of the curry tree (Karivepallai), a member of the Murraya koenigii line of that incredibly productive citrus family, specifically the Rutaecae side of the family. Fresh curry leaves are oval in shape; reminding me a bit of lemon leaves. The curry tree is native to India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and the Andaman Islands. Indian migrants carried them with them, and they now grow in around the world where Indian immigrants settled. Widely cultivated, the leaves are mainly associated with South Indian and Malaysian cuisines.
Alternative names for curry leaf throughout India include: It is also called barsunga (Bengali), pindosin (Burmese), gai leu yiph (Cantonese), karry blad (Danish), kerriebladerer (Dutch), feuilles de curry (French), curryblatter (German), kari patta, meetha neem (Hindi), aley kari (Hebrew), curry levelek (Hungarian), fogli di cari (Italian), daun kari (Indonesian/ Malaysian), kore rihu (Japanese), karibue (Kannada), khibe (Laotinan), kareapela (Malayalam), kadhi limbu (Marathi), karriblader (Norwegian), folhas de caril (Portuguese), bowala (Punjabi), listya karri (Russian), karapincha (Singhalese), hojas de curry (Spanish), bizari (Swahili), bignay (Tagalog), kariveppilai (Tamil), karepeku (Telegu), bai karee (Thai), and la cari (Vietnamese).
The name “curry leaf” came from the British who were living in India who attached the word “curry” to the leaf of an ingredient of the ubiquitous seasoning sauce made by the Tamils. (Source: The EpiCentre )
How to use
Curry leaves are a common South Indian spice, and since cuisine from Southern India is primarily vegetarian, this spice seldom appears in meat and fish dishes. The leaves are mainly used fresh, but are also used dried or powdered. For some recipes, the leaves are oven-dried or toasted immediately before use to change the profile of the flavor. Another common technique is short frying in ghee or oil to release the flavors into the oil. Also the seasoning of ghee with these leaves is said to reduce the possibility of the ghee going rancid. Common dishes where they can be found include vegetable curries and samosa stuffings, in some curry powders. In my readings, most chefs, said that fresh is best, as the flavor is diminished by drying, a few culinary experts said to just skip the dried stuff – for them it was fresh or nothing. Frozen leaves can also be found, but like dried the aroma and flavor suffered for extended shelf life. If you are able to find a fresh batch, they are usually attached to the stem. Keep the leaves on said stem until just prior to use as they start drying out immediately.
Harold McGee describes the taste of these leaves as mild and subtle, with woody, fresh notes.
Aloo Baigan Sabji (Curried Potatoes with Eggplant)
Recipe adapted from Lord Krishna’s Cuisine – The Art of Indian Vegetarian Cooking by Yamuna Devi
serves 5 to 6
1/3 c plain yogurt
½” piece of ginger, peeled and coarsely chopped
2 seeded hot, green chilies, coarsely chopped
1/3 c shredded coconut
1/2 tsp garam masala
4 T ghee (also known as clarified butter) or vegetable oil works in a pinch
1 tsp black mustard seeds
½ T cumin seeds
8-10 curry leaves, preferably fresh
¼ tsp asafetida
6 medium potatoes, steamed, peeled and cut into 1/2″ cubes
1 T ground coriander seed
1 small eggplant cut into 1″ cubes and steamed until tender
1 tsp salt
3 T chopped cilantro
1 T lemon juice
Combine yogurt, ginger, chilies and coconut in a blender and process until smooth. Add the garam masala, pulse a few more times and set aside.
Heat the ghee in a heavy large saucepan over moderately high heat. When the oil/ghee is hot, but not smoking at the mustard and cumin seeds and fry until the mustard seeds sputter and the cumin seeds turn golden brown. Stir in the curry leaves and asafetida and immediately add the potatoes. Stir fry for 3-4 minutes and them pour in the seasoned yogurt, turmeric, coriander, eggplant, salt and have the remaining fresh herb. Gently toss to coat.
Reduce heat to medium and then frt, gently tossing the vegetables until they are dry, Before serving mix in lemon juice and remaining fresh herbs.
Other Dish Ideas:
RasaMalaysia uses curry leaves for butter prawns
The Perfect Pantry has a mulligatawny soup recipe using curry leaves
MonsoonSpice has curry leave chutney powder as recipe
WorldFoodieGuilde tried a Sri Lankan fish cake with curry leaves