Monday, February 23, 2015

Curry Leaf is Great in Indian Cuisine

Ah, Curry Leaves. I do miss them. In Florida I had a plant that grew beautifully, giving me the ability to run out and pick them as needed. I just love the flavors imparted when using them in a dish. The first time I saw this plant I had no idea what it was. When living in Louisiana, we had Indian acquaintances, and Priti had a plant in her yard. It was not until much later that I found out what it was and got a plant of my own. I was so glad I did, as I used it very often. Once I learned the flavor, I added it to many of my Indian meals.
Curry Leaves - Murraya koenigii
Curry Leaves - Murraya koenigii

The plant easily self-sows, and I soon had a second plant growing alongside the first. I figured it could be my backup, in case something happened to one. At the time I owned the plant, I had no idea that the seeds were also edible, and never even took photos of them, though they were abundant.

Not to be confused with the European Curry Plant, Helichrysum italicum, Curry Leaves come from the Curry plant, Murraya koenigii. It is a tender, evergreen shrub reaching up to 20 feet tall in its native southwest Asian habitat. It grows in the foothills of the Himalayas, southern India and Sri Lanka, and is cultivated in many Indian gardens. The leaves are a mid green in color and grow about 16 to 20 on each small stalk. The small, star shaped white flowers grow in clusters in summer, followed by edible, peppery tasting black berries. It is best to use the leaves fresh as they have little flavor once dried. A handful of dried leaves are needed to take the place of just a few, if fresh.

Closeup of Flower of the Curry Leaf Plant
Closeup of Flower of the Curry Leaf Plant

The leaves have the flavor of a curry dish, and lend this flavor where used, along with a slight citrus-like scent. The whole leaf stalk may be added to a dish and removed later. The leaves may be fried quickly at the beginning of cooking to release flavor into the oil being used. Curry leaves are an ingredient in Madras curry powder, and are often used in dishes with brown mustard seeds and dried red chiles. This Indian dish using curry leaves is one of my favorites, though the photo is not my own:

Fragrant Lemon Rice

Serves 6 - 8
Fragrant Lemon Rice

6 cups cooked basmati rice (2 cups raw makes
6 cups cooked)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
½ teaspoon brown mustard seeds
½ cup raw peanuts or cashews
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
1 teaspoon fresh garlic, peeled and chopped
1 teaspoon sugar
½ teaspoon ground turmeric
20 - 30 curry leaves (2 - 3 sprigs)
2 teaspoons salt
3 tablespoons lemon juice
½ cup water, if needed

If rice has just been made, cool completely first, stirring often. Put in refrigerator and stir occasionally until cool.

Mix together the ginger, garlic, sugar, turmeric, curry leaves, salt and lemon juice. Set aside.

In large frying pan, over medium-high heat, warm the oil. Add the mustard seeds, saute until they turn grey and start sputtering, about 30 seconds. Make sure not to burn. WARNING: Mustard seeds can sputter out of the pan very easily!

Add the peanuts or cashews and saute until light brown, about two minutes. Add the spice mixture and saute for an additional two minutes. Add the rice and mix well with the spices, mustard seeds and peanuts. Continue stirring until everything has been mixed together and the rice is heated through. This dish is best served hot or at room temperature.

Curry Leaves
Closeup of Curry Leaves
This Fragrant Lemon Rice recipe is easily made with leftover white rice, and also makes a good Indian breakfast meal. While the Curry leaves really add wonderful flavor to this dish, the dish can easily be made without them. The leaves, with their slightly resinous and citrus-like flavors enhance the lemon flavors, but are by no means completely necessary to make this lovely and fragrant dish. If you have access to curry leaves though, you must give them a try.

Growing this plant is very rewarding

Curry Leaves
Curry Leaves
Grow this plant as a small shrub outdoors in temperate climates, or in a container to bring indoors. This is a great way to keep curry leaves available for all your Indian and Asian cooking. The small tree has elegant foliage and a unique aroma. Botanically it is so closely related to citrus that it can serve as a rootstock for grafting lemon trees. The plant needs moist, rich soil and full sun to part shade and a temperate climate. It can be grown from seed or cuttings in summer. Plants grown in cool areas or under too much cover tend to attract aphids, scale and red spider mites, so keep the plant in sun. The curry tree will be far smaller, if grown in a container. If you are so fortunate as to find this plant, do try growing it. The rewards of having this marvelous flavor at hand are great.

My passion is teaching people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and passing along my love and joy of food, both simple or exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. I would love to hear from you, to help me continue my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own. Join me also at A Harmony of Flavors on Facebook, and Pinterest and sign up for my Newsletter.

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