Not to be confused with the European Curry Plant, Helichrysum italicum, Curry Leaves comes from the Curry Tree, 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. The leaves have little flavor once dried. A handful of dried leaves are needed to take the place of just a few, if fresh.
The leaves have the flavor of a curry dish, and lend this flavor when 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:
6 cups cooked basmati rice; 2 cups raw makes 6 cups cooked
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/2 teaspoon brown mustard seeds
1/2 cup raw peanuts or cashews
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
1 teaspoon fresh garlic, peeled and chopped
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
30 curry leaves
2 teaspoons salt
3 tablespoons lemon Juice
1/2 cup water, if needed
Directions: 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. Serves six to eight.
Growing this plant is very rewarding
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 southwest 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.
About The Author
My name is Chris Rawstern and I have been on a cooking and baking journey for 42 years. Many people have asked what A Harmony of Flavors means. Have you ever had a meal where the visual presentation was stunning, the smells were incredible, the taste was so remarkable that you ate slowly savoring every bite, wishing the experience would never end? Then you have experienced what a truly harmonious meal can be like.
My passion is to teach people how to create a Harmony of Flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things. 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.
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