In praise of curry leaves

On our way home from studying at Claire de Lune on last Wednesday, Henning and I picked up some fresh curry leaves at the Indian market out on Black Mountain Road. After giving a talk in our Food for Thought seminar last week, I let myself relax by putting those curry leaves to good use, cooking some food from the subcontinent. I had never cooked with fresh curry leaves before and oh let me tell you.. they are amazing! The fragrance that wafts from the pan when you throw curry leaves in hot oil is just incredible. It’s no wonder that curry powder needs 639571965 ingredients in order to attempt to imitate this scent–and it doesn’t even come close.

Sweet Potatoes with Cardamom and Chiles

That night, I chose a recipe from Madhur Jaffrey’s World Vegetarian cookbook. I can always count on her for luxuriously spiced dishes that are simple to make, and this time was no different. To make this Sri Lankan dish, you throw some cardamom, cinnamon, red chilies, and curry leaves into hot oil, stir for a few seconds, then add an obscene amont of sliced onions. Once they’ve browned, you put in some sweet potatoes, which were par-boiled in tumeric-stained water. Cooking them through in the spiced onions leaves you with a wonderfully fragrant and lightly sweet side dish.

This week, the remaining curry leaves had a date with a simple egg dish that I’d been eyeing in my Mother’s copy of Mangoes and Curry Leaves. I am an egg lover and with my newfound affection for curry leaves, there was no question that this would be the next recipe to try from that book. Tonight was the night and the recipe lived up to all of my grand expectations. The creamy eggs are lightly fragrant with curry and ginger, with a bit of a kick from a fresh green chile and a hint of sweetness from some shallots. This is a perfect quick weeknight main to whip up–if you’ve got some fresh curry leaves lying around!

Sri Lankan Sweet Potatoes with Cardamom and Chiles
from Madhur Jaffrey’s World Vegetarian

2 large sweet potatoes (about 2 1/2 lbs)
1/4 tsp tumeric
3 tbs vegetable oil
3 whole dried hot red chiles
2 whole cardamom pods
1 three inch cinnamon stick
20 fresh curry leaves
3 medium onions, peeled, cut in half, and sliced into fine half-rings
1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes or crushed red chiles
1 tsp salt
1 tbs lime juice

Peel the sweet potatoes, cut them in quarters lengthwise, then cut crosswise at 3/4 inch intervals to make large chunks. Put them in a pot and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil over high heat, and then turn the heat down and simmer for 4 minutes, or until the potatoes are tender but still firm. Drain and set aside.

Put the oil in a large pan over medium-high heat. When hot, put in the whole chiles. Stir for a second then add the cardamom and cinnamon stick. Stir again and then add the curry leaves. Stir once more and put in the onions. Cook, stirring regularly, until the onions have browned, about 5 or 6 minutes. Add the potatoes to the pan and cook, stirring regularly and adjusting the heat as necessary, until the sweet potatoes are done, about 5 minutes more. Towards the end, add the salt and red pepper flakes. Remove from heat and stir in the lime juice.

Serves 4 as a side dish.

Eggs with Curry Leaves
from Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid’s Mangoes and Curry Leaves

4 large eggs
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp butter or ghee
1 tsp raw sesame oil or vegetable oil
8 fresh curry leaves
1 tsp grated ginger
1 green cayenne or serrano chile, seeded and minced
1/4 cup finely sliced shallots
2 scallions, sliced

Whisk the eggs in a bowl and add the salt. Heat the butter and oil a large heavy skillet over moderate heat. When hot, put in the curry leaves and stir once. Add the ginter and chile and fry for a few seconds. Turn the heat to medium and add the shallots. Stir-fry until the shallots are softened, about 4 minutes.

Beat the eggs briefly again and pour them into the pan. Cook gently, stirring occasionally, until the eggs are just set.

Serves 2.

2 Comments

  1. Posted February 1, 2007 at 2:47 pm | Permalink

    Just found your blog – so pretty. I recently discovered curry leaves and am totally ENAMORED. Delicious, nutty little things…

  2. Posted February 1, 2007 at 4:48 pm | Permalink

    Hi Luisa! Nice to see you here. Curry leaves are SO incredible, aren’t they? The fragrance is just amazing, and from just one little tree.


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