Cooking With Curry Leaves: The Dos And Don’ts

Curry leaves are not exactly the most common or easily found ingredient used in Indian food. Mainly added to provide a background note in certain regional specialties, these leaves are unknown to many westerners. Although they are relatively rare in dishes, curry leaves are valuable for providing an authentic citrus-like note in some dishes and can be a valuable addition, even when a recipe does not specifically require them. The following tips can help you use curry leaves appropriately.

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Table of Contents

Do temper curry leaves

Tempering is an established method in Indian cooking. It involves frying or steeping spices in hot oil or ghee. The spices that are tempered contain oil-soluble compounds that account for much of their flavor. When placed in oil, they release these compounds into the oil or ghee. You can then remove the spices and add the flavored oil to your dish.

The oil (called tadka) is often added as a final touch to different types of dal or to curry, or you can use it at the start of cooking in some dishes. Note that if you are tempering fresh curry leaves with spices like cumin or coriander, those spices should go into the oil first.

Reserve the fresh curry leaves for the last few seconds before the oil is removed from the heat. This is important since these leaves can burn easily. If you are tempering the curry leaves with no other spices, place them in a pot and pour the hot oil over them. You can then leave them to steep with no danger of them scorching.

If you are using dried curry leaves, they can be tempered along with the spices since they do not burn quite as easily.

Do choose spices to pair with curry leaves carefully

Spices are not used randomly or haphazardly in Indian food, though it may seem that way to some westerners. Instead, the spices that you pair with curry leaves must be chosen as carefully as the dishes in which you use them. Asafetida, for instance, is one of the spices known to complement curry leaves. Both work well together in curries, soups, and stews and are often used together in food from the Kerala and Tamil Nadu regions in India.

Do store curry leaves properly

Fresh curry leaves can be stored like any other fresh herb. In other words, your best bet is in the refrigerator. Place them in a resealable plastic bag. If they are still attached to the limb, do not remove them. Instead, wrap the whole thing in plastic wrap and place them in the crisper drawer. They will keep for at least a week when refrigerated. They also freeze well when placed in an airtight plastic bag.

Treat dried curry leaves like you would bay leaves and other dried herbs. Place them in an airtight container and store them in a location that is cool, dark and dry.

Don’t limit the use of curry leaves to Indian or even Southeast Asian cuisine

While curry leaves are best known for their use in dishes from India and Sri Lanka, they actually have a flavor that works well in dishes from all over the world. For example, they can be used in tomato-based pasta sauces.

Don’t use dried curry leaves and fresh curry leaves interchangeably

Some herbs develop a more concentrated flavor when they are dried. Curry leaves tend to lose their flavor. The flavor of the dried leaves is substantially milder than those of the fresh. To compensate, you will need to use about twice as much of the dried leaves to replace the fresh leaves in a recipe.