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Currying flavour

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Any plant that requires more than weekly watering and occasional pruning is going to die in my care. I've killed many and now have more empty pots than plants on my apartment balcony.
I've tried to grow chillies and coriander and they have not survived past the first fruiting/sprouting. Even mint, which people say will grow wild if you just stick a stalk in soil, starts to wilt after a while. Obviously, I don't have a green thumb.
Curry leaf, or karuvepillai in Tamil, is one of those hardy plants that seem to grow easily. A lot of people have them in pots, many have a tree in their yard, and some even plant them just outside their house gates – and share it with their neighbours.
It's hard to imagine a South Indian curry without curry leaves. They are put in for flavour (many fried dishes also have crisp fried curry leaves as a garnish), but diners often just leave them on the side their plates and they are discarded at the end of a meal. Not me, I love curry leaves and pick them out of the curry (sometimes off someone else's plate!) to eat. 
Most recipes call for a sprig or two, and cooks who grow their own plants can just pluck off what they need. But if you have to buy curry leaves (which I did to make this minced beef curry), they usually come in a bunch or packet, and to use up that amount would take me many, many curries (they can be dried and stored, though).
So, I looked around online and found some curry leaf chutneys and powders (podi). They are popular South Indian condiments and are a good way to use these aromatic leaves. The powder is often sprinkled on rice or flatbreads, and can be used to flavour Indian "soups" like rasam. Recipes abound online, and each has its own special mix of spices. I've kept the mix simple, but I'm already imagining how I can use the powder in combination with other ingredients in various dishes.
Coming up: How I use curry leaf podi
Some of the dhall in this coarsely ground curry leaf powder has remained whole. 
Curry Leaf Podi (powder)
Makes about 3/4 cups

1½ cups firmly packed curry leaves (stems removed)
1 tsp oil
1 tsp mustard seeds
1 tsp asafoetida powder
2 tbsp black gram (urad) dhall, rinsed and drained
3-5 dried chillies, soaked to soften and drained
1 piece dried tamarind (assam gelugor)
Salt to taste

Wash the curry leaves and drain well to remove as much water as possible. Dab with a kitchen towel. In a dry frying pan over medium low heat, toss the curry leaves until they are dry and slightly crisp. Set aside.
Heat the oil in a frying pan over a low flame. Add mustard seeds and sauté until they start to sputter. Add the asafoetida and dhall. Fry until the dhall turns reddish brown, about 2 minutes.
Add the dried chillies (use to taste and tolerance to heat) and tamarind. Stir until chillies start to colour and become crisp, 1-2 minutes.
Add curry leaves and toss together, 1 minute.
Take mixture off the heat and grind to a powder in a mini blender or food processor (how fine is up to individual tastes). Add salt to taste. Cool and store in an air-tight jar.


  1. Jane, thanks for sharing these useful tips. I have never tried fresh curry leaves. When we made Indian food at the Daring Cooks, all I could find were dry leaves, I suppose they lose quite a bit of their flavor. Sounds like a great addition to the spice shelf in the kitchen :)

  2. Ha! I too am guilty of killing plants! All have died on me, even my potted curry leaves plant looks like it's going to die any time soon! luckily my neighbour has very green fingers and I can still get some whenever I need some:D


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