This aromatic evergreen tree, Murraya koenigii, is the perfect accompaniment to your next curry. What’s even more of a pleasure is picking your own leaves from the garden.
Indian emigrants took their curry trees with them when they went to live in different countries, not only for culinary use, but for their medicinal properties too, as they are rich in antioxidants. Curry trees are a small bush or tree growing to around 4 – 6m tall in tropical and sub-tropical areas. If you want to grow one in cold areas you will need to protect it from frost and keep it warm in a container, bringing it indoors if necessary. Plant curry trees in a well-drained potting mix and place in a sunny area. Feed weekly with a diluted solution of liquid fertiliser and trim the leaves as needed.
Using the leaves Fresh curry leaves are added to curries to impart their specific flavour towards the end of cooking, or the leaves are added to a spice mix and crushed to release their flavour. You can also use the leaves as you would a bay leaf to impart their unique flavour to soups, sauces and stews.
Real curry powder
This recipe was one of Margaret Roberts’s favourites. It was given to her by an Indian chef, who also gave her the first curry trees in her collection.
½ cup coriander seeds
½ cup cumin seeds
½ cup fenugreek seeds
2 teaspoons cardamom pods, shelled
1 teaspoon cloves
½ cup yellow mustard seeds
1 tablespoon tamarind
1 tablespoon turmeric
½ cup (or more or less) chilli, finely chopped and the seeds removed if liked
1 cup fresh curry leaves
½ cup freshly grated ginger
½ cup thick brown sugar
All the ingredients are finely ground and crushed in a pestle and mortar, and salt and black pepper are added to taste. This exquisite blend needs to be freshly made every time. Mix it well. The tamarind comes in a paste – mash it into everything. The ginger needs to be really finely grated – add it to the sugar. Carefully spoon the mixture into a hot pan with a little ghee and work quickly. Add chicken pieces or fish or mutton, or keep it deliciously vegetarian and add chickpeas or lentils or brinjal, and vegetables, then add a little stock or water. You may prefer stronger tastes – add and change and keep notes. Served with rice its pure taste is incredible!
While it really is worthwhile to grow your own curry tree so that you can pick leaves when you need them, you can also dry the leaves by placing them on a kitchen towel and putting them in the microwave for 2 minutes. Save them in jars and use when needed.