Curry Leaf (also Kadhi Patta or Sweet Neem Leaf)
I know when “curry” is added to anything it’s as if the word, like the spice blend, takes over – the connotation of that powerful flavor is embedded in our brains. That said, I cannot express in more uncertain terms than “curry leaves do NOT taste like curry!”
The fragrant curry leaf is found mostly in South Asian cooking (surprise!), particularly South Indian. They get their name because of their use in curries, but the leaves can also be pan-roasted with a little oil to add flavor to a host of dry dishes. Curry leaves are woodsy, lemony, and actually a little smoky, with no curry flavor whatsoever. The flavor is subtle and deep all at the same time, a bit elusive for descriptive purposes, but a flavor that becomes easily embedded in taste memory.
I have to say that curry leaves are on my deserted-on-an-island-and-can-only-bring-10-spices list. I absolutely love to heat a little oil up, add curry leaves and brown mustard seeds (a dynamically delicious combo) and make just about anything. Beautiful in buttered rice. A great base for a quick sautéed shrimp dish with some garlic, onions, chilies, and cilantro. It’s amazing in coconut-based stews and lovely with kernel corn. It adds incredible depth of flavor without overpowering any of the other flavors of a dish.
The fresh leaf has the strongest flavor although it has a short shelf life. The leaf can be frozen for storage purposes, but it does lose some of its flavor that way. Curry leaves can be found at South Asian specialty stores, but I actually pick mine up at Chelsea Market at the Manhattan Fruit Exchange. They have some that are locally grown from a certified organic farm. If you still feel unsure about how to use them, I will certainly be posting recipes in the coming months that will show how versatile they can be.