Curry leaves, also known as Murraya koenigii, are a staple ingredient in many Indian and South Asian dishes. Used in cooking for the smoky, citrusy, and spicy flavor they impart, curry leaves are a common seasoning in curries, chutneys, and a variety of other popular dishes. Tips for cooking with these leaves include how to buy, cook, and store them.
Leaves from the curry tree can be purchased in fresh, frozen, and dried forms. When buying fresh for use in cooking, look for leaves that are dark green and shiny. Avoid leaves with bruising or yellowing and those that are wilted. To check that the leaves are good for cooking, crush one in your hand — it should release a citrus fragrance. If you tend to cook often with curry leaves, you may want to get your own curry tree, which you can easily grow either in a pot in your house or in your backyard.
Curry leaves can be used in cooking in a number of ways. Although the leaves are edible, one good way to use them in meat, fish, and vegetable dishes is to remove the leaves from the stem and fry them in oil or ghee. Remove the leaves when they are cooked through, and use the seasoned oil to cook the other ingredients. If you are not always able to obtain the leaves, you can leave a handful in a bottle of oil to slowly infuse and then use the flavored oil as necessary.
When you are frying the leaves, take care as they tend to cause the oil to pop and sputter. Cover them briefly with a lid until they are cooked through. If you are cooking a curry, a good tip is to keep the leaves in the pot for the entire slow-cooking process. They break down enough that, unlike many other whole spices, you can eat them. You can also slice fresh curry leaves finely and add them to a dish in the last few minutes as a tasty finish.
Frozen leaves can be used in the same way as fresh, but make sure that you defrost them first, especially if you are frying them, as the ice from freezing causes them to spit even more. Dried leaves can also be used in a similar way to fresh, but just remember that they are less potent, requiring you to use double the amount to get the same level of flavor. Although commonly added whole to dishes, dried leaves also work well crumbled as a garnish on dishes such as salad.
To get the best cooking use out of your curry leaves, they need to be stored correctly. Fresh leaves should be stored in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a week. After this, they begin to lose their potency, and you should either dry or freeze them. Frozen leaves can be kept in the freezer in an airtight container for up to three months. Finally, dried leaves should also be kept in an airtight container to retain their freshness and are usually good for use in cooking up to a year.