Thursday, April 4, 2013

Curry leaves powder

If there is one Indian kitchen aroma I love any time of the day, then it has to be curry leaves. A few curry leaves instantly elevates your dish to another plain. Growing up in India, curry plants were a backyard feature in almost every household. I remember nammamma's efforts to get a curry plant going every time we moved to a new house, it was part of her settling in process. She would have friends give her a young sapling and turn into a devoted mother, nurturing it and taking care of it as if it was her baby. Every morning, her routine included breaking a fresh coconut :-), inspect the curry leaves to make sure there were no bugs eating the precious leaves away, taking her rounds around the Tulsi plant (holy basil) before she started cooking. I used to watch her talk to her plants in the garden. Infact as kids we were urged to practice our music lessons every day and one of the side effects noted was that the plants grew healthier listening to good music. So you want good curry leaves in your backyard, take up some music lessons, if your curry plants seem droopy after you started the music lessons, it is time to stop them and play some recorded music (not yours :-)). The extent of tricks parents resort to, to make the young ones listen :)

She would not pick the leaves until the plant grew sturdy and even then it would be the oldest of the leaves from the bottom of the branch. The plant would get strained tea leaves as fertilizer and once a week treatment of either very thin buttermilk or water used to wash and clean the rice as part of the scheme to enhance the flavor of the leaves. We used to call it beauty treatment for the curry plant. Though I have not dug into the science behind the buttermilk and rice water, I do believe completely that it helped the plant. I gave up my 5 footer to a friend when we moved from the midwest, it was my pride and joy in the corner of the kitchen. I only have a really small sapling now and the cycle has begun again.

Curry plants are not the easiest of the plants to grow even if you had a green thumb but once it gets going needs very minimal maintenance. Sometimes these plants (or trees) survive generations of human beings. Akka mentioned recently their 2 generation old curry leaves tree finally gave in, I still can close my eyes and smell those leaves. The tree was so huge and tall that we would go to the second floor balcony to pick the leaves. These trees are symbols of childhood, part and parcel of your growing up and you only realize how much attached you were to a plant when you lose it.

Curry leaves are the star of this show called curry leaves powder. Though this powder can replace the regular chutney pudi at a conceptual level, in my house the flavor of curry leaves is what is showcased in this powder. So you will notice that the normal chutney pudi ingredients are either absent or show up in minute quantities. Nammamma always makes this powder with black pepper corns as it brings out the curry leaves flavor better than the red chilies. Also this is one of the powders that the young nursing mothers are allowed to eat and black pepper is considered more suitable for their palate than the red chilies. I do not use dry coconut or asafoetida in this recipe for the above mentioned reasons.

Not to be mistaken - this is not the curry powder that has become popular in non-Indian cuisines trying to bring Indian flavors. I am really not sure what that curry powder is as the ingredients seem to change from one brand to the next but it is used in flavoring gravies/curries and I would rather put it in the league with Garam masala or Vangibhath powder and such. This curry leaves powder is mainly mixed and eaten with steaming hot rice though there is no rule you can't use it in curries :-)

The key to a good flavored powder is to roast the ingredients on medium heat and with frequent stirring. I find a cast iron pan distributing heat evenly and if you don't have one, use any heavy gauge pans. Cast iron pans retain heat for a long time, so if you are a first time user, be careful handling the pan and also watch for roasting times as you switch ingredients.
What do you need to make curry leaves powder? 
2.5 cups packed curry leaves (fresh & tender)
1 Tblsp chana dal/kadle bele
1/4 cup urad dal/uddina bele
1 dry red chili (optional)
1 Tblsp black pepper corns
1 tsp oil - goes a long way
small piece of tamarind
1/2 Tsp salt (adjust to taste)
How do you make curry leaves powder? 
  • Dry roast urad dal on low-medium heat stirring frequently to distribute heat for 5-6 minutes or until the dal turns light pink. Keep aside to cool.
  • Dry roast chana dal on low-medium heat for 3-4 minutes or until the dal turns light pink. Keep aside to cool.
  • Add pepper, chili and tamarind piece with 2 drops of oil and roast for 2 minutes. Keep aside to cool.
  • Roast curry leaves on low heat with a couple drops of oil to coat the leaves until they crisp up. Take care not to burn or brown them. Takes 5-6 minutes in a hot cast iron pan on low-medium heat. The leaves should break crisply when you touch them.
  • Let cool, make a coarse powder of the dals, pepper, chili & tamarind. 
  • Add curry leaves in batches and grind into a semi coarse powder. 
  • Seal the freshness in an air tight container and eat it mixed with steaming hot rice and a dash of ghee. 
  • Use tender and fresh leaves in this recipe for best taste. 
  • The tamarind I get is usually very dry as it is packed for export which works very well in powder recipes. If you find your tamarind to be wet and sticky, roast it by itself  in a dry pan (no oil) for 2-3 minutes.
  • An Indian style mixer/grinder works well for these powders but a coffee grinder works as well too for small quantities. 
  • It is important to first grind all the ingredients into a coarse powder before adding the curry leaves to get the right texture. 
  • If you grind the powder in batches, make sure you mix them all well before storing/using. 


NamsVeni Pothas said...

wow. i can experience the flavour
right now from the wonderful recipe. it goes with rice , Idli , with chapathi also. nice and tasty powder. curry plant takes lot of time ti grow.

Nava Krishnan said...

Ohhh!!! I adore and love curry leaves and the fragrance so so good. Been looking for such a recipe like yours and here comes the exciting and tantalizing recipe. Super!!!!

LG said...

Nange illi Singapore vargu bartha ide ri chutney pudi suvasane. Yummy!

LG said...

Nange illi Singapore vargu bartha ide ri chutney pudi suvasane. Yummy!


A healthy powder of all the varieties. Best way to include curry leaves in our diet!

Chitz said...

Loved reading the post dear.. Lovely reminiscing old memories na.. We too had a plant in one of our houses.. And my amma used to have this powder when she was nurturing my sister.. I still remember that !!! Great post.. loved it :)

Julie said...

flavorful podi!!

Priya Suresh said...

Missing my backyard curry leave tree now, such a flavourful powder,love love much.

Kannada Cuisine said...

Nan favorite chutney pudi MIL makes it absolutely fab

Premas Culinary said...

wow very falvorful powder,my fav too...