My parents are farmers, of sorts.
Not really, but in one corner of the garden is a curry leaf tree of grand proportions. It towers above the hibiscus, overshadows the quietly achieving chilli plants and puts the tiny basil crop to shame. The slender, lustrous leaves caress the fence and carpet the garden bed, softly making their presence known. They tickle your face as you walk past, filling the nostrils with their subtle but unmistakable scent.
It is quite common for Indian families to have a curry leaf plant. The herb is a staple in South Indian cuisine, most dishes bearing a scattering of the deep green leaves. That they aid digestion is well known, but curry leaves are also packed with iron, buzzing with antioxidants and help regulate blood glucose levels.
Couple that with the fact that a small package of shriveled leaves, their fragrance but a distant memory, will set you back at least four dollars in most Australian supermarkets, and growing your own just makes good sense. My parents’ version however, is one of mammoth proportions that surpasses what is dictated by that good sense. It turns out that this particular Indian has taken a liking to Aussie climate and soil. This piece of urban foliage could probably supply a small Indian city or a large Indian town without too much trouble. It certainly does supply a sizable sector of my parents’ friends circle on a regular basis and anyone who dares to ask for a few curry leaves is usually bombarded with an overstuffed shopping bag of vegetation that will suffice for the coming year or so.
The tree’s offspring have been adopted out to various friends and colleagues in the past and are now thriving like leafy teenagers in pots and backyards. When it begins to flourish out of control, Dad has been forced to prune the tree back lest it completely destroy their pergola and invade the garden, engulfing the house and possibly even the entire street.
This Curry Leaf Thambuli sees the leaves blended with fresh coconut and yoghurt to make a spicy cold soup or condiment. This is another recipe from my cousin Chaithra, you know, the one who brought you that delicious ivy gourd and coconut dish, Thondekaye Sukha. You will have to make a trip to the local Indian store for this one, and a good food processor is important. Eat it on its own, stir it through rice or even drizzle it onto a piece of grilled, Indian spiced fish. Should you find yourself in possession of a large overstuffed shopping bag of these leaves, this is a fabulous way to use them up in a healthy, nutrient-rich way. If you do not have access to such a bounty, well then the investment is probably worthwhile.
Curry Leaf Thambuli
Serves 2-4 as a side dish
2 tsp ghee
70-80 curry leaves (or the leaves from 4 sprigs)
1/3 cup fresh or frozen grated coconut
1 cm ginger
1-2 hot green chillies (I used frozen ones), to taste
1 tbsp + 1/4 cup Greek style yoghurt
Salt, to taste
For the tempering:
1/2 tsp ghee
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
1/2 tsp black mustard seeds
1 dried red chilli, broke into pieces
2 tsp urad dhal
In a small saucepan, melt and heat 2 tsp ghee. Add the curry leaves. If they are fresh, they will splutter, so stand back. When they are browned and crisp, take off the heat and allow to cool a little.
In a food processor, blitz the ghee/curry leaf mixture, coconut, ginger, green chillies 1 tbsp yoghurt and a couple of tbsp water. When it is a slightly coarse paste, add it to the remaining yoghurt in a bowl. Add 1/4 tsp salt and stir through. Taste and add a little more salt if needed. The mixture should be spicy and slightly sour. The salt serves to balance out the sourness of the yoghurt.
In a small saucepan, on medium heat, melt and heat the ghee. Add the mustard and cumin seeds and when they are popping, turn the heat down to low. Add the other tempering ingredients and stir until the urad dhal browns a little. If it is browning quickly, take the pan off the heat and just stir the hot oil mixture. Add a few more curry leaves if available and stir until they are crisp.
Add the tempered mixture to the Thambuli and stir through. Serve with rice or as a sauce.