I bought a bunch of fresh curry leaves the other day and only used about one-tenth of the package to make a South Indian meal. Since then, I’ve been trying to use them up before they dry out too much or rot — fresh curry leaves are far superior to dried leaves (I’m not sure how frozen leaves stack up, however).
One of my favorite quick dishes that use curry leaves is a carrot salad in Julie Sahni’s Classic Indian Vegetarian and Grain Cooking (the book that taught me the basics of cooking Indian cuisine at home). It comes together quickly, with the cooling time a lot longer than the preparation time. Served at room temperature or chilled, it makes a great addition to an eclectic meal.
Southern Indian Carrot Salad
- 1 pound carrots
- 1 tbsp ghee or vegetable oil
- 1 tsp black mustard seeds
- 2 green chilies, deseeded and finely chopped, serrano or hotter
- 1/4 tsp asafetida
- 1 tbsp sugar (preferably Indian jaggery)
- 8 leaves curry
- salt to taste
- 1 tsp lime or lemon juice
- 1/4 cup plain yogurt
- 2 tbsp roasted peanuts or cashews, chopped
- Chopped cilantro (optional)
Measure the mustard seeds and the chopped chilies into separate dishes and place next to the stove. Combine the sugar, asafetida and curry leaves in a small bowl, and place it next to the stove. (Quick action will be required during the early stages of cooking, so it's good to have everything ready and at hand.)
Peel the carrots and grate them coarsely (use the large holes on a box grater or the coarse grater on a food processor).
Place a large skillet over high heat and have a lid that covers the skillet nearby. Add the oil. When it is hot, carefully add the mustard seeds. Agitate the skillet to cook the seeds, being ready to cover the pan if they pop too violently. After the popping subsides, add the chopped chilies and cook for about 15 seconds. Next, add the sugar, asafetida, and curry leaves — watch out for splattering oil when the wet leaves hit the hot oil. Cook for 10 to 15 seconds, allowing the sugar to melt but not burn.
Add the carrots, mix well, and cook for a few minutes.
Turn out into a bowl or serving dish.
After the spiced carrots have cooled, add salt, lime or lemon juice, and yogurt. Mix thoroughly.
Just before serving, sprinkle the peanuts on top. Garnish with cilantro if you feel like it.
Adapted from Julie Sahni's Classic Indian Vegetarian and Grain Cooking.
Jaggery is an unrefined sugar made from sugar cane or the sap of a palm tree. It also goes by the names of gur and goodh. In the above-mentioned book, Sahni writes that most of the jaggery made from palm sap is consumed locally, so it seems most likely that exported jaggery is from cane sugar. A substitution of flavorful palm sugar from Southeast Asia (Thailand, Malyasia, Indonesia) might provide some interesting flavors.