If you've ever cooked Indian or other Southeast Asian recipes, you've probably seen "curry leaves" listed in the ingredients. These unique leaves have a distinctive fragrance and add that special something to a dish that one can't get from any other ingredient, so don't omit it just because you feel it's unfamiliar or impossible to find. I'll explain what they are and where to find them.
Curry leaves come from the curry tree, Murraya koenigii. The leaves are also sold as "sweet neem leaves" and are found in Indian, Malaysian, Sri Lankan, Singaporean, and Pakistani cuisine. These leaves are not related to the spice we know as "curry powder," even though they are used to season many curry dishes. They are also used to flavor soups, stews, and chutneys.
Curry leaves are dark green in color and elongated in shape, resembling a bay leaf. They are very fragrant. Some people in Southeast Asia chew them as a digestive aid. They are also good for preventing diarrhea.
Fresh curry leaves are preferred over dried ones, because they lose flavor as they age. They are extremely perishable, so use them quickly. You can find them in Indian or Southeast Asian groceries, and online.
Buy them online here and here.
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(Image: Kathryn Hill)