My favorite spice is actually a herb! I adore curry leaves. They have nothing to do with curry powder or curry! They are gorgeous green and shiny but the poor things have had to deal with such an identity crisis as people often mistake them as a substitute for curry powder when, in fact, they have no relation to each other (curry powder is ground spices such as cinnamon, turmeric, coriander etc. and depending on the powder, may or may not have curry leaves). Curry leaves, popularly known in India as Kari Patta, are aromatic and flavorful leaves that can change the taste of a dish quite dramatically by adding a pungent lemony flavor to dishes. I have found no herb that adequately duplicates their flavor. These are easily available in Asian grocery stores in and around the DC metro area. And, of course, on Amazon. If you want to grow them yourself, try nurseries like Acorn Creek: ask for curry leaves (Murraya koenigii), not a curry plant (Helichrysum italicum).
To bring out the best flavor in curry leaves, start with the basics: use fresh leaves as dried ones rarely have the same zing. Now, heat your oil until it shimmers (preferably unflavored oil like vegetable or grapeseed. No olive oil here as the taste will compete with that of the leaves). Then, add your curry leaves and spices (like whole red chilies, mustard seeds etc). Once this seasoning is ready, you can add in your vegetables (brussels sprouts and curry leaves are made for each other), rice or poultry.
Another way is to create the seasoned oil and pour it over a prepared dish as a hot garnish. For instance, you can pour the oil over a bowl of plain yogurt, cooked white rice or stewed lentils! I crush the leaves with my fingers and use them to bring a lemony punch to cocktails. You can also add them to your bread batter when baking bread for a whole new experience!
Monica enjoys finding new way to use curry leaves and recommends her Curry Leaf Bread.
Monica Bhide, is a culinary cultivator of flavor and spices. She is the author of Modern Spice. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, Food & Wine, Bon Appetit, Eating Well, Gilt Taste, and many other prestigious publications. You can learn more about Monica on her blog, A Life of Spice.