Thursday, December 30, 2010

Green bean and potato curry + curry leaves

Did you ever wonder what was meant by the "curry leaves" referred to in Indian recipes?  I did, and finally found some to try.  Once I started looking, it wasn't that hard to locate (for locals, T&T and H&W Produce both regularly stock it). 

The leaves taste nothing like curry powder, but they are a frequent ingredient in many curry mixes, so I'm assuming that's where it got the name.  This leaf and all the ones you'll see in this post were purchased fresh about a month ago and have been in my freezer ever since.  They freeze pretty well!  The leaves have a strong, very pleasant, popcorny scent.  Usually when they're sold fresh they're packaged in largish bundles with their twigs attached.  I've made several recipes with them and they are seriously wonderful, worth seeking out.

This is another dish from Madhur Jaffrey's World Vegetarian.  The recipe is over here and I'm reproducing it (in half quantities, the way I made it).  I always feel a little funny when I do this and hope that cookbook authors do not mind.  World Vegetarian has very few pictures, and this really is a form of advertising for a superb cookbook that my pictures (I hope) may help make less challenging and encourage others to purchase it. 

You actually start by making a curry powder, with curry leaves, and then there are more curry leaves in the dish itself. 

Sri Lankan raw curry powder
from World Vegetarian
makes 1/2 cup

2 tbsp whole coriander seeds
1 tbsp whole fennel seeds
1 1/2 tbsp whole cumin seeds
1 tbsp whole fenugreek seeds
3 whole sprigs fresh curry leaves (about 60) or small handful of dried leaves
1 tbsp desiccated coconut
1 1/2 tsp raw rice (I used jasmine, which was great)
1/2 tsp whole brown mustard seeds

Spread all the spices, leaves, coconut, rice grains etc. on a tray and put them in a 150F oven for 1 hour (mine took about half that in a toaster oven; I brought them out when the coconut began to brown).

Cool. Transfer to a clean coffee grinder or other spice grinder and grind as finely as possible. Store in a tightly lidded jar away from heat and sunlight.

Many of the curry powder mixes you can buy contain some ingredient (I believe star anise) that I have a real aversion to.  This is a different kind of curry powder with milder, more savory flavours, and no turmeric, for instance, so it won't colour the dishes you use it in.

Now for the curry itself:

Green bean and potato curry
from World Vegetarian
serves 2

1 medium potatao (about 1/4 lb), peeled and cut in 3/4 inch dice
1/2 tsp ground turmeric
1 1/2 tbsp canola oil
8 fresh curry leaves
1/2 cup finely chopped shallots or red onion
2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
1 tsp finely chopped fresh ginger root
1 or 2 fresh hot green chiles, cut crosswise into fine rings
1/2 lb green beans, cut into 1/2 inch pieces (or smaller) on the slant
2 tsp Sir Lankan raw curry powder
1/2 cup canned coconut milk
1 2-inch stick cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
1-2 tbsp fresh lime juice

Put the potatoes in a medium pot with enough water to cover and 1/4 tsp turmeric.  Bring to a boil, cover partially and reduce heat and cook until potatoes are nearly done but retain their shape. Drain. The turmeric turns the potato pieces a lovely bright yellow:

Meanwhile, in a deep skillet, heat canola oil and when hot add the curry leaves, cook for 10 seconds, then add the shallots, garlic, ginger, and green chiles. 

Saute for two or three minutes, then put in the green beans and saute for another minute. 

Add the curry powder and stir.  Add the coconut milk, 1/2 cup of water, the remaining 1/4 tsp turmeric, the cinnamon stick, salt, and the potatoes:

Cover, turn the heat down to low, and cook about 15 minutes, or until the beans are just tender.  Add the lime juice and stir it in:

You're done.  This is a very pleasant, mild curry.  You could make it without the curry leaves and it would still taste good, but you'd be missing out on the dish's special taste (by the way, the curry leaves can be eaten whole and do not need to be picked out like bay leaves).


  1. If your posts don't serve as an encouragement for people to buy the cookbooks, I don't know what would. The curry looks so beautiful and warming. Still, I, too, feel weird publishing someone's recipes, and seldom do it. I don't know what the answer is. Happy New Year!

  2. I agree with Andrea. The curry looks amazing. I so admire your research and *talent* that goes into exploring so many different cuisines, and all with such beautiful results.

  3. PS...I didn't mean *talent* like air quotes...I meant it for emphasis. Now that I look at my comment, I don't want it to be misinterpreted! I meant that you are a talented and admirable cook!

  4. Thanks, Andrea and Rose. My rule, after I got over my initial blogging newbiness and began to know right from wrong, is not to publish a recipe from a cookbook that I haven't found somewhere else on the Internet, or that I haven't made substantial changes to. Still, I know that a lot of the recipes were, in fact, copied onto the sites where I found them without permission. Sometimes I've been able to put a correct attribution to an uncredited recipe, and feel good about that. Oh, well. If any authors have a problem with what I do, I'll take down those posts...which are all done in a spirit of admiration...

    Not to worry, Rose, I knew they weren't air quotes! And I also wish that all my explorations yielded beautiful results. But, no pain, no gain, and even from the failures I generally do learn something!

  5. Check out the recipe (if you haven't already) for Poori Bhaji on Holy Cow vegan blog. I just got some curry leaves today and can't wait to use them.