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Curry leaves (Recipe: mulligatawny soup)


A couple of months ago, when I asked readers to help fill in the gaps in The Perfect Pantry, you responded with wonderful suggestions.

Aleppo pepper, yes!

Ponzu sauce, yes!

Canned whole pimientos, oh yes!

One reader inquired about fresh curry leaves -- did I have them in the pantry? -- and I confessed that I didn't even know how to use them, and had a hard time finding them in the far-between Asian markets here in Rhode Island.

A few days later, a box arrived, from Jaden of the fabulous Steamy Kitchen; in it, nestled among dozens of candies, was a bag of beautiful, bright, glossy, fresh green curry leaves, along with her amazing recipe for Malaysian Coconut Prawns with Cognac.

I'd been expecting something yellow, aromatic, and reminiscent of the ubiquitous Madras curry powder that graced the spice rack in my mother's 1950s suburban kitchen, and which was the all-purpose spice for turning any dish "Indian." How mistaken I was.

Curry trees, which grow wild in the Himalayan foothills, have been cultivated in southern India and, more recently, in Australia. Although the tree is deciduous, leaves are picked throughout the year. Curry leaves taste vaguely citrus-y and slightly bitter; their mild aroma becomes stronger when the leaves are bruised, crushed or heated. And they are definitely not the telltale yellow-gold of curry powder (which, of course, is actually the turmeric that's part of the blend).

Add the leaves at the beginning of cooking, quickly fry in ghee or oil, or chop into a coconut chutney or pickles; or add later in the cooking, to give a more subtle flavoring. Like the bay leaves they resemble, curry leaves often are tossed into fish, lamb, and lentil dishes, and vegetable soups.

Curry leaves have a short shelf life. Store them in the refrigerator for up to two weeks, in a plastic bag or, even better, freeze them. Do not remove the leaves from the stems until you're ready to use them; the leaves in my photo began to dry out the moment I pulled them off their branches. I learned my lesson, and left the rest of the leaves attached.

Though impossible to find fresh in any of my local supermarkets, curry leaves are available in the frozen food aisle of Asian and Indian groceries. Look for vacuum packaging, which does the best job of preserving the texture and bright color. Purchase online here and here.

Thanks, Jaden, for introducing me to curry leaves. They're very happy in my pantry.

Mulligatawny soup

Invented in Madras more than two hundred years ago, this soup's name means "pepper water." From Favorite Indian Food by Diane Seed, this recipe serves 6.


7 oz split orange lentils (masoor dal)
1 quart chicken or vegetable stock
3-1/2 oz potato, sliced
3-1/2 oz apple, sliced
1-1/2 tsp vegetable oil
3-1/2 oz onion, diced
5 cloves garlic, minced
1-1/2 inch square of fresh ginger root, minced
1 fresh hot green chile pepper (jalapeño or Thai bird chile), seeded
1-1/2 inch stick cinnamon
5 whole cloves
2 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp turmeric
5 fresh curry leaves
2 oz creamed coconut mixed with 8 oz boiling water
2-1/2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
1 tsp salt
2 Tbsp chopped coriander leaves


Wash and pick over the lentils. Put them in a saucepan with the stock, and bring to a boil. Slice the potato and apple and add to the lentils. Cook for 20 minutes or until all are soft. In a frying pan, heat the oil and gently fry the onion, garlic, ginger and green pepper. When the onion is soft, add the spices and curry leaves. Cook, stirring continuously, until the oil comes out of the spice mixture. Remove the whole spices, and purée the mixture. Pureé the lentil, apple and potato mixture, and stir in the coconut 'milk' and the puréed spice mixture. Add the lemon juice and salt, and taste for seasoning. Before serving, garnish with the chopped coriander leaves.

[Printer-friendly recipe.]

More recipes in The Perfect Pantry:

Egg curry
Curried squash, apple and pear soup
Pineapple-shrimp curry
Sag paneer
Prawn fried rice
Punjab Five Jewels

Disclosure: The Perfect Pantry earns a few pennies on purchases made through the Amazon.com links in this post. Thank you for supporting this site when you start your shopping here.


It's so hard to find curry leaves here! And yours look so pretty. OK--I'll order them, along with the salt. :):):)

Now that is one ingredient that is a MUST in my pantry. I go to the international store whenever my curry leaf stock gets over; other things can wait. Now I have a tiny curry leaf plant too, so I may be growing my own come summer.
The soup sounds delicious!

That Jaden just spreads joy wherever she goes! I made the prawns with cognac as part of my Jumbo & Jaden project, they were great!

What a beautiful leaf, I regret never trying them fresh when I had the chance...I think I can detect their citrus aroma from here. As for mulligatawny, one of the best soups around!

Now I know about curry leaves too! :)

This looks like a great recipe. I have made another version, but it just doesn't strike my fancy anymore. As for curry leaves, never seen one, never touched one. Wanted to, but I don't think they have them here. I shall have to order them as well.

I love curry leaves. My mother-in-law grows her own, so she has it readily available for curries and the like (its really quite a versatile leaf!). I couldn't find any locally for the longest time, so I would substitute large amounts of cilantro instead (since like you said, the flavor is somewhat citrusty), but really, if you can use the real thing, you definitely should. I finally found they sell them by the absurdly large sack-ful at the local Indian grocery, but I always feel bad buying it. You know how it can be tough to use a small bunch of herbs? How about a shopping bag's worth of herbs? :o

The soup sounds delicious!

Mulligatawny soup: heaven, when done right--and the key is the spices! This looks like a beautiful recipe.

Wooo....yes yes...curry leaves...glad they are sitting happily in your pantry now. They are such a good addition to many Malaysian/S'pore recipes :)

It's really hard to find curry leaves in Germany. I bring some back from Dubai and freeze them here. But I think a bit of the flavor is lost in this process. I do love the flavor it gives the dishes. This soup has been on my mind a lot lately. I think I should make it now!

Thanks for sharing this discovery with us, I learn something today: I didn't know about curry leaves :-)

Sher, I'm surprised -- I always think curry leaves must be easy to find everywhere else because they're so hard to find here.

Nupur, is your plant indoors or out in the garden? What fun! My fantasy is to have lime trees out in the garden -- but here in New England, that's not too likely. I'll be checking your blog for more things to do with my curry leaves.

Brilynn, I love your Jumbo & Jaden posts!

Callipygia, same here. When I was traveling through Singapore and Malaysia, I must have had many opportunities to try curry leaves, but I didn't even know about them back then. Next trip will be different.

Veron, next time I'm in Jackson Heights I'm going to stop at the Indian groceries for curry leaves. New Yorkers are so lucky to have access to everything.

Gretchen, I came across a delicious egg and potato curry recipe that uses curry leaves. With all of the wonderful potatoes in Peru, that might be a great place to start with this ingredient.

Mike, why is it that some things only come in ridiculously large packaging? (This is my constant rant about buttermilk, too -- who uses a quart of buttermilk at a time?) Any chance the shopowner would break it down for you? When I shop at my local middle eastern grocery, where the chickpeas are sold by the gallon, I always ask them to make a smaller package for me, and they always do.

Cakespy, I agree -- fresh and vibrant spices make all the difference.

Tigerfish, I'll be checking your blog for more recipe ideas, too!

Meeta, the freezing does degrade the flavor, but frozen leaves are all I can find here. Now Jaden has spoiled me for life by sending me these lovely fresh leaves!

Babeth, welcome to The Perfect Pantry! So glad you enjoyed your visit here.

Curry leaves is indeed such an important part of indian curries. Almost household grows a curry plant/ tree. My dad grows one and i remember every time mum wanted to make some curry she'd have us kids running to the garden to pluck some fresh leave. Nothing like the fresh stuff. I'm so glad u got a chance to try this lovely herb!

What a wonderful gift from Jaden! Love your write up(s) (this one and all). Always wanted to try MULLIGATAWNY SOUP!

I thought sometime in the distant past I was given dried curry leaves, but maybe I'm thinking of another product (or confusing it all with the famous bay leaf!) Regardless, those look very fresh and fragrant.

I've never known my mum to not have a large freezer bag stuffed with curry leaves in the freezer. You've received a prize of a gift!


Kate, welcome to The Perfect Pantry. How lucky you were to have a curry tree in your garden!

MyKitchen, thank you. I love exchanging pantry ingredients with readers -- I've gotten so many interesting and new-to-me things.

TW, you probably did get dried curry leaves; they're often sold dried or frozen. The fresh leaves from Jaden were a real treat.

Jasmine, now that I've been turned on to curry leaves, I'll be scouring lots of blogs (like yours!) to find new recipes. Any favorites?

I second Mike's comment, they often have them at my local Asian store too, again in huge bags. Freezing some of them may be the key!

Little by little some of those "exotic" ingredients are appearing in local stores here!

Bron, my local Asian markets don't always have curry leaves, but I think I can look in some of the larger Indian markets when I visit Boston and New York. Sometimes the best thing to do with food that comes in large packages, like fresh herbs and spices, is to split them with friends.

Mimi, that's great! It's funny, though, how things we once thought exotic (like balsamic vinegar) are now commonplace, not just in the culture they're from, but in the polyglot that is the American supermarket.

I've bought curry leaves at Not Just Spices on Hope Street, in Providence.

(At least I *think* I have! I could be misremembering.)

Redfox, welcome to The Perfect Pantry -- and thanks for the tip. I'd totally forgotten about Not Just Spices because it's not on my regular flight path, but I'm headed in that direction later this week and will stop in.

you're certainly welcome!

xo, jaden

sorry guys ........
but i still waiting to find curry leaves here ,i love that plant so much and still i did not get that here in perth city ,some body help me and send me details of this plant so that i grow this plant in garden and make fresh curries out of it,and iwill be thankful to u

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