Learn how to use and store curry leaves in the refrigerator, freezer and in dried form.
Curry leaves are an integral part of every South Indian kitchen. Curry leaves along with mustard seeds and coconut are the pillars of South Indian cooking.
What are curry leaves?
Curry leaf is a key ingredient in tempering that comes from the curry tree (Murraya koenigii) which is native to the Indian subcontinent. The glossy, dark green leaves have a slightly pungent taste and actually belongs to the citrus family. This aromatic herb has numerous therapeutic benefits. These leaves have their mention in Ayurveda and are used in Ayurvedic medicines to cure several ailments. They are known for their usage in hair oil too.
Curry plant mostly grows in warmer climates and is often called sweet neem too. Every summer, I attempt to grow a curry leaf plant in my garden but they seldom survive the harsh winter of Melboune.
They are a key ingredient in south Indian cuisine. Despite being a key ingredient for tempering (tadka/seasoning) in most dishes, it is discarded while eating. The result - a nutrition-rich herb that has so many health benefits, never gets eaten.
Curry leaves benefits
Curry leaves are packed with fiber, calcium, phosphorus, and vitamins. They are considered a good source of iron and have anti-inflammatory properties. They are known to aid weight loss, improve eyesight, and help with diabetes. They help improve digestion and cure nausea, especially during pregnancy. They are used widely in hair oils. They are also used to heal minor wounds and burns.
Difference between curry leaf and curry powder
As I have mentioned before, curry leaf is a fresh herb used in south Indian cooking. However, curry powder is an Indian origin spice mix that is used to make curries outside of India and is seldom used by Indians.
How to use curry leaves
Curry leaves are a key tempering ingredient in South Indian cooking. Their use is indispensable in several dishes. They are used not only in the main course and side dishes, they are also used while making several snacks.
Making tempering or tadka is very simple. Heat ghee or oil, add mustard seeds, cumin seeds, asafoetida (hing), green chillies and curry leaves. Add this tempering to different dal, sabzi and curries to make them more flavourful.
I have listed a few Indian recipes below where curry leaves are either the main ingredient or key ingredients and should not be skipped. They are available in farmers' markets and Indian grocery stores.
How to store curry leaves
Fresh curry leaves are difficult to source here in Melbourne. So everytime I find good quality curry leaves, I buy a large bag and store them. They stay fresh and flavourful when stored correctly.
Curry leaf is more sturdy when compared to other herbs like coriander leaves. It keeps fresh for up to two weeks in the refrigerator and six months in the freezer if stored correctly. It can also be dried (either sun-dried or in an oven) and stored at room temperature. Dried curry leaves stay fresh for up to three months. It is important to wash, clean, and dry the curry leaves completely before storing it. Spread them on a kitchen towel so that it dries fully. Alternatively, pat-dry the leaves well making sure there is no water content. They must not have any water content (on the leaves or stem) before being stored. Dried curry leaves however do not have as much flavour as the fresh or even frozen curry leaves.
In the refrigerator
Do not remove the stem of the curry leaves if you want to store it in the refrigerator. Leaving them with the stem helps them stay fresh for longer. Wrap the curry leaves (along with the stem) in a kitchen towel and place it in an air-tight container.
In the freezer
When storing the curry leaves in the freezer, remove the stem from the leaves. Make sure they are dry. Places the leaves in a ziplock bag, remove as much air as possible, and store them in the freezer. Even though they change colour in the freezer after a few days, the taste of the curry leaves will remain the same. They also retain a lot of flavour. They can be used directly from the freezer.
Dry them and store
Spread the curry leaves on a plate and let them sun-dry for 2-3 days until they are completely dry. Alternatively, place then in an oven-safe tray. Preheat oven at 60℃ and dry them in the oven until they are crispy and wilt. You can also place it on low flame for 8-10 minutes stirring them in between. This will dry them completely and remove all the moisture content. Store in an air-tight container.
Recipes where curry leaves are used
Most savoury south Indian dishes use curry leaves as a tempering (seasoning) ingredient. Here are some recipes where curry leaves are a key component. The dish would not taste the same if you skip adding curry leaves. You will also find dishes where curry leaves are the main ingredient.
For more cooking basics, click here.
I highly recommend you start using curry leaves if you don't use it yet in your cooking. Like many other herbs, using fresh curry leaves is the best. But if you store them as I mentioned, there will be no difference in the flavour it lends to the dish.
If you are unsure how to use them, add a few leaves in soups and broth to make them more flavourful.
Storing curry leaves
To store curry leaves in the refrigerator:
To store curry leaves in the freezer:
Drying curry leaves and storing: