A herb resonant in every south Indian kitchen. Making it’s presence felt through overpowering our senses, the almighty curry leaf. Through my childhood this herb was with us as we traveled to the village, grandparents homes and beyond. I knew that ‘kalyamaaku’ had medicinal values, builds immunity and has a power house of healing properties since I have a memory. It was used as garnish for almost every dish and we were told to eat it, despite it being bitter. I think my association with bitterness having healing properties started here. It was seasoned into our various festival snacks. It was made into juice to boost immunity and it was spread on wounds with turmeric to act as a protective antiseptic barrier.
My favourite karyapaak recipe is when we pluck all the leaves out from the stem, spread it on an old clean piece of cloth and leave it out to dry in the sun. On a hot day, it takes a day to become the dry, crispy consistency we seek. Once done, the world is our flavour. There are so many ways to grind this into a powder. Some people use chana and urud dahl. Some add sesame seeds and dried or fresh coconut. Red dried chilies often are staple. Heat the oil, put the variation of ingredients you like, turn in the curry leaves into the pan with some garlic perhaps and turn off the heat. Once cool, grind into a fine powder. At home, we mix dried drumstick leaves to really power pack the protein into it too.
Now, here is the best part. How do you eat this bitterly flavourful powder? With anything! In plain hot rice. Idli. Bread sandwich. Samosa chutney.
With your dosa. Yes! How?
Take a spoon full of the powder.
Make a nice hole in the middle of the powder.
Fill said hole with ghee.
Mix with glee.
Eat with sambar, chutney, sugar (my favourite), or pickle.
It’s strong flavour is contradictory to how versatile it is. It has passed on from generation to generation in this sweet craving world, it’s aroma spreading through childhoods and flavourful futures. It is the bitter thing my two year old eats, it’s the weird flavour my four year old craves. Respect to you oh curry leaf, you have survived without a shred of you being wasted through time. Long may you live.
Karishma Rao Erraballi