Curry leaf is one of those spices where, for me at least, the fresh leaf is preferred. For spices like turmeric, chilli and ginger, both dried and fresh forms serve really integral and quite different functions.
Curry leaf when consumed as a fresh leaf is bright, nutty and fragrant. Its aroma is sweet. Dried, the leaf loses some of its vibrancy. The beautiful thing about access to fresh curry leaf is that it’s so easy to grow. And once established, it’s prolific.
Dried and fresh forms of spice have different entrance points to a dish. Dried spice - curry leaf included - is best tempered through a little fat before the produce joins the pot. Fresh leafy spices and herbs are great added to the pot or the pan toward the end of the cook. Used in this way, the fresh curry leaf will not only add flavour to the end result, but it will also serve to refresh the aromatics already present.
Curry leaf reminds me of high school in Bangalore, where the climate was temperate and the jungle that surrounded our school grounds rich with life. When I want to make food that tastes as rich as memory, curry leaf is where I go.
I use curry leaves in any dish where a little bit of a fresh and sweet finish will lift the end result.
With this in mind, use fresh curry leaf in lamb shank slow-cooks, when preparing chicken soup, in coconut-based dishes (an obvious inclusion) and - of course - with mussels or other delicately sweet seafood.
Curry leaf top tips
• When using dried curry leaf, use a little less - one frond as opposed to two. The dried spice is more pungent and more easily inclined to default to bitter with overuse.
• Combine it with red chilli, tamarind or lime, salt, galangal or fresh ginger, nigella seed, coconut milk and fresh shallot for an easy curry base.
• In any recipe where you would normally use fresh coriander, use fresh curry leaf to change the tone of your dish in one easy step.