Its Thursday and I feel like I should be doing a recipe but I haven’t photographed a meal recently that I’ve written down quantities and methods for. We did have a lovely chicken curry on Tuesday (which I should really have phtoographed….) which included curry leaves, so I thought I would write about the plant instead.
One of my favourite plants in my garden is my curry leave tree (Murraya Koenigii). I am including the scientific name here because there are other plants which are referred to as curry plants but the one I am talking about is the specific type of tree from which curry leaves are harvested to use in Indian and some South East Asian cookery. Its leaves look like this:
Curry leaves are used a lot in Indian, particularly South Indian cookery. Generally they are tempered in hot oil to release their flavour at either the start of the cooking process or as an additional flavouring at the end. They get their name because they taste a bit like ‘curry’ I guess. As a flavour I personally find it quite addictive. I also think its one that particularly compliments vegetables although they are used in meat dishes as well.
Whilst curry leaf trees don’t neccessarily look that happy during Melbourne winters they do generally survive and come back happily in Spring. In the colder parts of Melbourne they sometimes loose all their leaves during winter to regain them in Spring. The leaves on mine tend to stay on the tree but yellow a bit and generally look a bit miserable. By late Spring though you wouldn’t know it had been unhappy and is generally thriving and full of new growth. This is my tree in July – mid winter.
I bought my tree as a very weedy looking seedling from a nursery about 2 years ago. Since then I have potted it up yearly and feed it monthly during Spring & Summer with Fish emulsion fertiliser. It does seem to like being fed and watered – but then who doesn’t? I suspect that if I fed it more (or indeed potted it up twice yearly) it would have grown a bit quicker but as I am now at the point of being able to harvest from it freely I am more than happy with its size. I also think it would be happier in full sun but as I’m unable to give it that it will have to make do with what it gets – which is about 5-6 hours per day during summer and a bit less in winter although I do move its pot around a bit to try and make sure it gets a decent amount. Until I included both the above and below photo in my post I didn’t realise quite how much the tree has actually grown in the past 6 months.
To harvest the leaves I either remove a few single leaves if I only want a couple or I harvest whole stems if I need more. I’m hoping that in doing this I’m encouraging the plant to branch, as pruning often does, but frankly I’m not too sure how successful I’m being. I haven’t encountered any problems with the tree to date, it seems generally happy and pest free (touchwood). Curry leaves freeze well and retain a reasonable amount of flavour when preserved in that way. Harvesting enough in late autumn and freezing them enables me to leave the tree alone to cope with winter and I resume harvesting once I see that it is happily growing again in Spring.
Although I bought this plant as a seedling I believe that curry leaf trees can be successfully propagated from seeds, as you can see in the first picture I am leaving the berries on to form seeds and I will give it a try.