Those familiar with south Indian cuisine will know the wonderful, citrusy but slightly bitter flavour of fresh curry leaves. Thin and pointy in shape, these shiny, deep-green leaves have the most delicious smell.
I have kept one small curry plant in a greenhouse at work for the past two years. It struggles to survive: its leaves too soft and not as fragrant as they should be, but nevertheless it reminds me of warmer weather and the deep spicy flavours to be found in south-east Asia.
Curry leaves are not so difficult to find in supermarkets and food shops these days; try using them rather than curry powder; you will be amazed by the difference in taste.
Skye Gyngell is head chef at Petersham Nurseries, Church Lane, Richmond, Surrey, tel: 020 8605 3627, petershamnurseries.com
Roasted sea bass with mustard seeds, curry leaves and tomatoes
In this recipe, the crisp-skinned, beautifully fresh white fish sits in a light and aromatic broth – it is important to use whole spices, as their flavour is lighter and zingier than ground spices, which can taste musty and stale. The tamarind adds a clean, sour taste.
1/2 tbsp black mustard seeds
5 cardamom pods
1 tsp fennel seeds
1 tbsp ghee (or butter if you can't find ghee)
2 red onions, peeled and finely sliced
1 inch of fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped
20 fresh curry leaves
2 red chillies, seeds removed and cut into fine rounds
20 fresh curry leaves
2 tamarind pods
200g/7oz good-quality tinned tomatoes
1 knob of ghee
1kg/2lb wild sea bass, scaled, filleted and cut into 200g/7oz pieces
A good pinch of sea salt
200g/7oz cooked spinach
Place a large, heavy-based pan on a medium heat and, when gently smoking, add the mustard seeds, cardamom and fennel seeds and stir frequently until they begin to jump from the base of the pan. Turn down the heat slightly and add the ghee, onions and ginger, then cook for 15 minutes or until soft and translucent. Add the chillies and curry leaves. Place the tamarind pods into a bowl and pour over 250ml/8fl oz of boiling water. Allow the pods to soak for 10 minutes, discarding their outer shells. Pour the tamarind water into the pan and cook for a further five minutes, then add the tomatoes and cook for 20 minutes, stirring every now and then.
To cook the fish, heat the oven to 230C/450F/Gas8. Place a large, non-stick pan over a high heat on top of the stove, then add a knob of butter or ghee. Season the fish on both sides with salt and when the pan is really hot, lay the fish skin-side down and cook until the skin is golden brown – this will take a couple of minutes. Without turning the fish, place the pan on the middle shelf of the oven and cook for a further five minutes. Remove from the oven. Spoon a ladleful of broth into the base of a warm bowl and lay the fish on top. Serve with a little warm, cooked spinach, stirred through.
Tamarind water with coconut and curry leaves
This simple, fragrant, sour and nutty flavoured water is designed to be served with a thali – a way of eating food in India that comprises lots of little savoury dishes, very often accompanied by dhal, rice or puris and crisp, spicy flat bread.
3 tamarind pods
1 small red chilli
15 fresh curry leaves
5 cardamom pods
150ml/5fl oz coconut water
Place the tamarind pods in 150ml/5fl oz of boiling water and allow to infuse for 10 minutes. Using a wooden rolling spoon, gently bruise the red chilli, but leave it whole. Now put the bruised chilli, curry leaves, cardamom pods and coconut water in a small saucepan and sit over a low heat. Strain the tamarind pods, reserving the water. Discard the pods and add the sour water to the other ingredients in the pan. Cook over a low heat for 15 minutes. Spoon into a bowl and serve with warm bread.
Crab salad with chilli, pumpkin, curry leaves and lime
250g/8oz butternut squash
250g/8oz freshly picked white crab meat
1 red chilli, sliced in half lengthwise, seeds removed and finely chopped
8 curry leaves
For the dressing
1 tsp freshly chopped ginger
1 tsp palm sugar
The juice of half a lime
2 tsp fish sauce
Peel the squash, discarding any seeds, and chop into small cubes. Put in a saucepan and cover with cold water, adding a pinch of salt. Bring to a boil, turn down to a simmer and cook until tender when pierced with a fork. Drain and set aside to cool.
Now make the dressing. Gently pound the ginger and palm sugar with a pestle and mortar to a smooth paste. Squeeze over the lime juice and stir in the fish sauce.
Put the crab, chilli and cooled pumpkin into a bowl. Using a sharp knife, finely chop the curry leaves and add to the salad. Finally, spoon over the dressing and toss together lightly with your fingers. Divide between four plates and serve at once.