I love the flavor of curry leaves (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Curry_Tree) but during my first few years in the US, I could not find any fresh curry leaves to cook with. Some South-Asian stores used to carry dried curry leaves but every time I used them, I could barely discern their flavor in the dish. About a decade ago, the local Indian store near my house started selling Ziploc packets with a couple of springs of fresh curry leaves in them. Although these were good they were not as flavorful as the ones we find in India. A couple of times I even found little saplings of the curry tree being sold at the local Indian store but each attempt of mine to grow one indoors, failed miserably. Over the years I even found that a couple of my friends had managed to grow the plant in large pots in a well-lit sun-room but somehow as far as my luck with this plant was concerned, I just never could get my green thumb to succeed in rearing it to adulthood.
A few months ago I was invited to a friend’s place and I noticed that she had a 5-6 feet tall Curry Tree flourishing in her sun-room. I duly ooh-ed and aah-ed over the wonder of getting this tree to grow indoors! I guess she must have felt my anguish at not being able to get mine to survive beyond the first few weeks and so yesterday she dropped by with a large branch that she had trimmed off from her tree. I was ever so excited at having received this wonderful gift and this morning I promptly used it to make one of my favorite South-Indian dishes – a dish that utilizes the flavor of curry leaves most effectively – Vermicelli Salad! It is a healthy vegetarian salad that can be served warm or cold and the recipe is forgiving enough that you can tinker with it and use any crunchy vegetables that are at your disposal. I used carrots, green beans and fresh sweet corn and it came out as yum as always.
1. 1 cup of roasted rice Vermicelli (available at South-Asian stores)
2. 2 fresh carrots (6-8 mini peeled carrots)
3. ½ red onion
4. 2-3 sprigs of curry leaves
5. 15-20 tender green beans
6. 6-8 small grape tomatoes
7. 1 fresh ear of sweet corn
8. 1 tablespoon of black mustard seeds
9. 1 tablespoon of Chana daal (it is optional) – daal is an Indian word for lentils.
10. 1 tablespoon of washed urad daal (also optional)
11. 2 teaspoons of turmeric powder
12. 2 teaspoons of sugar
13. 1 teaspoon of red chili powder
14. One green chili
15. 2 tablespoons of coconut flakes (fresh or desiccated)
16. 1 teaspoon of salt
17. The juice of one lemon/lime
18. 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
19. ¼ raw peanuts kernels (also available at South-Asian grocery stores)
1. In a medium sized sauce pan, pour the olive oil and warm it over low heat.
2. Pour the peanuts into the pan and brown them evenly on all sides (requires constant stirring).
3. Take the peanuts out of the pan and let them cool down on a dry paper towel.
4. Peel and cut the onion, beans and carrots in small pieces and set them aside.
9. Then add the vermicelli and stir fry them with the veggies for 2-3 minutes (stir them constantly to ensure even cooking).
10. Add one and half cups of hot water to the pan and after stirring the contents of the pan, cover the pan with a lid and cook over low heat for 6-8 minutes.
11. Remove the lid from the pan and test if the vermicelli is cooked and the water has all dried up.
12. Chop the grape tomatoes into halves and mix them in with the warm vermicelli.
13. Add the fried peanuts to the vermicelli and squeeze the juice of a lemon and stir everything together.
14. Serve the vermicelli either warm or at room temperature with a garnish of coconut flakes on top and a few more curry leaves.