Curry leaves, fenugreek leaves, and the warming spice blend called garam masala are listed as optional ingredients in Indian vegetable stir-fries, but they’re worth seeking out and getting to know because they add a special, authentic touch to each dish. If you don’t have an Indian grocery store near you, try a mail-order source. Foods of India (212-683-4419). You’ll also find dried and fresh fenugreek and dried curry leaves at Kalustyans.com (800-352-3451).
These dark-green spear-shaped leaves are highly aromatic and pleasantly bitter. As the name suggests, they smell like curry, but they are not an ingredient in curry powder, which is a multispice blend. Indian cooks generally fry curry leaves in cooking oil (often with other spices) before adding other ingredients. They look a little like bay leaves, but unlike bay, curry leaves can be eaten.
Curry leaves are available both fresh and dried; fresh are more flavorful. The fresh leaves are usually sold on the stem—strip the leaves off to use them. Fresh curry leaves in a zip-top bag will keep for about two weeks in the refrigerator. They may also be frozen for up to three months, though they’ll lose some potency.
Both the leaves and the seeds of the fenugreek (FEN-yoo-greek) plant are used in Indian cooking, but most recipes call for just leaves, which are herbal and bitter. Fresh fenugreek leaves are eaten as a vegetable in India. The dried leaves, called kasuri methi, are used to flavor savory dishes, especially vegetables and curries.
Fresh leaves wrapped in dry paper towels in a zip-top bag will keep for about two weeks in the refrigerator. Store dried leaves in a sealed jar in a cool, dark cupboard; use within four months.