Saturday, October 18, 2008

Give me curry

If I was allowed only one cookbook in my kitchen I would certainly be inconsolable for awhile, but once I came round to my senses I'd probably hang on to Charmaine Solomon's 'Complete Asian Cookbook'. While my wonderful old mum, who's been cooking up a storm in heaven since 1981, taught me all the Aussie basic recipes that I still love to cook, it was Charmaine, through her book, who taught me how to cook curries. And as soon as we moved into this house 17 years ago, when I finally had space to create a garden, I bought a curry tree (Murraya koenigii), and it's still doing fine in its pot all these years later on.

Here it is this morning, doing its little spring blooming thing. Hardly anything to stop you in your tracks, but to me the piddly little flower show says the magical words of "Hi, I'm happy, healthy and ready to make curries again." Great news!

Standing back a little, here it is in its third pot. Third pot? Yep, this little tree has muscle-bound roots which can crack big, glazed ceramic pots. So every time it wants to upsize its pot it lets me know. As it's native to tropical southern India, it doesn't like cold Sydney winters all that much, and drops leaves and looks scraggly by the end of every winter. A light clip over to remove daggy bits, followed by a feed with chicken poo and some Seasol tonic in spring, and it always bounces back well. Though not especially thirsty it likes a regular drink in summer.

For several years I always thought that you used curry leaves in cooking by dropping a branchlet of eight or so leaves into hot oil right at the beginning of cooking, to flavour the oil. But now I've learned that some Asian cooks chop the fresh leaves and add them to curries right at the end of cooking. Others add the leaves to the blender when blending up the onion, garlic, chillies, ginger etc at the beginning of curry making.

This charming photo of Mr and Mrs Orchard Butterfly making babies was taken by Pam one morning, when she spotted them in flagrante on the way out to her shed. The other thing the photo shows, if you can divert your attention for a moment please, is the curry tree's berries, which start off red then ripen to black. I don't use them in cooking, but last autumn I popped several berries into some potting mix, and every one of them came up, and fairly quickly, too. When berries do this you start to think "oh, no, environmental weed" and indeed this might prove to be the case with my beautiful little curry tree. But then again I've never seen a single native bird feeding on the berries.

The constant companion for my curry tree for almost all its days here has been this Buddha. I found him a pearl shell backrest a while ago, in deference to his age. As the years have gone by the mulch of fallen leaves has slowly grown and yet Buddha remains remarkably pale and serene, as if he's dust-proof.

I'm not a Buddhist, but it is the religion I respect the most, philosophically speaking. So it did occur to me to contact our local ashram just to check whether using Buddha in this way would be offensive to them. I would have removed it if they didn't like the idea. After explaining the basics of where he was, contemplating the curry tree, in a dignified spot elevated well off the ground...
"Does he have a pleasant view of the garden?" I was asked.
"Probably the best, and he gets to see every sunset," I replied.
And that was that. It's agreed all-round – Buddha's got the best seat in the house.


Melinda said...

Does it taste similar to a curry bush or quite different? I have a small curry plant that smells lovely but haven't tried it in any cooking as yet.

Jamie said...

No, curry bush is a small, grey herb that juts smells spicy, but isn't used in cooking. As you say, it smells nice, but as far as I know it's not useful in cooking.

Curry tree is a green-leafed plant which doesn't have much smell, but when you add it to hot oil it spits and bubbles and gives off its spicy aroma only then.