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Is there a reasonable subsitute for curry leaves?

erin_grogan Jan 30, 2013 09:29 AM

The COTM 660 Curries thread inspired me to get the book, albeit after you all had finished your thread.

I'm going to do a lentil recipe tonight (Red & Yellow Lentils with Garlic and Curry Leaves), but didn't plan ahead well enough to get curry leaves. Is there a reasonable substitute? I do have several different dry curry powder mixes on hand and most raw ingredients that go into a curry powder.

I recognize the dish may not be quite the same if I omit one of the key ingredients (it is right there in the title, after all!) but I'm willing to bet something a little different might still be tasty- just trying to get the flavors close, if possible.

  1. s
    sr44 Jan 30, 2013 09:38 AM

    Does Mr. Iyer suggest a substitute?

    1 Reply
    1. re: sr44
      AlkieGourmand Feb 4, 2013 01:28 PM

      No, and there is no substitute. You can buy them on amazon.

    2. C. Hamster Jan 30, 2013 09:43 AM

      curry leaves and curry powder are totally unrelated. They don't taste anything alike so curry powder can't be used as a substitute.

      That said, personally I don't think there is any good substitute for curry leaves. They are one of the most unique ingredients I can think of.

      1 Reply
      1. re: C. Hamster
        LMAshton Jan 30, 2013 04:52 PM


        Curry powder and curry leaves are completely unrelated. Curry powder is a mixture of spices. Curry leaves are from a plant and offer a sort of smoky flavour.

        If you don't have curry leaves, omit. There is no substitute.

      2. biondanonima Jan 30, 2013 09:48 AM

        There's not really a good substitute that I know of (definitely not curry powder, as the two are totally unrelated), but you might try a bit of lime zest, or kaffir lime leaf (if you have it). A couple of bay leaves with some lime zest might perk up the dish a bit, too, but it won't be the same as curry leaves.

        2 Replies
        1. re: biondanonima
          erin_grogan Jan 30, 2013 09:50 AM

          Good to know, thanks to you both. I was definitely making assumptions that the two were related since I don't have any experience with curry leaves. I can try the zest/bay leaf approach.

          1. re: erin_grogan
            sr44 Jan 30, 2013 10:58 AM

            Mr. Iyer says not to substitute. He wrote the cookbook.

        2. JungMann Jan 30, 2013 09:53 AM

          Curry leaves have a very unique flavor. They are nutty, slightly funky and aromatic. I can't think of a good substitute -- kaffir lime is too acidic. If you leave out the leaves, you may still end up with something close to the flavors of a North Indian dal, which isn't half bad either.

          1. luckyfatima Jan 30, 2013 10:55 AM

            I agree, do not attempt a substitute.

            It seems to me that you are trying to avoid a trip to the Indian store but if at home you have an Indian or Pakistani brand of boxed mixed masala that has ground curry leaves in it according to the ingredients on the back of the box, you can use a tiny pinch of that in your daal and it won't be the same as fresh curry leaves but will give curry leaf tones.

            2 Replies
            1. re: luckyfatima
              erin_grogan Jan 30, 2013 11:40 AM

              I don't have time to go to the store today, but certainly can over the weekend. Was just hoping to try something new tonight but I am reading loud and clear that I should a) pick a different recipe for tonight and b) try this one when I can get together the required ingredients.

              Much appreciated!

              1. re: erin_grogan
                qianning Jan 30, 2013 12:00 PM

                Agree with all of the above, including your decision to try another recipe tonight (in 660 Curries there are several red lentil recipes that don't call for curry leaf). But mostly just writing to mention that COTM threads are never really "finished", if you get a chance to cook from 600 Curries, please do consider adding your report to the the thread.

            2. boogiebaby Jan 30, 2013 01:48 PM

              Like the others said there's no substitute. They have a very unique taste and smell. Omit them, but I think you are better off making on of the other recipes instead. I have tried many of the dals from 660 and they have all been great. If you have green chillis, try the Masoor Dal with Green Chillies -- that's been made weekly in my house since COTM!

              1. e
                erin_grogan Jan 31, 2013 06:38 AM

                OK all, you'll laugh at me, but we just ended up picking up pizza for dinner last night. Crazy day at work, and with my plans foiled, I just decided to wait until I can get to the Indian market this weekend. The lentils will have to wait for another day!!

                I do appreciate all the advice here and can't wait to try this new ingredient.

                And, I am also glad to know the 660 Curries thread is still somewhat active, I will post there with our impressions after we try a couple of recipes from the book.

                1. e
                  erin_grogan Feb 4, 2013 07:03 AM

                  Hi all- a quick trip to our Indian grocer yielded a nice bag of curry leaves, so tonight's the big night for trying the new recipe. One final question: do the curry leaves needed to be pulled before serving (a la a bay leaf), or are they edible (like basil leaves in tomato sauce)?

                  Sorry if that sounds stupid, but this is my first time using this ingredient. Thoughts appreciated!

                  4 Replies
                  1. re: erin_grogan
                    JungMann Feb 4, 2013 09:22 AM

                    You don't need to pull them out, in fact I'd imagine the recipe you're making recommends making a spiced oil or butter to drizzle atop the dal with the curry leaves. That said, I wouldn't chewing on the leaves either. South Asian cooks don't usually remove the inedible whole spices or leaves from dishes, but leave diners to push it to the side of their plates when eating.

                    1. re: JungMann
                      LMAshton Feb 4, 2013 06:36 PM


                      Although some people do eat the curry leaves. They're also used, ground up, to make porridge and they're used in Ayurvedic remedies. So yes, they're quite edible.

                    2. re: erin_grogan
                      mwk Feb 4, 2013 09:26 AM

                      If the recipe calls for them to be fried in some oil, they will turn black and somewhat crunchy, and they can be eaten with the meal. If they are just thrown in for flavor, they will be too tough to eat, and they should be pushed aside as you would an errant bay leaf.

                      1. re: erin_grogan
                        luckyfatima Feb 4, 2013 12:56 PM

                        No you leave them in. Some people eat them. I don't. I just push them to the side of my plate.

                      2. e
                        erin_grogan Feb 4, 2013 05:19 PM

                        Just a quick note to say the recipe was a huge success! My husband's first comment was, "there's a lot of really deep Indian flavor in there." And, totally agreed that the curry leaves added something unique, not the flavor of anything else.

                        I will say, the recipe was a little salty for our taste- I almost never add the full amount of salt called for in a recipe, but for whatever reason I did tonight. Next time, I'll be a little lighter handed first and add more to taste if necessary.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: erin_grogan
                          qianning Feb 5, 2013 11:40 AM

                          glad to hear it all worked out!

                          btw, if you ended up with extra curry leaf, you might want to stick them in the freezer. they won't be quite the same as fresh, but they will do in a pinch.

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