Imagine having a balcony garden with pots of tulsi and kadipatta only. This would mean cleaner air around the area, lesser insects and a mild fragrance that is appealing. In fact I recommend having a small potted kadipatta plant in every home: easy to maintain, just water it daily but you can enjoy fresh leaves everytime you need them.
Our cook of many years is a grand old lady from Andhra who is still emphatic about using only tender fresh kadipatta in the daal and sambhar. None of the stale leaves will do…that she says are not kadipatta but kadva patta (bitter leaf!).
So every time a batch of vegetables comes into our house sure enough there are a few stalks of fresh kadipatta with the compliments of the vendor. If at all they are stored in the refrigerator, the whole stalk goes into a ziplock bag (shelf life two days).
I confess that kadipatta does not play a big role in a North Indian household. We are used to fresh coriander in everything. But for South Indians it is a vital ingredient in recipes for chicken, mutton, fish, chutneys, vegetables, daals, rice dishes, rasams, poha, wadas, aloo wadas, sambhars…and what have you.
Dried kadipatta is also an essential ingredient in certain spice mixtures.
Interestingly, kadipatta (or curry leaves also known as meetha neem) comes from a plant that grows wild in the Himalayan foothills and other parts of India, North Thailand and Sri Lanka. It has been grown in private gardens in India for centuries, but it started being commercially produced only recently.<b2>
Ayurvedic and Unani medicines use kadipatta in many ways including herbal tonics. Even the bark of the tree is used for certain formulae. The leaves have the quality of regulating the functions of the stomach.
Mixed with other herbs they are used for alleviating digestive disorders, diabetes, eye disorders, insect bites, burns and bruises. But it upsets me that most of us conveniently remove it from the food.
It has some aromatic volatile oils that are antioxidant in nature. These oils give the lemony smell when you fry kadipatta in oil. Just a word of caution: the leaves cause hissing and spattering when added to hot oil, so be careful.
Try a kadipatta chutney with fresh coriander and coconut. The South Indians make a delicious dry chutney with roasted kadipatta, roasted chana daal, black peppercorns and salt. Tastes great with curd rice.
I have also tried chopped kadipatta in omelette and scrambled eggs. Wonderful with toast. I have tried out a smooth Tomato Shorba with a lot of kadipatta and the volatile oils do give a tasty kick to the soup.
This little small green leaf has loads of potential in cookery and medicine. So, the next time you see kadipatta floating in your daal, chew upon it and enjoy the benefits.
(The writer is a master chef, author and television host. Email at firstname.lastname@example.org )