The broad culinary term “curry” refers to spicy sauce-based dishes from the Indian subcontinent, as well as to the pungent powdered spice blends that flavor these dishes. Indian curry powders commonly include turmeric, coriander, cumin and ground ginger. Certain herbs, such as fresh cilantro, are de rigueur in curries, while others are less common additions.
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Curry recipes usually include fresh cilantro leaves, also known as coriander leaves. Chopped, de-stemmed cilantro leaves add a bright, lemony touch to the rich, deep flavors of curry. Most recipes call for adding cilantro at the end of cooking and just before serving. Cilantro also makes a delicious addition to cold curry dishes, such as curried chicken or egg salad. Stir fresh, chopped cilantro into the salad, saving a small handful to sprinkle on top as a garnish.
An incredibly versatile herb, fresh parsley leaves go well in curries. If you don’t have cilantro on hand, fresh parsley makes a fine substitute. The recipe in "Cook’s Illustrated," Curried Chicken with Raisins and Honey, calls for either minced cilantro leaves or parsley leaves, which can be used interchangeably.
Refreshing, summery mint, like parsley and cilantro, offers a delicious contrast to curry’s heat. Substitute mint for parsley or cilantro in curry recipes, or mix chopped fresh mint with salted yogurt to create raita, a cooling condiment and curry accompaniment. Mint tea, minted lemonade or icy mint-based cocktails all make superb beverage pairings with spicy curries.
Fresh leaf basil's herbaceous, licorice-like qualities go beautifully with curried summer vegetables. Chefs Quinn and Sharon Hatfield finish off their Summer Vegetable Ragout with Exotic Curry Sauce with a generous handful of torn fresh basil and arugula. Yamuna Devi, author of “Lord Krishna’s Cuisine: The Art of Indian Vegetarian Cooking,” suggests adding basil to any tomato-based Indian curry and to fresh salads.
Other Indian Herbs
These curry-friendly herbs are hard to find in American grocery stores, but Indian or Middle Eastern markets often carry them. Fresh curry leaves are strongly aromatic and citrusy and a staple ingredient in southern Indian kitchens. Add them to curries early in the recipe, sautéing them with minced ginger root, chili peppers and other aromatics. Fenugreek leaves have a bitter aspect and work best in potato or spinach curries. Powerfully scented bay leaves are common in Bengali dishes. Use them sparingly to avoid overpowering other flavors.