Tuesday, July 07, 2009

The Bookmark Project: Cucumber Curry

My bookmark folder contains many hidden gems in the form of fantastic recipes just waiting to be tried. And I've managed to unearth one of them.

I was intrigued by this cucumber curry recipe the minute I spotted it. The cookbook that the recipe comes from (Madhur Jaffrey's excellent book 'World Vegetarian') is sitting right here on my bookshelf but I completely missed this recipe until I saw it on this blog. I make cucumber dosa often, but otherwise don't cook cucumber, preferring it as a raw salad vegetable. Cooking it into a curry is very new to me.

The curry, with mellow cucumber and coconut looked just right for summer. There is a mild spicy undertone from the chilli(es), but otherwise the fragrance is entirely that of mustard seeds and curry leaves spluttered briefly in ghee to release their aroma.

The curry leaves are the star of this dish, and the ones I used came from my own curry leaf plant. Before I left for my long vacation to India, I gave away all my plants and herbs, keeping only this most precious one. This plant sits in the kitchen window and I spend many anxious moments every week counting the newly sprouting sprigs. It started as the tiniest sapling given to me by an acquaintance but has grown inch by inch. While we were packing for the trip, my green-thumbed friend Julianne came by and kindly took the curry leaf plant away to her home to baby-sit it for the month. As she was getting into the elevator, V called to her, "You know, if you kill this plant, Nupur is never going to speak to you again". The poor thing! She sent me regular messages about the plant's health all month and needless to say, returned it to me in perfect condition.

My problem now is that the plant is growing tall but not laterally- I would love to have it branching out more and now just growing upright. Does anyone know how to accomplish this? Any advice from plant experts would be much appreciated. I "harvest" 3-4 sprigs of curry leaves from my plant every week and that is enough for my cooking needs. Even with just this one little plant, I have avoided buying many packets of limp curry leaves from the store, saving a bit of money and keeping the packaging out of the trash. Oh, the joys of growing your own herbs. I'm obsessed about getting a lemongrass plant next, and want to plant some mint and basil before July is over.



Just to contrast with my baby curry leaf plant, here is the one in my parents' yard in India. It is a curry leaf tree that is 3 stories tall! My parents are drowning in curry leaves. Meanwhile, I am sitting here and rationing sprigs of curry leaves, thinking, "If I use two sprigs today, I won't have any for the sambar tomorrow".

That big tree keeps giving off saplings here and there in the surrounding soil. I have friends here in the US who would give anything for these curry leaf babies that grow like weeds in my parents' garden.

OK, I got a little carried away there. Coming back to the recipe, the only real change I made was in using whole lentils instead of the split ones (masoor dal), because it is what I had on hand, and in reducing the amount of coconut milk a little. It is the very incredible-tasting recipe I have tried in several months. Now, it does not win any prizes in terms of looks; the lentils give the curry a dull muddy color, but this is completely worth overlooking. I highly recommend it. The delicate flavor is perfect for summer.

Cucumber Squash Curry


Inspired by the olan recipe on A Life (Time) of Cooking

¾ cup lentils (masoor), rinsed
1 cup thick coconut milk
1 medium cucumber, peeled and diced
1 medium yellow squash, diced
1 green chilli, finely minced (or more to taste)
Salt to taste
Juice of ½ lemon
1 tablespoon ghee/clarified butter
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
2 sprigs fresh curry leaves

1. In a pot, add ½ cup coconut milk, lentils and 2 cups water. Bring to a boil, then simmer for 110-15 minutes or until lentils are barely tender.
2. Add the cucumber, squash, chillies and salt. Cook for 5-10 minutes.
3. In a separate small pan, make the tempering by heating the ghee and popping the mustard seeds and curry leaves in the ghee.
4. Pour the fragrant tempering and remaining coconut milk to the curry. Stir for a minute or two, then turn off the heat.
5. Add the lemon juice and stir. Serve with freshly steamed rice, with mango pickle on the side.

Since the curry is proudly made by curry leaves growing in my kitchen, I'm sending this post to Grow Your Own #31, an event that celebrates foods we grow ourselves.


  1. Oh!- the first time I made olan (or was it potato stew) based on jai and bee's recipe- I used cucumbers (since I couldn't find any winter melon, pumpkin etc here at that time) so I can imagine how yummy this tastes!
    Ok- now I'm craving olan and stew and avial!

    I am dying to grow my own herbs too. Atleast curry leaves and corriander and maybe mint..and basil.Oh well..:)..Have you sampled lemon basil?- once in a while I find some (nowadays) in my local farmer's market and it makes a lovely addition to rasam.

  2. Oh Nupur, your curry leaf plant is so beautiful, I could hardly take my eyes off it! The cucumber curry is a lovely sight too :)

  3. Cucumber Curry looks very tempting.

    I also like to have my own farm, with my fav. veggies. but it is always a dream till today. Everytime I take such a lot of effort to grow plants and trees of herbs and veggies and we get transferred.

  4. Nupur.

    If you have any spare curry leave plant seedlings I'd love to have one! I'll trade you for some clippings from my herb plants :-)


  5. I've never grown my own curry leaves...how cool is that?! I love this recipe...love my 'daal' like curry with lentels and now you show me how to have cucumber with it? Yum!

  6. Nupur,
    Your cucumber curry looks tempting.
    I have potted curry leaf plants too. Looking at the picture, I think that the pot is too small. Transferring it to a bigger pot will help the lateral growth & also will produce new saplings.Giving the plant about quarter cup thin buttermilk every month will act as a tonic in overall growth.

  7. I used to have a curry leaf plant, but it got too infested with scale insects and I got tired of fighting them.

    But to make your plant branch more, you can cut off the top of each stem just above a leaf. It should start to send out new branches from the top few leaf nodes just under the cut.

  8. When we were on a trip to Assam, we fell sick and the only vegetable I could digest was cucumber. I cooked cucumbers enough to put me off cooking that again. Your recipe just might change that. :) The cucumber cubes look very inviting swimming in that coconut milk.

    I'd give an eye and a tooth too, for a curry leaf tree like your parents. :D

  9. Your plant is really nice and healthy Nupur.
    May be you can trim some branches diagonally, I am not sure about this...but I remember my father doing something like this with his plants.

    Cucumber curry is new to me!
    Looks grt!

  10. Nupur,
    The curry leaf plant looks so beautiful. Your friend has really taken good care of it. I'm curious though, during the winter, will it continue to grow indoors? And, can I use one of the limp sprigs from the Indian store to start growing a new plant?
    I've been thinking of growing some herbs and small plants, here in California. I have started with a marigold plant this yr. It is growing taller but does not flower at all. Brown thumb, I guess.sigh...

  11. Hi Nupur,

    This curry sounds wonderful,,,,and the curry plant that you have looks utterly pretty on the window sill. I am sorry about popping up a very silly ques, but can you tell me what is yellow squash in the recipe and what other alternatives of vegetables can be used here???


  12. I would give anything from my kitchen for a real live growing curry plant. ANYTHING! Sending lots of mental organic equivalent of Miracle-Gro your way, Nupur! :)

  13. Lavanya- Oh, you have to try this one then, it will hit the spot!
    Lemon basil sounds incredible and I'm going to look for it. Thanks for the tip!

    Linda- Thank you! I spend a lot of time staring at my curry leaf plant too, saying, "don't die...please don't die!" :D

    Lakshmi Venkatesh- I understand how hard it must be to have to grow a garden and then leave it. Perhaps a container garden would work where you can take the containers to your new home, or give them away to friends?

    Bruno- Absolutely- it's a deal!! :D Well, there is one person in line ahead of you (a friend who wants a sapling) but if this plant grows and gives off seedlings around it, I'll be sure to set aside a couple for you!!

    Trish- The recipe is completely delicious and worth a try if you like dals and curries :)

    Kamakshi- Thank you so much for taking the time to give your advice. I was thinking the same thing- poor plant is outgrowing its home, and now that you said it too, I'll re-pot it into a bigger pot right this weekend. I'll also try the buttermilk tonic idea- that's completely new to me!

    Entangled- Oh dear, I hope the scale insects stay away from my plant!
    I'll definitely try trimming the plant the way you suggested, thank you very much for that tip!

    Kay- Oh, that kind of episode definitely can put one off certain foods. But I promise this recipe is worth trying- you might even use all squash or zucchini if cooked cucumbers are unappealing.

    Chakhlere- Yes, I'm going to try trimming it and let's see what happens! Thanks for the tip.

    Yogita- I've had this plant for the last two years and it has survived two winters (touch wood!). When the weather starts turning colder outside, the growth stops and the plant simply seems to hibernate. Then in spring, it awakens and starts growing again. It is amazing that it recognizes the seasons even though it is indoors and it is always warm in the kitchen.
    A limp sprig from the store is unlikely to start a new plant....a very very fresh sprig might work (I read this somewhere, have never tried it). What works best is if you know someone who has a curry leaf plant and their plant gives seeds, or little seedlings in the soil around the plant. Then you can plant those to start your own plant, which is what I did.
    You are lucky to be living in California, where the weather is great for gardening. You could start with mint- I know that's one plant that grows like a weed, which is thrilling for people like us who are newbies.

    Raakhee- Yellow squash is a vegetable that is grown here locally in summer, so I use a lot of it during this season. It looks like this:
    You could simply skip the squash and use two cucumbers in this recipe (that's what the original recipe calls for). Or use some dudhi instead of the squash, although I have never tried that.

    Shammi- Thank you so much, my dear! My plant needs all the lovin' it can get ;)
    You might be able to find a plant in the UK...have you looked?

  14. OMG! that is some curry leaf tree your parents have got there...yep! it is a tree....i am still buying those loser packets from the indian grocery store...i am such a lazy gardener....i i will try this dish..i have cooked with cukes..but only as a after-thought..when there is nothing in the ref....

  15. I have 2 small curry leaf plants and I watch them like a hawk. With winter lasting as long as 6 months they hardly grow then but mine looks very frail too. Same story with my parents' yard having a huge curry leaf tree.. my mom just puts her hand out of the window from our home (on the 2nd floor) and can grab a fresh bunch each day :)

    I hardly cook with cucumber too and i've already seen 2 recipes this morning. Very interesting.

  16. Your curry leaf plant looks great...reminded me of my own curry leaf plant that used to be and didnt survive one of my visits to india :(
    do you know any place in st louis that would sell curry plant?
    I have never had a cucumber curry but i am going to try making one with this recipe.

  17. The curry sounds yummy!!. About the plant you will need to prune the plant. If you see buds laterally,prune off the main branch and then it will grow laterally. I plant basil every year and it grows into one branch tall and straight,this year i pruned off the main branch after a point and lateral growth started.email me and i can tell you diagrammatically what i mean.

  18. Hi Nupur,

    Your blog is my most favorite one:)

    Wait till the plant goes dormant in the winter, and when the growing season starts (here in California around Feb timeframe) prune the mature branches say an inch or two. This will encourage new lateral growth. I guess if a branch is growing tall then all the plant energy goes to maintain that growth. When you prune it, that stops and new growth is encouraged. Just like any other plant.

    Also if you see it flowering and then fruiting, prune it. A lot of plant energy goes into that as well.

    Regardless of when you prune, I think new growth will happen only during the grwing season roughly between March and October.

    I am not an expert, but do have a curry leaf plant and a Tulsi plant that was once damaged by the frost. I had no choice but to prune both of them completely. They both grew back as to how big they were before.


  19. Your kadipatta plant looks so pretty on the window sill. I am still thinking to grow one, being the serial plant killer that I am, I don't want to commit this crime. Thanks for the cucumber squash curry recipe. I remember eating this at a potluck, but didn't get the recipe. I am going to make this soon.

  20. Lovely plant...I have a small curry leaf pot in my kitchen too..Though I can get it in stores here, I love the smell of the fresh baby leaves...Very different recipe...

  21. thank you for mentioning my cucumber curry. Yours looks so very inviting.

    I have a couple of curry leaf plants in pots. Each winter I trim the trees so that they branch out and get the right shape.

  22. Oh wow...that's an new recipe to me....looks delectably yum.....Hmmm love the aromatic flavour coming from curry leaves....

  23. Rajitha- The packets from the Indian stores can be quite fresh and wonderful, I remember Patel Bros. in Jackson Heights (NYC) had very fresh curry leaves.

    Laavanya- That's so true- with long winters the growing season is all too short. Let's see how long my plant survives!

    Parita- It is!

    Roshni- I'm afraid I don't know of any places in St. Louis that sell these plants but then I haven't looked.

    Supriya- Yes, I'm going to prune it soon, that's what everyone has been suggesting.

    SS- Thank you! Yes, the pruning seems to be the way to go, I'm going to try it. The new growth does happen only during the warm months as you say. Thanks for the tips!

    Namita- I am terrible with plants too, this one I am trying so hard just because I love curry leaves :) so it is a exception!

    Arch- I agree, the aroma and flavor of the fresh leaves is something special.

    Vegeyum- Your blog is a source of much inspiration- thank you!
    I wish I had trimmed my plant a while ago, it is already too tall for its size, but better late than never.

    Kitchen Flavors- Yes, it is delicious, this recipe.

  24. Your parents curry patta tree is something. I never knew they grow like a tree, I always thought of them as plants

  25. Hi Nupur! I have been reading your blog a lot .. and am a fan of your knitting ... you took a break just when I started blogging. Am so glad you are back! Wonderful looking curry with cucumber. :-)

  26. I am from bengal & my grandma would make cucumber curry once in a while but dry & sometimes with shrimp. Your curry leaf is TALL.. mine is doing pretty good indoors & yes my home back home has one & some times branches leaves have to be thrown away..

  27. Oh my god! the curry leaf tree at your parents house is so gorgeous! It might smell heavenly because of that tree there. I have not seen such a huge Curry leaf tree until now.
    I am searching for a Curry leaf plant to buy in Toronto, since 2 years, with no luck.
    Your plant looks terrific too. All the best and take good care of it. Good wishes your way.

  28. Hey, I recognize that curry plant in the window!!!! Some of it went into the now-famous (and often-repeated) korma we made. : ) I don't think i've ever had cooked cucumber - but I'm curious now and will no doubt try this recipe soon. So nice to have you back in the blogging world.

  29. Wow - I had no idea what shape a "curry leaf plant" took - I never dreamed it was actually a large tree! Yours is pretty impressive too - before I saw the photo I was imagining something much smaller.

    I've never cooked with cucumber, but I'm guessing it keeps its crunch when cooked? If so, I think I'd enjoy that very much in a curry. And of course I love the scent and flavor of curry leaves - so I'll remember this one next time I'm leafing through World Vegetarian trying to decide on a recipe :)

  30. Ditto on the curry leaf tree in parents backyard. Mom would just send me out to get some sprigs when she needed! Explains why I always to forget to buy it at the grocery store.

  31. The coconut milk has me sold on this recipe - the cucumber and lentils is an interesting combination - havent seen that before!

  32. Bong Mom- In the right climate, they just keep on growing, just have to give them a couple of decades to get to this size ;)

    Sharmila- Thank you! It feels great to be back :)

    Soma- I should try and find the Bengali version of cucumber curry...it sounds interesting!

    Mona- Fresh curry leaves do smell heavenly...even with my tiny plant, I love touching the leaves (they have a sticky aromatic oil on them) and just inhaling the fresh curry leaf aroma.

    Becky- Hello! If you want to have another cooking session, mail me :) The korma one was fun!
    You have to try this recipe, it is completely delicious.

    Cathy- Yes, if you just let it grow for decades, that's what you get- a massive tree!
    Cucumber does not really keep its crunch when cooked, it is more of a tender melting texture- but this is so wonderful, I hope you try the recipe sometime :)

    Manasi- In fact, running out of curry leaves is my main impetus to go shopping!! I might forget everything else but not the curry leaves.

    Miri- I know, it is an unusual combination, but works very well!!

  33. I recently bought a curry leaf plant too, it is growing slowly, got three or four new sprigs. Can't wait for it to grow a bit more so that I can use the leaves in cooking. Regarding getting new branches,I know nothing about plants, this is my first surviving plant ever, but my mom told me to trim the main branch once it grows a bit more, so that new branches will start sprouting.

  34. Nupur, I think it looks nice in the photo, and I really want to try this curry soon; it sounds just delicious. And, as I mentioned, I've been wanting to cook with curry leaves. No tree, no plant, I'll have to buy them at the store (but that's OK). Cheers.

  35. Sig- They grow quite slowly at first, but then settle in and grow more rapidly so give it a year or so. Yes, lots of people here agreed that trimming was the way to go. Good luck with your plant!

    Lisa- This is such an unusual curry, with cool and subtle flavors, that I think you will enjoy it very much. Store bought leaves are just fine- especially if you ask the owner when a fresh shipment will come in and go get them at that time. If you make it, let me know how it works :)

  36. I never knew curry leaf plant grows into a big tree. Thanks for sharing. My curry plant has got flowers now. but i feel too scared to prune it. I just don't know how to do it.

  37. I've been wondering if I could grow a curry leaf plant, and I had no idea they grew so big! I must try to find some seeds. Your dish sounds delicious with the squash and cucumber. Thanks for sharing it with Grow Your Own!

  38. I think your curry tree could use more sun. People are correct, that pruning back can cause lateral branching, but it looks to me that it is leggy because it is trying to reach for more light. I don't think pruning back will address the fundamental problem (not enough sunlight). Looking forward to trying the recipe!

  39. Hi, here is what a NYT article said about pruning a curry leaf plant. Hope it would be useful:

    "If your main purpose is culinary, a multistemmed bush is best. Encourage branching by clipping off the top when the plant is about 30 inches tall. Then keep cutting back all branches each time they grow long enough to spare a couple of leaves. "


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