Cynthia Shanmugalingam’s secret ingredient: fresh curry leaves

Part of the same family as bright citrus fruits like kumquat and calamansi, curry leaves have this wildly zesty, aromatic flavour plus a cinnamon-y quality. Growing up, my mum said: “If I don’t have curry leaves, I can’t cook.” It’s like salt and pepper in Sri Lankan cooking.

You can use them sliced up in fresh sambols, or fry them in hot oil – this is called the temper – and you pour this on top of dal or pumpkin curry. Dry roast them, grind them up, and use them in curry powders, that’s a softer, earthy taste. And, you can infuse them in a curry by adding them at the beginning with the onions and garlic.

A Sri Lankan omelette might be a good starting point if you haven’t cooked with them before. It’s very simple. For one person, use 2 eggs, half a teaspoon of turmeric and 5-6 curry leaves, add onions and green chillies, if you like. It makes a banging, very fragrant omelette. Eat it with bread, or sambol for breakfast. Curry leaves are such a long-standing flavour in Sri Lankan cuisine. When I smell coconut oil, onion and curry leaves frying together, it’s like being home.

Cynthia Shanmugalingam is chef-owner of Rambutan, 10 Stoney St, London SE1 9AD

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