Santa Monica Farmers’ Market Report: Curry Leaves vs. Curry

Akasha Richmond, chef owner of Akasha and the forthcoming Sāmbār, explains the difference between fresh curry leaves and dried curry powder

KCRW Good Food Producer Gillian Ferguson shares highlights from farmers’ markets around Los Angeles along with tips from chefs and growers on how to best use what’s in your basket.

“Ok. Let’s talk about curry.”

These were the words of Akasha Richmond, chef owner of Akasha restaurant and the forthcoming Sāmbār which is opening any minute now in the former Ford’s Filling Station space barely ten paces from Akasha’s front door in Downtown Culver City.

“Curry is not a spice in India,” she explains. “Curry powder was invented by the British. Curry leaves come from a small tree in the citrus family—they have a perfumy peppery flavor.”

At Coleman Farms’ stand, the leaves are sold in pint-size Ziploc baggies. They are both thinner and more vibrant than the leaves of their citrus cousins, and unlike bay leaves, curry leaves can be eaten once cooked.

“You use them sparingly,” says Akasha. “They are a little intense.” Although she is quick to add that the leaves aren’t as overpowering as those of the kefir lime (which Coleman Farms also sells). As I take a whiff of a bag of curry leaves, a salesperson at Coleman’s stand suggests that they are an excellent addition to lentils. He explains that while the farm cultivates two varieties of curry leaf trees, they only bring one to market. “The other one just smells terrible,” he says with a laugh.

At Sambar, we will find curry leaves in the restaurant’s signature sambar, a South Indian stew of yellow dal. It will also be chopped up finely in a fritter. Red amaranth from the Hmong-owned farmstand Herr Produce will also flavor the sambar. And locally grown malabar spinach might find its way into the saag, a puree of mustard greens and spinach that Akasha calls “Punjabi soul food.”

What you won’t find on the menu at Sambar is chicken tikka, but I doubt anyone will complain.