Stir-fried beets, Indian style (WHB: curry leaf)

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summary: recipe for South Indian Beets (stir-fried beets and curry leaves) from a recipe in SAVEUR; problems with photographing Indian food so it looks good; information about curry leaf (Murraya koenigii) and WHB; (click on image(s) for larger views and more photos)

Weekend Herb Blogging (WHB) #447??: Curry Leaf (Murraya koenigii)

Not long ago, I complained about the choice of words in SAVEUR magazine, specifically “The India Issue”. But I don’t think I was magnanimous enough to mention that in spite of their poor choice and/or distinct lack of words, they did get several things right.

beets One of those things was the “beetroot thoran” from Kerala on page 72. When we read about stir-frying beets with curry leaves and coconut, we knew we had to try it!

Because I can’t stop buying beet tops (j’adore stir-fried beet-tops!), we always have beets lying around in the bottom of the vegetable bin in the fridge. But we don’t always have curry leaf on hand.

One of the great things about living in Toronto is that we were able to put on our walking shoes and stroll a few blocks to one of our favourite Indian grocery stores and buy fresh curry leaves (Murraya koenigii) and beautiful fresh red chilies.

beets When we got home, it was almost time for dinner so into the kitchen we went. Who says that Indian food is time-consuming and hard to make?!

And who says you have to follow a recipe exactly? Here’s what we did to make this wonderful beet recipe:

South Indian Beets (stir-fried beets and curry leaves)
adapted from “Beetroot Thoran” in SAVEUR Magazine No.167

serves 2

  • 1 large beet, peeled and julienned ¹
  • splash of vegetable oil
  • 1 whole dried chile
  • 0.25 tsp each of whole nigella, cumin and/or brown mustard seeds
  • one inch piece ginger, chopped finely
  • 1 small onion, chopped finely
  • handful of curry leaves
  • handful of dried flaked coconut, UNsweetened
  • Kosher salt, to taste
  • pepper, optional
  • water, as needed
  • 0.25 tsp ground turmeric
  • 2 green (or red) Thai chiles, cut in coins
  1. Peel the beet and cut it into thin slices. Julienne those slices. (If you’re lazy, you can just cut the beets into thin half moons.)
  2. Put a stainless steel frying pan over medium heat and pour in oil. Add a whole dried cayenne chili and allow it to become quite dark brown (watch for burning – it sends hot fumes throughout the kitchen!)
  3. As the chile is beginning to turn dark, add nigella, cumin and/or mustard (or any of those three).
  4. When the seeds begin to pop, add the onions and ginger and fry until the onions just begin to turn golden.
  5. Stir in the curry leaves and cook for 30 seconds.
  6. Add the julienned beet, salt, and pepper (if desired) to the onion mixture. Stir that around for about 1 minute. Stir in coconut and stir for about 1 minute more. Then add turmeric and stir for 30 seconds. Immediately throw in a splash of water to prevent the turmeric from burning. Add the chile coins. Continue cooking until the beets are tender. You might want to add a few more splashes of water but be aware that you don’t want to end up with a soupy dish. The water should be evaporated before serving.
  7. Lower the heat to a bare simmer, stirring occasionally before serving. (You can also make this in advance and reheat it.)


1.) Beets The SAVEUR recipe inexplicably instructs people to par-cook everything first:

Bring beets, turmeric, chiles, onion, and 1 cup water to a boil in a 4-qt. saucepan. Reduce heat to medium; cook, covered, until beets are just tender, about 20 minutes.
-SAVEUR recipe for beet thoran from Kerala

Please note that unless you like your beets to be mushy and tasteless, par-cooking is entirely unnecessary.

Indian Feast We feasted on Goan Shrimp Curry (also from SAVEUR’s India Issue), Keralan Beets, Green Bean Masala – really, remind me to tell you about this green bean dish; we can’t stop making it, Dahl and rice. Of course, with rice. Needless to say, we ate like a raja and rani.

Dinner, as usual, was spectacularly delicious.

Photographing Indian Food

It’s really not easy to photograph Indian food and manage not to have it end up looking just a bit like dog’s breakfast! Too bad we didn’t have a banana leaf to place our feast on. Western style china just doesn’t do the wonderful flavours justice, does it?

WHB #447??: Curry Leaf (Murraya koenigii)

weekend herb blogging - © kalyns kitchen Curry Leaf Curry leaf Murraya koenigii (not to be confused with the rather unpleasant smelling curry plant Helichrysum italicumis!) is used throughout Southeast Asia and is an essential ingredient in South Indian cooking. I adore its earthy flavour and distinctive pleasant aroma. There really is nothing like it.

It’s generally available in Indian grocery stores – either in the area with the vegetables or in the refrigerator. I’ve always seen it sold on its branches. The leaves tend to dry out quite quickly, so it’s a good idea to use them all immediately and/or freeze them in a well sealed container. (Pull the leaves off the branches first. Or, if you are lazy, you can leave them right on the branches if you have room for a tree in your freezer.)

If the clerk in the Indian store you go into doesn’t recognize the name “curry leaf”, you could try asking for karipatta, mitha nim, or mitha neem patta.

Curry leaf can be grown in a pot but it is not the easiest plant to grow in North America. In most of Canada, if not all, it must be brought indoors to overwinter. Curry leaf is a slow grower and likes sun and warmth and rich soil. As soon as the night temperatures even vaguely approach freezing (my rule of thumb is when the night temperature goes below 10C), it must be brought indoors. A University of Oklahoma site says that the night temperatures shouldn’t go below 18C. For about two years, I had a plant that I got from Richters, but the leaves remained very very small (virtually unusable) and alas, under the care (ha!) of my black thumb, the tiny treeling died.

There are major restrictions on curry leaf’s import and export because curry leaf is in the Rutaceae (citrus) family. Please note that it is not the easiest plant to get here (don’t even think about trying to root a branch purchased from the grocery store; it has likely been irradiated). However, the plant is available (but not to USA customers) to buy online:

Murraya koenigii
Uses: Culinary
Duration: Perennial (hardy in zones 11+)
(Mitha-neem) The fresh curryleaf provides the distinctive flavour of South Indian and Sri Lankan cooking. Anyone who has had the good fortune to savour dosas — thin pancakes with a spicy curryleaf-drenched filling — will know how wonderful this herb is. It is also a feature of Cambodian, Loatian, Thai, Indonesian and Malay cuisines. Best used fresh, the leaves of this shrub or small tree have a strong curry aroma when bruised. The leaves are best added to curries at the last stage of cooking. A typical South Indian curry is made with mustard seeds, shallots and fresh curryleaf. Medicinally, the leaves and other parts of the plant are used for constipation, colic and diarrhea. Curryleaf requires a minimum temperature of 15-18C, sun or partial shade, and moist, rich soil.
Due to USDA restrictions curryleaf cannot be shipped to the U.S.
-Otto Richter and Sons Limited, CurryLeaf, (page accessed September 2014)

Please read more about curry leaf:

I was going to submit this post for WHB but alas, it looks like it is still on holiday. For complete details about Weekend Herb Blogging, please see the following:


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This entry was posted in 'Saveur' Magazine review, cookbooks, etc., food & drink, Indian, posts with recipes, spicy, vegetables, vegetarian, whine on by .

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