Turn up the heat up with these herbs and spices for homegrown curry pastes – with help from expert growers
A teaspoon of shop-bought curry paste or a pinch of powder was considered ‘doing a curry’ by many of us 30 years ago – with those who created their own spice mix considered really adventurous.
Now that we all crave those authentic heady aromas and piquant flavours that come from using fresh ingredients, supermarkets shelves have become stacked with spices to enhance our dhals and dhansaks. But with most of these sub tropical natives flown half way around the world to reach us, the food miles can be harder to swallow.
One way to slash your spice footprint, and strengthen the flavour of your curry pastes is by growing youthful handfuls yourself. Many of the supposed ‘exotics’ such as kaffir lime and ginger can be grown here…
Mint. Garden designer Nic Wilson, who blogs at dogwooddays.net, recommends this easy to propagate herb for raita. “Cut off a 2cm piece of root, place just under the compost in a pot and water, and within a couple of weeks you should have a new plant,” says Nic. “I tend to grown on in pots rather than in the ground as they can become invasive, and they like to be kept well-watered.”
Kaffir Lime. This requires a warm spot to thrive and can be grown for its leaves as well as its fruit. “All you need is space for a pot on your windowsill,” says Nic. “I’ve grown one in the kitchen for several years and as long as you give it regular citrus feeds throughout the summer and keep the soil moist, it rewards you with aromatic leaves all year round.”
Ginger. Cookery school founder Bini Ludlow, at Sweetcumin.co.uk, likes to grow herbs and spices for her Gujarati-inspired recipes, passed down to her from her West Indian family. She grows ginger from knobbly off-cuts from the supermarket. She recommends breaking off a 2cm piece with plenty of shooting eyes (small yellow tips) and planting just below the surface of some potting compost. Cover with a bag and keep warm on a windowsill and in a few weeks green shoots will appear. “Each eye will grow into a plant,” says Bini. “And you can harvest after eight months when the leaves start to die.” Alternatively, you can also grow ginger root as ‘stem ginger’ – a sweeter, younger version of the fiery old spice, which can be eaten fresh.
Turmeric. Like ginger, this can be grown from the rhizome and, if potted up – and kept at around 20C – it will sprout from nodules within 4-5 weeks. Uncover and grow on indoors, and use the roots and dried leaves in curry pastes.
Lemongrass. Sow from seed, or find healthy looking stalks at the supermarket and pop them into water. Change the water regularly and after a few weeks roots should develop, and you can pot up into containers of gritty compost. Harvest in September and bring indoors to overwinter. The whole leaf can be used, not just the thick stem. Finely dice or crush and add to curries, teas and even your bath!