Monday, February 11, 2013

Green leaves of spice--Cabbage and Corn Stir Fry

Vegetables are my all time favorite. In my book, they are as essential as the right shoe to the left, the rose to the thorn, or even the butter on my toast. So very few of my meals are eaten sans these wholesome nuggets of health. Albeit some of them might be carb busters, for example, the humble potato, which reigns supreme in whichever kitchen I choose to cook. At any given time there are more vegetables in the house than meat. All, yes, all vegetables have a firm foothold in my heart, from the lowly okra to the much reviled cabbage.

The crisper drawer reveals an abundance of green. I choose cabbage. It should make for a delicious stir fry, a tasty accompaniment to the spicy mutton curry and rice. I find some ears of corn. The spices come next. Long fingered green chiles beckon. I inhale the aroma from a bunch of fresh green cilantro. I rummage for kadhipatta, tucked away in a corner. I am happy to peel off some leaves from a stalk as it will be the most flavorful addition to the cabbage stir fry. Curry leaves or  Murraya koenigii, as it is botanically known, is what I am looking for. In my mind I think this euphemism is not quite right. These leaves are not yellow, as is the color of curry - they have no curry flavor, just a crisp spicy fragrance when they are crumpled. They are the subte flavoring in the curry or dal or stir fry.

The complexities of Regional Indian cuisine vary as you become familiar with the differences. North Indians haven't much use for curry leaves whereas South Indians use them liberally. West Coast cuisine also incorporates the leaves as a spice accent and an ingredient in its ground masalas. Not only is it a culinary herb but medicinal too. There is even talk about its properties as a cure for diabetes!

I have one such plant, one of the few survivors of the recent flood in my house. It sits in a sunny corner, valiantly sprouting green sprigs, a gift given to me by another kadhipatta aficionado, my Aunty Oreen. She has a mini  kadhipatta plantation on her window sill!  A few of her past gifts haven't survived harsh New York winters, so I am determined to coddle my plant. I leave the pot to flourish in the sunlight, keeping it pristine and untouched as I choose to buy my leaves at the local Indian grocer. They are sold wrapped in cellophane, a slim packet filled with leaves attached to stalks. The packet has a tendency to make itself invisible in my crisper. Despite refrigeration, the leaves do not have a long shelf life.

Cabbage and Corn Stir Fry 
Serves 4 people 

1/2 head of Cabbage
2 ears of Corn
2 tablespoons Canola oil
1/2 teaspoon Mustard seeds
2 Garlic cloves
10 Curry leaves
1 Green chile
1/4 teaspoon Turmeric powder
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon Sugar
2 tablespoons Cilantro

Core cabbage and slice into small shreds. The thinner the shreds, the crisper the stir fry.

Shuck corn cobs and remove the silky threads. Hold the corn in a shallow bowl. Grasp corn at the stem end and hold the cob at an angle. Run a sharp knife down the sides to remove the kernels. The bowl helps to keep the corn from flying all over the counters.

Slice garlic cloves into thin slivers.

Wash curry leaves and dry them well.

Chop green chile into a fine dice.

Chop cilantro finely.

In a saucepan, heat oil on a medium flame for 3 minutes.

Scatter mustard seeds into the hot oil. Watch out! The seeds will splutter and scatter.

Add the curry leaves, garlic, green chile, turmeric powder, cabbage and corn. Stir well to coat vegetables with spices.

Season with salt, sugar and cilantro. Mix well.

Cover saucepan and saute for 3 minutes.

Uncover and fry for 5 minutes.

At this point the stir fry tastes its best.

You could make it ahead of time and reheat to serve too.


I use fresh corn because I like the crunchy texture. I have also easily substituted frozen corn. Just add the frozen kernels and cook them a bit longer.

You could cut the green chilies in half and remove the seeds and white membrane if you do not like the heat. Or just leave it out. The stir fry will still taste good!

I really do not know of any substitute for curry leaves. For me, it means making a special trip to an Indian grocery store, but believe me, it is worth it as you will enjoy the taste the leaves impart. Patel Brothers carries them in the NYC area. They are edible but most people don't eat them.

The much maligned cabbage is tucked into with great relish. The curry leaves are heaped on the side of my plate. After all they are a spicy accent, meant to flavor and savor.