Whether it’s austerity cutting into your wallet or concerns about the mileage of your food, now is a great time to join the grow-at-home craze. The Department for Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) reported that the number of UK home growers are beginning to sprout upwards: 2.7% of all food eaten at home was homegrown in 2012. A year later, that figure grew to 3.5%.
Growing your own food is nourishment for the soul as well as the stomach. The satisfaction of using your own coriander seeds in a homemade curry powder will not only give you a sense of achievement, but you can be safe in the knowledge that you’ve avoided nasty pesticides, too.
Ubiquitous across the curry spectrum, coriander makes a versatile companion and great-looking garnish for Indian and other Asian dishes. Coriander seeds and leaves are both useful ingredients – growing for the former is slightly trickier, since coriander is notorious for ‘bolting’ (running to seed) quickly.
- You may like: How to host the perfect curry night at home
Fresh coriander leaves have a refreshing and mellow lemon-lime flavour, and are best introduced towards the end of cooking. To grow coriander for leaves, find a warm spot – sunny windowsills are perfect – and sow seeds thickly in a tray filled with good compost. When the plant germinates and begins to sprout leaves, clip these leaves off before too long to avoid the plant running to seed. If it is the seeds you’re after, however, wait until small white flowers have appeared and the seeds produced have turned brown. Dry in the sunshine, then store in a sterilised container.
Refreshing and mellow: Coriander leaves work well as both a key ingredient and as a garnish
Coriander is generally quick to germinate, and to keep a constant supply of leaves, it’s advisable to sow a new supply roughly every fortnight.
Though curry leaves are becoming more readily available in supermarkets, buying plastic pouches often results in a squidgy mess at the back of your fridge after using a few and neglecting the remainder. Having a Murraya koenigii tree around will mean you’ll have a constant supply, however.
Several online retailers, including Plants4Presents, offer young specimens for the home grower to cultivate. While the plants are fairly easy to look after, a few key details will keep them in good health. The plants are native to jungles, which means you’ll have to keep them indoors during winter and out of direct sunlight, as in their natural habitat they grow close to the forest floor.
Curry leaves aren’t to be confused with curry powder. The leaves of murraya koenigii can be blitzed with coconut, chillies and tamarind to make an authentic south Indian paste, or quickly fried with mustard seed and cumin to make a flavour-enhancing spice mixture.
For the novice grower, chillies are a great place to start. They’re a versatile ingredient and forgiving to amateur growers. It’s best to sow from seed in the winter – chillies sown in January should be ready for picking by July.
After you’ve bought your seeds, sow one to a cell in a multi-cell seed tray, moisten and cover with a thin layer of compost. During this time, a warm environment out of direct sunlight (like an airing cupboard) will encourage growth.
Feel the heat: Chillies are forgiving to amateur growers
You should see signs of growth within 2-4 weeks. After the seedlings have sprouted, transfer the tray to a windowsill and begin watering from below to stimulate root growth. When a second set of leaves has sprouted, transfer to 7cm pots of moist compost and feed every week with a tomato feed.
Take the plants outside as the weather gets warmer, and continue transferring to larger pots as the plants grow, until they’ve reached a height of around 30cm. At this time, your chillies should begin to flower and produce fruit. To encourage growth throughout the season, clip some of the first fruits when they are still green.
India is the world’s largest producer of chilli peppers, and they feature in more or less every style of curry, to varying degrees. Rather than subjecting yourself to ‘torture by spice’, try adding whole chillies to oil as you fry ingredients, then removing before serving. Drying and grinding your chillies will also make a versatile powder which you can shake into sauces and rub into meats before frying or grilling.
Though spices tend to prefer a tropical climate, cumin is one spice which will tolerate the kind of temperate atmosphere the UK affords. Cumin is traditionally grown in the Middle East, where daytime temperatures rarely drop below 20°C, but will still thrive in a sunny, sheltered spot on a patio, or on a sunny windowsill.
It’s best to begin cultivating cumin indoors: sow the seeds in a large pot large enough to raise the plants until they are mature, thin the seedlings once germinated and water regularly until flowers begin to appear. They will be pink at first – wait until the flowers turn yellow and dry them in a dish in sunlight. There is no specific time when all the flowers turn, so you’ll need to keep an eye out every day as this begins to take place. After the flowers have dried, you will be left with brown seeds – transfer to a sterilised jar and use to create your own pastes and powders.
Famously, cumin is a key ingredient in tandoori chicken. If you’re able to dry and grind your seeds, dry fry along with chilli powder, turmeric and sweet paprika , add to yoghurt and use as a marinade for bone-in chicken before cooking in the oven at a high temperature. Cumin can also be used a side in yoghurt – as a cooling raita.
We hope you’ll have a go at growing your own herbs and spices – but when time is a priority, you can be sure that Cafe Asia’s snack foods use authentic, fresh ingredients. Check out our product list to find out more!