Much Ado About Curries
Curries are one of my favourite ways to enjoy spices, and here’s why;
Ever since my first visit to India in 1986 I have been addicted to curries. Contrary to popular opinion, my love for curries is based on their wonderful complexity of flavours, and the spicy heat hit takes a backseat on this taste adventure.
Besides dining or getting take-away from one’s favourite Indian restaurant, to me there is nothing more satisfying than making one’s own curry from scratch at home. I never use commercial curry pastes as they are simply spices with oil, water, preservatives and other ingredients to bulk them out. The result in my opinion is a curry that is far more acidic and less appealing than one made from all natural ingredients at home.
Although it may not be 100% authentic, I like to make my own curry powder blend (listed below).
The notion of a curry powder is believed to have originated in India where the locals would have simply referred to it as masala, which means a mix. Colonials wishing to replicate the exotic flavours of the sub-continent after being posted back home would have simplified these masalas into what we now call curry powders. They are made into powders for convenience, because many of the spices are hard in texture and require pounding or breaking up to yield their flavours and aromas. A basic description of a curry could be a spicy casserole; however, I prefer to think of it as a blend of sweet, pungent, hot and amalgamating spices that can be mixed in literally hundreds of different proportions to make a curry to suit a particular taste preference. This may take into account complementing particular foods; for instance, beef might require a stronger-flavoured curry than fish or lentils.
The principal components of a basic Madras style of Indian curry powder are the “sweet” spices, similar to what is found in a mixed spice: cinnamon, allspice and nutmeg. Pungent spices such as cloves, cardamom and cumin add depth of character, while hot spices such as chilli, pepper, and bitter fenugreek give it bite. These all come together in harmony with the addition of amalgamating spices: fennel, coriander seed (very important) and turmeric.
A popular and interesting technique when making a curry is to roast the spices. This modifies the flavour and adds another fascinating spectrum to the art of making curry powder. The traditional method is to roast the whole spices and then grind them all together. Each spice is roasted for different lengths of time depending upon the flavour required. For example, over-roasting fenugreek can create extremely bitter, unpleasant notes.
The easy way to roast spices at home is to put whatever curry powder you prefer into a dry heated frying pan or the saucepan/casserole the curry is to be made in. The pan must be dry with no oil, as the natural oils in the spices will prevent them from sticking or burning. Keep the powder moving around so it toasts evenly, and as it starts to change color (probably in 30–60 seconds) and gives off a toasted spice aroma, remove it from the heat. This may be then be used as the base for making a curry or allowed to cool before storing it in a jar for later use.