Much Ado About Curries

February 03, 2015 posted in Herb and Spice Bible

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.

My Basic Curry Tips Are:

  • Make your own curry spice mix from scratch as it is a fun thing to do.
  • Dry roast the spices for a rich full-bodied flavour for red meats. However do not roast the spices when used for delicate flavours such as fish, vegetable and lentil curries.
  • Experiment with different spice combinations to suit your own taste preferences.
  • Let meat curries cook long and slow, 2 or more hours at 125 degrees C.

Madras Curry Powder

This is your default curry powder to use when recipes simply say to add a quantity of curry powder.

  • 7 tsp (35 mL) ground coriander seed
  • 3 tsp (15 mL) ground cumin
  • 3 tsp (15 mL) ground turmeric
  • 1 tsp (5 mL) ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp (2 mL) ground yellow mustard seed
  • 1/2 tsp (2 mL) ground fenugreek seed
  • 1/2 tsp (2 mL) ground cinnamon
  • 3/4 tsp (3 mL) freshly ground black pepper
  • 1⁄4 tsp (1 mL) ground cloves
  • 1⁄4 tsp (1 mL) ground cardamom seed
  • 1⁄4 tsp (1 mL) ground chili (more or less to taste)

Makes: 17 tsp (85 mL)

Herbie’s Saturday Curry
Serves 4

  • 2 tbsp Madras curry powder
  • 2 tbsp oil
  • 1 tbsp panch phora
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1lb lamb leg, cut into 1-inch (2.5 cm) cubes
  • 2 tsp lemon juice
  • 1 can (14 oz/398 mL) whole tomatoes, in juice
  • 1-2 cups water
  • 2 tsp garam masala
  • 2 tsp chaat masala
  • 3 long dried red chilies
  • 2 tbsp large dried garlic flakes
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste
  • 8 fresh or dried curry leaves
  • 1 tsp methi (dried fenugreek leaves)
  1. Heat a heavy based pan or Dutch oven on the stove, add curry powder and dry roast, stirring continuously with a wooden spoon for around 2 minutes, being careful not to burn.
  2. Add oil and make into a paste.
  3. Add panch phora and stir until seeds start popping.
  4. Add onion and stir for 2 minutes, do not overcook and let burn.
  5. Add meat, about 6 pieces at a time, making sure each piece is browned and coated with spices.
  6. Add lemon juice and tomatoes, roughly chopping tomatoes while stirring.
  7. Sprinkle garam masala and chaat masala over surface and drop in whole chillies and garlic flakes.
  8. Add tomato paste, curry leaves and methi, stir and turn off heat. Place lid on and put in oven for 2 hours or until tender.
  9. Serve immediately, or for best results, allow to cool, store in fridge and heat and serve next day.
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