The word “curry” is kind of a funny thing. Westerners think of it as an Indian dish, but apparently, if you ask someone from India about curry, they won’t know what you’re talking about. Or at least it won’t be a “thing” to them.
Not that they don’t eat what we call “curry” in India. It’s just more a cooking method than a dish. Or so I gather.
There was a Thai place near our house that we were ordering take out on Sundays, and they had a couple different curries that we ordered just to have for lunches during the week. It seemed dumb to be spending take out side dish prices for a cup of curry when I could be making it.
I started doing research, but was quickly intimidated by recipes because every one was different, and they didn’t make it clear what was essential and what was optional. So here is what I’ve figured out.
The core of curry is a mixture of spices, called garam masala. I’ve read that there are as many garam masala recipes as there are cooks, so there’s not a standard combination.
Curry is essentially a sauce that is built on a base of onion, garlic, and ginger. This part seems pretty standard, kind of an Indian version of mirepoix (onions, garlic, and celery – a common French sauce base).
The spices are mixed with this base, and some combination of tomatoes, chicken or vegetable stock, coconut milk, and yogurt.
The sauce usually has various chopped vegetables and/or meat cooked in it.
This obviously allows for all kinds of variations, hence all the different recipes. So here is what I ended up making:
- 2 tablespoons cardamom seeds
- 2 tablespoons coriander seeds
- 2 tablespoons black peppercorns
- 1 tablespoon cumin seeds
- 1 tablespoon mustard seeds
- 20 cloves
- 1 stick cinnamon, broken into pieces
- 1 dried chile de arbol, stemmed, seeded, and crumbled
- 1 teaspoon nutmeg, freshly ground
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- Roast the first eight ingredients (everything but the nutmeg, salt, and ground pepper) in a pan over high heat for a few minutes (until it smells really good and the seeds start popping).
- Cool for 5 minutes.
- Grind everything together.
- Makes enough for several batches of curry. Store in a cool, dark place.
- 1 pound meat (pork tenderloin, beef, chicken), cubed
- 4 tablespoons garam masala (see recipe above)
- 1 large onion, diced
- 4 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
- 2 teaspoons ginger root, peeled and finely chopped
- 2 Serrano chiles, stemmed, seeded, and finely chopped
- 1 box or large can of chopped tomatoes (I used Pomi chopped tomatoes – see notes in Tomato Sauce recipe)
- 1 can (13.5 ounce) coconut milk
- 1 carrot, diced
- 1 potato, diced
- Season meat with 2 tablespoons of the garam masala and cook – I like cooking the meat sous vide.
- Heat a couple tablespoons of oil (I prefer safflower oil, but any neutral high-heat oil will do) in a sauce pan in medium-high heat.
- Sauté garlic, ginger, and chiles in the oil until they smell good (a minute or two).
- Add onion and 2 tablespoons of the garam masala to the pan, reduce heat to medium, and sauté until the onions start to soften and turn translucent (5-10 minutes).
- Add tomatoes and stir until the sauce starts to bubble and reduce heat to a simmer.
- Stir in the coconut milk, carrots and potatoes.
- Simmer long enough to cook the vegetables, stirring occasionally.
- Stir in cooked meat, and simmer until ready to serve over rice or noodles.
Makes about 8 servings.
The longer the curry simmers, the more the flavors mix and the better it tastes, but you may want to partially cover the pan to avoid reducing it too much.