by Kathy Nida
I was at a friend’s house and he was complaining about the delicious smells wafting from a neighbor’s window. “I just don’t like curry,” he said. Wait, what? You don’t like what?
Curry…mmmm…that complicated smell and flavor that so enhances meat, vegetables, and rice. Honestly, anything tastes better with curry in it. I’m about to knock on the neighbor’s door and ask for a sample.
I had my first curry meal in Wales, living abroad, missing Mexican food like any good California girl. It wasn’t even anything fancy, just a cheap Indian takeaway late at night, but I was hooked. First of all, that complicated taste with a distinct hint of cumin was the closest I could get to the tacos and enchiladas back home. But as I continued to sample better Indian food as I traveled, I realized curry in general was very different from the Mexican food I was used to eating.
When I moved back home, I had the harder task of trying to reconstruct Indian meals and spices with the very few options available back then. There were no local Indian restaurants, so I had to wait for trips back to the UK for really good curry. I’m lucky now to live near a few authentic Indian restaurants, but even more important, I can buy naan bread and a variety of curry spices just down the street. So I can simmer any meat in a curry sauce with some vegetables, toss it over hot rice, and have a simple but delicious meal ready in a short time.
My local Indian market carries a variety of curry spices from all over, including garam masala, its close cousin. There’s that chili spice, sometimes a 4 and sometimes a 10 on the spice-o-meter. I didn’t know until I had tasted many different versions of the spice that curry wasn’t just like cinnamon or pepper, but that it contained many spices, most notably coriander, turmeric, and cumin. Different regions focus on the spices available there, and local tastes determine what you will get for dinner.
But let’s say you’re on a deserted island and you forgot your spice stash. Or you’re tired of paying top market for spices. Make your own curry powder mix!
• 3 tsp turmerics
• 3 tsp coriander seeds or 3 or 4 tsp ground coriander
• 1/2 tsp whole cardamom seeds, hulled (i.e., get the ones that are not inside the papery pods, which are a nuisance)
• 2 to 4 tsp cumin seeds
• 1/2 tsp ground fenugreek
• 1/4 tsp whole cloves
• 1/2 stick cinnamon
• 1 tsp dry, ground ginger
• 1/3 tsp yellow or black mustard seeds
• 1/2 tsp whole white peppercorns (black would probably do)
• 1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
Measure the ingredients into a blender jar. When everything is loaded into the blender, turn the machine to high and pulverize the bedoodles out of the stuff. It should be reduced to a fine, fragrant powder, with no chips of seeds left.
I’ve bought many of these spices at Penzey’s, an upscale gourmet store, because I didn’t want to drive all over the city. However, if you have some time on your hands, many of the ingredients can be found much more cheaply at Asian or Mexican ethnic markets. Many, too, are packaged by American companies and retailed at ordinary supermarkets. So, by way of stocking up frugally, take a few days and seek out these goodies at decent prices. Try to get whole seeds, which make a much more fragrant, vibrantly flavored product.
Cumin is the dominant flavor of curry. I used four teaspoons because I happen to like it quite a lot. However, if it’s not your favorite flavor or you’d like to accent one or more of the other flavors, you could cut it back to two teaspoons.
Many U.S. recipes ask for white peppercorns. However, the peppercorns and the red pepper are there only to give the curry a little “hot” kick, for which ordinary black pepper will do just fine. Regulate the amount you put in according to your taste for heat.
Same for the mustard seeds, which also add zing.
Turmeric is what gives curry its classic yellow color. It stains—don’t wear white clothing when you’re working with it, and be aware that it can stain tile grout. If this is a concern, cover the work counter with wax paper before beginning.
Use your product in any recipe that calls for curry powder. Curry powder per se is not especially authentic but is an artifact of the British Empire. That notwithstanding, it’s delicious in just about any kind of food you choose.
The natural foods diet and cookbook 30 Pounds/4 Months has some hints for finding spices. Once you’ve made your own curry powder, you can find a recipe in 30 Pounds/4 Months for Curried Quinoa Pilaf or Impromptu Shrimp Curry. There’s also a mouth-watering recipe for Curry Puffs, one where you might have to make a double batch to make up for the ones you were taste-testing as you cooked.
Curry spices, © jag_cz
Pumpkin curry, © sarsmis