Sunday, April 11, 2010

Curry night.

Indian food is all about the correct use of spices, not everything has to be hot with chili, but everything is generally well spiced.
I have the spices I use most in my Masala Dabba (spice box).

In the box I have mustard seed, cumin, garam masala, onion seed, ginger powder, coriander seeds and turmeric.

I have lots more spices in a box under the counter, but these are my main ones and the ones I keep on my counter top.
I have always had a fascination in Indian food since as a kid in Saudi we had some really nice ones made for us by our Indian house boy of the time, a guy called Anthony. My 4 year old brother at the time used to taunt him to give him the hottest curries he could make, he still likes his food very spicy.
I was shopping one day in one of the Asian stores in the city centre when I saw an ad for Indian cookery lessons, so I decided to go. The instructor was a nice South African/Indian woman called Katayani. I did 5 or 6 lessons, I can't remember, each time she taught us something new. We started learning about how to make fresh paneer, and moved onto puri, roti and various vegetarian curries. I should mention that the cookery was all vegetarian and also based on Ayurvedic cookery, the lady is a Hindu so it was basically Hare Krishna food. I have to admit that while I have no problem with vegetarian food, the issue of not having onions or garlic in this style of cookery bothered me and I missed the flavours of them too much to stick with this in its pure style.
When she was teaching us she told us that to change it up for our taste, simply add garlic and onions and if we wanted just add meat. She gave me a very good grounding in cooking a good curry and a greater appreciation of vegetarian food. I'm afraid I can't be weaned off allums for any reason, so the garlic and onions stay. I believe the reason for leaving these out of the diet are simply to reduce wind when one is meditating, the buddhists avoid them for the same reason.
Another important element of this purely vegetarian diet is the asofetida powder, basically it's a gum from a tree that also helps reduce wind, don't overuse it, it's not called devils dung for no reason, a pinch is all you need in a veggie meal, it's foul sulphorous stuff.

This is the base for most Indian curries:

tsp black mustard seed
tsp cumin seed
tsp garam masala
2 tsp minced ginger
Fresh curry leaf (optional)
vegetable oil/mustard oil
green or red chilli to taste (I tend to use a lot )
1 small pinch asofetida (this is optional but very good for veggie curries as it reduces wind, be very careful, it stinks horribly and is very easy to over use)

(You can change any of the proportions of ingredients to suit your own tastes, if you like it more, or less, spicy.)

either a tin of tomatoes or a tin of coconut milk.

The above is the basis of Hare Krishna (brahmin) style Indian cookery which doesn't use garlic or onion, but I personally prefer to add them.

1 tsp Minced garlic
1 onion chopped

Indian cookery doesn't use stock, so any meat cooked should be on the bone, unless you poach chicken beforehand for example (if you precook meats, you really only reheat them through in the sauce, or they'll overcook).

Fry cumin and mustard seed in a tbsp of oil over a med/high heat until they start to spit and crackle, then add garam masala for 30 secs or so to toast a bit, then add ginger, curry leaf, chilli (and garlic and onion). Sweat onions down as normal (if you're using them), in the rest of the paste, until transparent. If you're using meat or veg add them at this point and brown as normal. Potatoes need to be fried in this paste, and browned gently, at this stage to keep them in cubes or they will go to pieces when boiled.
(the recipe thus far is the basis of pretty much all curries, you can make all sorts of variations yourself from this, such as adding dried fruits and nuts)

To this base you can add either the tin of tomatoes or coconut milk, or water just to make up some boiling broth. I find that fish goes very well with coconut milk (if using fish don't cook for long so as not to overcook the fish), tomato can go very well with the likes of neck of lamb and then cooked on a slow low heat.

That's more or less it, you can add anything really to this, to your own taste. Cooked potatoes, a tin of peas, chicken, fish, beef, lamb.

I did three curries yesterday evening as that's one of the things that I like about indian cookery, the thali which is a plate of mixed curries and rice or chapatis where you have small portions of a few different things.

I did up a Chicken curry with a tomato base, a vegetarian okra and potato curry and also a fish curry with coconut milk, the fish curry was only partially successful as I used some smoked coley we had there as one of the fish types as I needed to use it and the smokiness was not totally at home, but it wasn't bad at the same time.
To this I made simple boiled basmati rice, I'll do a post on making basmati as per an Indian housewives instruction at some point in the future too. Personally I've recently started to use a rice cooker and it makes things a lot easier.

One thing about my love of Indian cookery is that it actually doesn't extend to Coriander/Cilantro/Dhania leaves, I hate the stuff so I substitute it with Flat leaf parsley when I can get it and curley parsley when I can't.

I'll spend some time on chapatis to go with the curry the next time I do them and post how to do them, they're a nice addition to a plate of curries.
If anyone wants any specific recipes gimme a shout I can throw together an exact recipe for you from what I'd do myself. I could get more specific, but to be honest you need to experiment, but stay with the same base most of the time. I'll possibly do a post in the future with some actual recipes.

I'll shortly be posting about making a few dips that I'll be doing for a barbecue and meeting of homebrewers at the house here next weekend, I'll be doing some hummus and some garlic dip, both of which are pretty good and pretty easy.


  1. What? You hate coriander? Frank cooks a Suaheli dish called Dhania Chicken which is delicious but you would just hate it... One of our friends (who is also into beer brewing, curry cooking and speaking German...) gave me a basic curry recipe a long time ago, I think it's quite similar to yours from what I remember (not cooking curries anymore, that's Frank's job now):
    And this is how I cook my Basmati rice - learned this method from a Persian guy:

  2. I taste coriander as soap Sylke, I can't help it that I find it very unpleasant. The first time I tasted it I thought someone had not rinsed the dish and had left it full of soap suds. I have a very low threshold for it, if I taste one piece of it raw in a meal it can throw me off the whole meal, it's not so bad when it's cooked out in stuff, but I'd still rather avoid it, and liking Indian and Thai food kinda makes it a hard one to avoid totally.....

  3. Have to say I love Indian food as well. Myself and my wife spent a few weeks in India a couple of years ago and the food was fantastic, some of the authentic Indian food can be a bit extreme on our western palates, but we really liked it.

  4. Thanks Eoin, some great stuff there. I really should start making curry from scratch rather than with pastes.
    One question you said that coconut milk or a tin of toms are the normal liquid base but what else do they use? There are a lot of non tomato and non coconut curries, are they yoghurt or cream based?
    (BTW you should blog your Kiev recipe, that's a great one)

  5. You can use yoghurt, you can use cream, it just happens that I always have tomatos of some description cos it crosses over well as a base for pasta sauces and the coconut I have for my thai curries.
    Be careful adding either yoghurt or cream that you do them towards the end or you might split it and that gets ugly.
    Another thing that's used in soups and stuff, not sure if they also use it in curries is the liquid left over from making paneer, basically it's whey, I suppose you could use that too.
    I'll blog the kiev at some point in the future, I want to keep the output up on here so I have lots of stock things that I do that I can roll out as and when I do it the next time and take photos.
    Next in line is a fantastic hummus and a really really garliccy dip, I will be doing both for a get together at my place the coming weekend.

  6. Thx. I am a big hummus fan but I've never made it at home so I am looking forward to that one!

  7. Like soap? I would hate that too! Frank wasn't too keen on coriander initially either but then he surprised me with Dhania chicken which even I found very strong, almost to the point of not liking it. But it never tasted like soap to me. You either like it or hate it, similar to Marmite I guess.
    The first time I smelled asofoetida I thought I'm going to die, it was that pungent. Strangely that seems to have worn off or the quality of the asofoetida I've smelled since was simply not up to scratch. :)

  8. I googled a little and got this:
    Almost every­body would agree that the fruits’ aroma is pleasant. It is usually described warm, nutty and spicy; some even find or­ange-like qual­ity in it.

    There is, however, much dis­agree­ment about the flavour of co­riander leaves, roots and un­ripe fruits: Many people of Euro­pean her­itage find it dis­pleas­ing, soapy, like "burnt rubber" or even like crushed bed­bugs or the evil-smelling stink bugs living on rose bushes. There are, however, many Euro­peans who enjoy cori­ander leaves, and in Asia, Latin America and Africa, almost every­body loves them. These people would describe coriander leaves as fresh, green, tangy and even citrusy.

  9. crushed bed­bugs - no idea what that is, but it sounds really unpleasant... :)

  10. Nice post on the curries, like Aidan I'm now inspired to go and try some from scratch. Looking forward to the Hummus post - I tasted your Hummus and the Christening in Roscommon many moons ago, you did the Hangi the same night.. that might be worth a post also! I've a load of Kiki friends over here giving me advice on how to prepare one, I'm going to give it a go soon also.

    Really enjoy the blog..keep it coming!

  11. Thanks for that Vin, I'm not sure it's worth doing a post on the hangi without photos. It was pretty cool though, it's not everyday you get to do pit cooking.

  12. Dude, your ginger looks durty. Sounds good, must give it a whirl. I have a good daal recipe I got from another blogger.

  13. I do daal now and again too, not done it in a while though. The ginger was half peeled before I decided to take the shot :)