Indian food today is synonymous with curry and naan. The term "curry" was coined by the British (origins: “kari,” a South Indian term for gravy) in the 19th century to refer to a gravy dish seasoned with spices native to Indian subcontinent.
Another popular misconception introduced by the Britsh influence is the use of “curry powder” to create the Indian flavor to a dish. Although it has some of the basic Indian spices, curry powder is not true to Indian cooking. The right taste to a dish is not derived just from the mix of spices, but in fact, the timing of introducing these spices into the mix. So, as one of my objectives, I like to help my students toss away pre-made curry powder and teach them how to use individual spices confidently!
Breaking down the Curry (AKA Curry 101)
Feature Ingredients/Proteins: This can be poultry, meat, seafood, or even plain simple vegetables or beans. The choice of protein determines the time taken to prep the dish as well as its overall look. You can create a chicken or a garbanzo curry using the same basic ingredients.
Basic Curry Spices: For a simple everyday curry, all you need are the basic spices – cumin, turmeric, coriander, cayenne, and garam masala.
Texture Ingredients: The following ingredients can determine if your curry is smooth or coarse in texture, or if it is rich and creamy. Of course, they will also alter the taste of your curry.
Nuts & Seeds pureed
Flavor Enhancing Ingredients
These include aromatics that will determine the overall flavor of your dish:
Souring Agents in a Curry
The overall taste of a dish is created by balancing the amount of savory and tart flavors. The below list includes most of the ingredients that are used in a curry to render the tart element. At any given time, a cook may chose to employ one of the following:
Dry Mango powder
Recipe: Basic Chicken Curry (feeds 6-8 people)
2 tsp. whole cumin seeds (crush them a little in mortar)
2 tsp. cumin powder
2 tsp. turmeric powder
1 tsp. cayenne powder
2 tsp. paprika
4 tsp. coriander powder
1 kashmiri whole chili soaked in water
2 tsp. dry mango powder
2 tsp. garam masala
2 medium sized onions, peeled & roughly chopped
5 large garlic cloves, peeles& roughly chopped
3” knob of fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
1 bunch cilantro , stems separated from leaves, reserve both.
2 large ripe tomatoes, diced
1c. tomato sauce from can
1/3 c. cashews soaked in 1/4 c. milk or water
1/2 c. vegetable oil
2lbs. Boneless chicken breast or thigh or combination cut into 2” pieces.
1. Combine cashews and Kashmiri whole chili in a blender along with the liquid and blend to a puree. Set aside for later use.
2. Combine onion, garlic and ginger in the blender and puree into a smooth consistency.
3. Separately, puree the chopped tomatoes with the stems of the cilantro. Set aside.
4. In a high-sided pan (or pot if you so desire), warm half the oil on medium-high heat. Add the chicken pieces, brown on all sides, and then transfer them to a bowl.
5. In the same pan, add the rest of the oil. Once heated, add the cumin seeds. As they start to crackle, add the onion-ginger-garlic paste (from step #2). Sauté until the mix turns golden brown. Add turmeric, cayenne, and coriander powders. Let them sauté a bit and then add the tomatoes. Cook until the tomatoes are well incorporated with the rest of the components (appx. 15 min). When you notice the oil separating from the “masala,” you are ready to move on to the next step.
6. Pour in the cashew-chili paste (from step #1). With an immersion blender, blend the masala into a very smooth consistency (you can skip this step if you don’t care for a super smooth gravy as home cooked Indian curry generally has a slightly coarse consistency).
7. Add chicken pieces and stir until the masala coats them thoroughy. Season with salt to taste.
8. Add about one cup of water to the pan. Bring it to boil and then reduce to a gentle simmer. When the chicken is tender, turn the heat off. 9. Add some garam masala powder and dry mango powder. Cover and let the dish rest for some time.
10. When ready to serve, transfer to a bowl and garnish with chopped cilantro, julienned ginger and a slice of lemon.
Basic Indian Daal (Lentil) Preparation (Serves 6-8)
1 c. Whole brown (masoor) lentils
6 c. water
1tsp. turmeric powder
2 medium sized tomatoes chopped
salt to taste
3-4 tbsp. ghee
1 c. finely chopped onions
1 tbsp. minced garlic cloves
1 tbsp. minced ginger
1 tbsp. whole cumin seeds
1 tsp. cayenne or paprika powder
1/3 c. tomato paste (optional)
2 red chili pods whole
1. Wash and soak the lentils for about an hour. Discard the water.
2. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add the lentils. Add salt, turmeric and the tomatoes.
3. Cover and let the lentils cook until they become soft.
4. Once soft, mash a little bit with a spoon. Turn the heat off and let it rest.
5. Place a separate pan on medium heat. Add the ghee. Once heated, add the cumin seeds and whole chili pods. Very quickly add the onions, garlic and ginger. Sauté until translucent.
6. Add tomato puree and stir for a few seconds. Pour on the cooked lentils and cover with a lid so that the flavors can infuse in the lentils.
When ready to serve, squeeze juice from a lemon. Mix it into the lentil. Transfer to to the individual bowls and garnish with cilantro.
Lentil fun fact: The consistency of the lentil dish varies from stew like to soup like. You can decide your favorite type.