Playwrights are like men who have been dining for a month in an Indian restaurant. After eating curry night after night, they deny the existence of asparagus.
– Peter Ustinov
Recently my sister asked for some curry recipes. Now, when I think of curry, I automatically think of yellow curry powder. Looking at the ingredients list on my package of curry powder, I see that curry powder is really just a blend of common spices.
What is Curry Powder?
In fact, curry powder can also be called garam (“hot”) masala (“mixture”) which is a common Indian term for a blend of toasted, ground spices. Although the basic ingredients for this spice mixture are almost always the same, proportions can change. Originally, every Indian cook had their own unique combinations, and so the ingredients and flavours varied from home to home and from region to region.
Here in Canada, curry powder found in grocery stores has become fairly standardized. My particular packages lists these ingredients:
Other ingredients that might be found in curry mixtures include:
- red pepper
- fennel seeds
- caraway seeds
- mustard seeds
- black pepper
Some of these ingredients are, I’m sure, familiar to everyone. However, other ingredients are a bit more exotic, so I thought it would be nice to find more information.
Turmeric is a plant in the ginger family, the roots (rhizomes) are boiled, dried in hot ovens, and finally ground into a deep yellow powder. This is what gives curry powder its distinctive colour.
Coriander is an annual herb. All parts dried seeds, leaves (also called cilantro) and the roots of the coriander plant are edible. The dried seeds are toasted and ground in curry powder.
Cumin is a plant in the parsley family. It has been said that cumin is the second most popular spice in the world after black pepper. The dried seeds are toasted and ground in curry powder.
Fenugreek is an annual clover-like herb. The hard seeds (or beans) may be brown, red, or yellow.
Cooking with Curry
Okay, that’s what curry powder is, but how do you cook with it? I guess most commonly, it used used in combination with other ingredients such as tomato sauce, yogurt or coconut milk in making sauces for meat or vegetable dishes. One simple example would be a quick chicken curry as described below. Remember though, curry powder is just another ingredient and you can use it in anyway that you think tastes good. I actually like the taste of curry and so I add a bit of curry powder to my chicken soup. I also like to add a bit of curry powder when I make deviled eggs. Curry powder is also an excellent addition to biscuits and dumplings.
One last note. Sometimes you hear about recipes that call for curry paste. Curry paste is similar to curry powder in that it is a mixture of spices. The difference is that curry paste also uses fresh herbs.
So, tell me, do you have a favourite curry recipe?
– 3 lbs chicken parts, skin removed
– 1 medium onion, sliced
– 2 garlic cloves, minced
– 1 can (796 ml or 28 oz) tomato sauce
– 1 tbsp curry powder
– cooking oil
In a dutch oven, heat the oil. Add the chicken, browning all sides. Add the onion, cooking until it starts to turn brown. Add the remaining ingredients. Cover with a lid, and simmer for about 40 minutes.