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Sunday, September 29, 2013

Indian curry powders

We love curry.
We eat Indian styles of curry on a regular basis, almost weekly, whether chicken or beef or bean, mild or hotter, cream or broth or tomato based sauces. Like French food, a good curry dish is all about the sauce, although Indian food uses a wide variety of spices and in a totally different manner. Like Italian food, curry generally falls into a cream or tomato based sauce. But it's still all about the sauce, which means that the right spice blend really helps to make or break a curry.

There are loads of ways you can go about blending your own spices. Whole or powdered, up to you. I prefer powdered, but when my family lived in India (during teens with my parents, not my husband and me) I remember whole cloves and mustard seeds were a frequent surprise in school food. There is also no one "right" way of blending spice. Just as there are many varieties on a theme for English pound cake, a Google search will several recipes for a tikka. In England, it is easy to buy good spice blends from the local supermarket. Not so much in Arizona. "Curry powder" from the Safeway spice aisle is some bizarre blend of only a few spices, and the standard American seems to enjoy it sprinkled cold on potato salad rather than cooked into a meal. The application of heat alone will yield quite a different and superior flavor. Standard American, you're missing out! This is why I've more and more learned how to mix my own blends.

These are a couple of suggestions. We like them. Tweak the amounts or ingredients as you desire. I already have one post for beginners, for coconut chicken curry and my basic all purpose spice blend, but it's nice to have some variety.


My measurements are given in age-old herbalist's form, the simpler's method. Utensil size doesn't matter, so you can use any official or unofficial device you choose, but use that same one for all measurements. So, if I want to make a small batch of curry powder that will last 3-4 meals, I might take a regular dining table spoon and start with 2 1/2 spoons of ginger, 1/2 a spoon of cardamon, 1/2 a spoon of cinnamon, and so on. Or, you can make a really large batch and use the appropriate parts of a mug or cup measure throughout. It doesn't matter. I like to write my herb and spice recipes using the simpler's method because of this ease. Very little calculating involved.


Korma: a mildly spiced Indian curry dish of meat or fish marinated in yogurt or curds

Tikka: an Indian dish of small pieces of meat or vegetables marinated in a spice mixture and roasted or grilled

Tikka masala: a curry dish of roasted chicken chunks (tikka) served in a rich-tasting red or orange-coloured sauce, which is usually creamy, often using coconut rather than dairy, lightly spiced and containing tomatoes

Madras: a fairly hot curry sauce, red in colour and with heavy use of chili powder; also a brightly colored woven fabric in a check pattern, which may have got its name from the curry dish

Vindaloo: generally regarded as the classic "hot" restaurant curry, although a true vindaloo does not specify any particular level of spiciness. The name has European origins, derived from the Portuguese "vinho" (wine) and "alho" (garlic). When I was about twelve years old, a hit song in England at the time with football (soccer) went something like, "me, my mum, my dad, my gran and a bucket of vindaloo. Oh! vindaloo, vindaloo..."

Afghan: with chickpeas. I often add chickpeas or white beans to a curry to help stretch the meat. People who don't like beans should curry them as it really is the most delicious way.

Bhuna: medium, thick sauce, some vegetables. This is first and foremost a cooking process where spices are gently fried in plenty of oil to bring out their flavour. The dish "bhuna" is an extension of that process where meat is added to the spices and then cooked in its own juices, which results in deep strong flavours but very little sauce. Restaurants most often offer a lamb bhuna rather than white meats, as the deeper cooking of spices lends well to the richer flavors of dark meats.

Saag: Saag gosht is a classic curry traditionally made with spinach and lamb. Saag is, strictly speaking, a general term for tender green leaves such as spinach, mustard greens and fresh fenugreek leaves. If you were talking about spinach on its own it would be called palak. Many restaurants these days will offer a chicken or a prawn alternative to lamb and so the dish will show on the menu as just "saag" or "palak" omitting the gosht (lamb) from the name altogether. The saag is usually served medium hot and is made in the bhuna style.

Tikka Curry Powder
Fabulous for chicken. I like to marinate chunks of chicken in a little spice blend, a squeeze of lemon juice, and a very small dab of plain yogurt for an hour or two while I soak bamboo skewers in water. Then, kebab the chicken on the skewers and grill. Make a beautiful cooked sauce to drizzle over the cooked meat using butter and the leftover marinade.
This also works beautifully as a tikka masala dish with ground almonds and fresh chopped tomatoes slowly flavored into the sauce.
Once again, I like to use this in palak paneer (spinach cheese), which is a layered, baked, lasagne-like dish made with spinach and onions, cheese, a curried milk sauce, and tofu, to be served with rice. Palak paneer is pretty much the most delicious way to eat bland old tofu, in my opinion, and was a household favorite with all of my brothers while we lived in India.

2 1/2 ginger 
1/2 cardamon
1/2 cinnamon
1/2 nutmeg
(optional 1/8 cayenne)
1/2 turmeric
1/8 cloves 
1/4 black pepper 
2 1/2 garlic granules
1 cumin
1/2 coriander
1/4 paprika 
 Medium Heat (Bhuna) Powder

I don't have a proper name for this one. It works well with white or dark meat, unlike tikka which seems to be best with white meats such as chicken and fish, and madras which often tastes better with dark meats such as beef or lamb. It is a more aromatic curry than my basic blend, and the bay leaf adds a lot to the flavor to be sure not to skip it.
I like to use this for bhuna in a cast iron "Dutch oven" in the oven, which is a great way to flavor and slowly cook denser beef cuts.
It also makes a fabulous masala sauce with diced or shredded beef, tomatoes, coconut milk and squash.

2 coriander 
1 turmeric 
1/2 ginger 
1/2 cumin 
1/2 fenugreek 
3/4 mustard 
1/2 garlic granules
1/2 allspice 
1/4 cayenne 
1/2 black pepper
1/4 bay leaf

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