"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Authentic Indian Curry

‘Curry’ comes from the South Indian word kari , meaning "sauce,"  and it has come to be a catch-all term that is used to refer to any number of hot, spicy, gravy-based dishes of East Indian origin.  There are hundreds of curries -  Alu Gobhi or Potatoes and Cauliflower; Alu Mattar or Potatoes and Peas; saag paneer or spinach and cheese; mixed vegetable curry; chicken, lamb, or fish curry, etc.  This recipe here is best with vegetables – potatoes, cauliflower, carrots, peas, green beans, or eggplant.

An authentic Indian curry means starting from scratch – that is, no curry powder. Although this means using many spices, and there is some additional work required – mainly the pounding of the spices in a mortar and pestle – the result will be a medley of flavors, a wonderful, integration combination of spices. 

I learned how to cook Indian curries by tasting.  I lived in India for five years, and I paid attention.  The best Indian cuisine ever is Gujarati, and it is rare to find it here because fewer Gujaratis have emigrated to the United States and because Gujarati cuisine is more time-consuming and expensive to prepare.  It is a much more elegant cooking.  It is often served on a thali, a round, stainless steel plate on which small amounts of food are placed – sweet, sour, bitter, and salty.  It is marvelous.

This curry is best with all the spices listed.  However, if you are limited in your supermarket selection, here is a short list of what you cannot do without:

* Coriander seeds

* Cumin powder

* Fresh ginger

* Garlic

With these you can make a creditable curry.  However the fennel adds a pungent licorice taste, the coriander a light lemony zest, the fenugreek an indescribably Indian flavor, the mustard seed a strong, but earthy taste, the cardamom a flowery complement to the coriander.  The turmeric is basically added to give the rich yellow color found in many curries.

If you don’t have a mortar and pestle, you can innovate. Any hard receptacle and a big wooden spoon will do.

Basic Vegetable Curry Sauce

* 1 tsp. of each of the following spices, all to be pounded in a mortar and pestle: coriander seeds, cardamom seeds, fennel seeds, fenugreek seeds

* 1 tsp. of each of the following: mustard seeds, poppy seeds, powdered cumin; powdered turmeric

* 3 bay leaves

* 3-5 shakes hot pepper flakes (to taste)

* 1 tbsp. fresh ground ginger

* 5 large cloves garlic, chopped coarsely

* 2 tbsp. chopped fresh basil

* 4-5 tbsp. olive oil

* 4 cups vegetables.  If, for example, you are going to make a mixed vegetable, like my favorite, cauliflower and potatoes, then you need two cups of each.  The potatoes should be medium and quartered; and the cauliflower broken into small floret pieces.

* Small handful of fresh coriander leaves very coarsely chopped.

- Brown the garlic in the olive oil in a large iron skillet.  Browning is a bit tricky because if you do not cook enough you will not get the nutty, caramel taste that is idea.  If you cook to much you will burn the garlic and you have to start over again.  The trick is to put the garlic in hot oil over medium-high heat until you see the pieces beginning to brown.  Immediately take the pan off the burner, for with an iron skillet the garlic will continue to brown.

- While the garlic is browning, add the hot pepper flakes.  If you want a milder curry, then put the pepper flakes in later in the frying process.

- Return the pan to the heat and add the freshly grated ginger.  Sautee for about 3 minutes, then add all the other spices listed above).  Cook over medium heat for about 10-15 minutes, stirring frequently.  You will know that the mixture is done when you see that the spices become a bit browned.  You will also be able to smell the fragrant spice mix.

- Add the vegetables, stir well until all pieces are coated with the spicy oil. 

- Arrange on a serving plate and garnish with fresh coriander, ground pepper, and then serve.

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