Curry is often a vague and overused word, playing a very small role in the big game of Indian Regional cuisine. It is important to understand the various Indian influences and regions and the effects these have on texture, flavour, colour and taste of curries.
Sugar and spice
Cumin and coriander - the darlings of the spice world, together with ginger, garlic and onion, form the most important part of the curry base.
Turmeric and cardamom are added to this, depending on the specific type of curry. Raw sugar (jaggery) can be used to neutralise the salty taste of the water- the quantity added depends on the level of acidity in the dish.
Things to remember:
• Always use fresh spices and keep the powders in air-tight containers
• For best results, grind the spices from the whole seed. Toast your whole coriander and cumin seeds before grinding- this will release the true aroma and richness of the spices. Ground spices, whole spices or lightly crushed spices all add different dimensions to taste and textures, so the choice is up to you.
• Onions, garlic and ginger are always best used fresh.
• Spices, whole or powdered, need be cooked completely in order for the full flavor to be extracted and not taste raw or uncooked.
• Always taste your curry and season towards the end if need be. A common mistake made when cooking Indian food is not adding salt thinking that the spices will provide all the flavour.
• Lock in some stock - stock is a valuable ingredient to add to water, when liquid is required. It can also be used to thin a sauce when it is too thick toward the end of the cooking process. In addition to bringing added flavours and aromas to the dish, stock also contains nutritious goodness.
There are hundreds of combinations one can experiment with where aroma and tastes are concerned. Here are some combinations that create a unique taste:
• Sour mangoes and coconut or curry leaves
• Ginger and pepper
• Mustard seeds and Asafoetida
• Pepper (specially Kerala pepper) and black cardamom with lamb
• Tamarind, Kokum (Garcenia) or sour mangoes with seafood
• Dried fenugreek, cinnamon and green cardamom with chicken
• Cumin with vegetarian food
• Curry leaves and chilies with all curries
• Bay leaves with rice
Patience is key! Ensure you have sufficient time when cooking curry. All curries are different, varying from region to region, so their cooking techniques may differ too.
A rule of thumb is to check if there is fat floating on top of your curry after cooking. If there is, then the curry is ready.
Oil is essential in all curries. Ghee (an elucidated butter) is the best option but sunflower oil, olive oil or groundnut oil can be used too.
When starting the dish, add plenty of oil – the excess at the end of the cooking process can be skimmed off and kept covered in the fridge for use in your next curry.
Summer vs. Winter
A summer curry is generally light and moderately spiced. Coconut curries or Yakhnee (broth) using fish or chicken is a winner in the hotter season. During the colder months, all curries work well, but a lamb Roganjosh or Vindaloo is a great option.
Drinks that pair well with curry
• Beer and aerated beverages are great with hot and spicy food.
• Less spiced Tandoori food, vegetarian curries with little complexity of spices and mild creamy poultry or seafood curries pair exceptionally well with a good Chardonnay, Chenin, Reisling or Merlot wine.
• Lamb and other rich, moderately spiced curries go well with a Pinot Noir, Shiraz or Pinotage.
For a truly authentic Alleppey prawn curry, click here.
Harpreet Longani is the Executive Sous Chef at Bombay Brasserie at Taj Cape Town.