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A Beginners Guide For Creating A Curry

Starting simply with an onion, a can of tomatoes, and some spices.

There’s no denying it – most of us are cooking more at home these days. Whether it’s a welcomed change or a source of constant headache, you may be running through the dregs of your culinary repertoire. We’re here to inspire you to try something that is easy, economical, and can be made with a few staples in your pantry. 

 

Indian food has a rich history, is incredibly varied, and is easily prepared at home (yes, really). While there are many misconceptions about this cuisine, it provides one of the best opportunities to play with building flavors, experimenting with spice, and to use up what you have in the fridge. The more time you give to cooking a curry, the tastier it will be, but you can also whip one up in a half hour if that’s all the time you’ve got. Just keep tasting as you go, and let your palate and intuition guide you! 

   

Start With Aromatics 

Onion, Garlic, and/or Ginger

Onion provides the foundation that begins almost every Indian curry. Yellow onion is probably the most traditional, though white or red, shallot or leek will also work. Dice one up and add it to a medium sized saucepan over medium heat with about a tablespoon of butter, ghee, coconut oil or vegetable oil. Add a pinch of salt, stir, reduce heat to low, and then hang back and let the magic happen. The longer you allow your onion to caramelize, the richer this foundation will be. Ten minutes is okay, but 45 is even better. Here’s a great step by step for how to caramelize onions if you’re a first timer.

Once you’ve got your onions cooked, add some minced garlic and ginger if you have them, and stir for another minute.   

 

Add Your Spices

Curry Powder, Garam Masala, and/or a Combination of Your Own! 

Here’s the fun part – it’s time to spice! To your aromatics, add about a tablespoon of spices total to start, and cook them for 30 seconds. You can either dust off that curry powder or garam masala blend you have in the back of your pantry, or make your own! 

At its most basic, curry powder is a combination of turmeric, coriander, and cumin. If you’ve got these – you’ve got curry! You can also add these spices individually to your store bought curry powder for extra emphasis. Garam masala mixes tend to have a warmer tone, incorporating spices such as clove, cardamom, and cinnamon. Here’s a recipe for making your own. 

Don’t have any blends on hand?  Throw together any combination of the following: chili powder, smoked paprika, fenugreek, cardamom, cinnamon, clove, cayenne, mustard powder or seed, bay leaf, fennel seed, cumin, coriander, and turmeric. If you’re nervous to get creative, keep in mind that if the spices smell good together, they will taste good together. Also remember that you can always add more later on (but you can’t take them out). 

 

Build Your Sauce

Canned Tomato and/or Frozen Greens  

A small or large can of tomatoes is the easiest way to add bulk and flavor to your curry. It doesn’t matter what variety you have – crushed, whole peeled, or diced – as long as you are willing to dirty a standing or immersion blender. Add your tomatoes, give a stir, partially cover, and cook on medium low heat for anywhere from 10 minutes to 1 hour. (Again, the more you cook, the deeper the flavor.) Add a little stock or water if your mixture gets too thick, and blend if you’d like.

If you’ve got a freezer full of greens – spinach and kale both work nicely – here is a great way to use them up! Simply thaw, rinse, drain, and add them to your pot of aromatics and spices. Add a little water, stock, or tomato and cook, partially covered, on medium low heat for anywhere from 10 minutes to 1 hour. Add a little stock or water if your mixture gets too thick, and blend if you’d like. For inspiration, here’s a recipe for palak paneer, a favorite North Indian dish.  

 

Add Bulk

Vegetables, Meat, and/or Beans

Cauliflower, potato, yam, peas, green beans, carrot, eggplant – use whatever you’ve got on hand to add bulk, flavor and texture.  Either throw the raw vegetables directly into the sauce (before the long simmer) and cook until tender, or roast them separately and add them at the end. Here’s a good starter recipe for vegetable curry.  

You can either throw cooked meat (lamb, fish, or chicken) directly into the curry at the end, or if you’d like to take the extra step, marinate the meat in spices and yogurt like many recipes suggest for chicken tikka masala

Adding a can of drained chickpeas, kidney, or white beans will give protein and texture to your curry. For inspiration, here’s a recipe for coconut chickpea curry

 

Add Fat 

Heavy Cream, Plain Yogurt, Coconut Milk, Butter or Ghee

A touch of fat to finish will help to add richness, cut any bitterness, and carry the flavors of the spices. Use a splash of heavy cream, a dollop or two of yogurt, a ¼ to whole cup of coconut milk, or a tablespoon of butter or ghee. 

 

Taste and Adjust!

Chances are, your curry will have changed quite a bit from when you started. Taste and follow your palate. Needs salt? Add salt. Want more heat? Add cayenne or crushed red pepper. Lacks brightness? Add lemon juice, lime juice, vinegar, or a bit of tamarind puree. Missing a roundness to the flavor? Sometimes sugar is a great fix. Add a little brown sugar, coconut sugar, white sugar, or a touch of maple syrup. Needs a bit of freshness? Chopped cilantro will help liven it up. Once you’re satisfied, serve alongside rice or flatbread, and enjoy.   

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