As I cooked up this wonderful dish I couldn’t help grinning when I hear that expression about for example, politicians “currying favours” with their minions. It always struck me as a silly expression.
Right then, as a homesick ex-pat who missed those chips and curry sessions straight out from the pub, I thought I’d attempt an approximation of such a taste, based upon my (limited) experience of flavours. I’ve travelled in India and the East and generally what is presented here is in no way what is eaten there (Indian food is actually much more diverse according to regional traditions) but it approximates what we in Britain know as curry. Don’t forget in the 70s all many of us knew of it came in the form of two dehydrated packets of Vesta!
When making a curry, the two most important building blocks are what I call the Alliums and the Powders. I like to take a bit of time to discuss them here….
Garlic – one of the healthiest ingredients in the kitchen, and I use loads of it. I understand however that most of today’s supermarket supplies come from China, even in France where I’d think it should be cultivated. I’ve tried to in fact grow my own but a west summer put paid to the attempt. In any case, peeling garlic can be done with a trick – crush the clove with the flat of a knife then cut of both ends, which should reveal the important stuff. I like to drop in about two to three of these in my “Serves 4” meal.
Onions – another plant I tied to grow several times on my damp Bavarian soils yet failed. Countless websites show how to chop this small. One big or two small should do the trick.
Ginger – I’ve seen many books advocating powdered ginger. No! Go to any veg shop and ask for a chunk of ginger root. I’m told leaving it half submerged in a bowl of water will start off the shoots, no luck here either. You need about an inch of this, maybe more as this will give the flavour. Remember top peel the outer skin off.
The above could in fact be wizzed up in a food processor (need not be expensive – mine came with a few missing bits from a flea market for 15 Euros)
Cumin and coriander – For this section I recommend buying a pestle and mortar as we’re going to use the spices as they are. I picked up mine at a cheap supermarket in fact. If I’m in a rush I’ll use the powdered form but having read the Indian kitchen goddess Madhur Jaffrey I believe it’s best to buy if possible the original whole seeds. This gives you flexibility later in that you might want to dry roast them, or add them as they are whole to curries according to the recipe. So buying whole seeds does give you the potential for three different flavours from one seed. Here we need one teaspoon of each of these spices, crushed together in a pestle and mortar.
Chilli – now I understand that to most the hotter the curry is the better, and here is where those who want the maximum number Scovilles can go to town. As a family bloke who doesn’t want to make his kids cry I only use a small amount of my own home grown chilli powder – a few years ago I grew a chilli plant, dried ’em then put them in a coffee grinder – God the powder got everywhere in the kitchen, up my nose and all sorts of places! I only use just the tip of a teaspoon for this spice.
Turmeric – although I dream of a “curry garden” where one might grow all of the spices for one’s food, this one is impossible to grow in our temperate climate, as it’s the root of a tree. It’s important for two reasons – to impart colour to the curry – that delicious yellow , and it helps to settle the stomach. You don’t need a huge amount, maybe quarter of a teaspoon, yet keep it to to one side if the curry starts to lose its yellowness during cooking.
Right, the above is the foundation of the curry. To this we might add some extras….
Tomato purée – I used to use a tin of tomatoes but found that the curry just tasted wholly of tomatoes, so I just use a dessert-spoon of purée instead.
Juice of half a lemon. This will give the required acidity to the flavour. Keep the other half nearby just in case it isn’t tart enough, it more than likely will end up in the pan later, (but may just as easily end up in the fridge unused for ages). All ingredients do their little jobs in this meal.
A tin of coconut milk. Again you probably will use only half the tin, but keep it to one side when at the stovetop. The purpose of this is to neutralise out some of the acidity of the evolving flavour.
Salt and pepper – as usual.
Sugar – we love our sweet British flavour, so about a teaspoon of that should help.
Apples – either peel and crush one or use a jar of apple puree. Again this is what I think imparts the sweet flavour to the curry sauce we’re used to in our post pub chip shop curries.
Drop of water or stock to stop it drying out.
These last ingredients should be by the side of the cooker, added to taste. The first parts – the Alliums and the Powders, once in are pretty fixed amounts, yet the last group should be added to taste, by feeling. This arguably is the best bit of making curry, where you taste the magic of these disparate ingredients melding together into one tasty different flavour – the whole greater than the sum of the parts! All the stuff should be prepared then laid out on small dishes next to the stove.
At this point all the other stuff should be prepared…
The stuff to be “curried”, i.e., a bowl of chopped veg – carrots, mushrooms, courgettes, or favours….
Rice – for four one mug should do the job, with three mugs of water and a half teaspoon of salt. Bring it to the boil, then when bubbling put the lid on and forget about it for fifteen minutes. This closed pan method is the best way I know to cook rice.
Yoghurt – what you’re about to eat is acidic for the stomach. Real curry should always be served with some plain yoghurt, perhaps with some cucumber or apple in it, to balance out the sharper flavours, and avoid that dodgy tummy the next day!
Now then fry up the Allium group first, a few minutes. When the onion looks browned, add the dry Powder group from the pestle and mortar, then sniff to see if the curry flavours are starting to be emitted. When the stuff starts to smell good, add tomato purée and lemon juice, coconut and apple purée. This last will give some sweetness to the mix.
You can now add the stuff to the bag of chips or continue to make the whole meal. Add the stuff to be curried. If the mix looks too dry add some stock or water. Let this simmer nicely while the rice is on in the back of the stove chugging away. It’s at this point when all the extras at the side of the stove like lemon juice, sugar, extra tomato, should be added gingerly (no pun intended) to see what effect it has on the mix. Continual tasting is the only way to ensure success (pity we’re not using wine in this recipe). The dish should be ready when the rice is.
Now serve the rice, curry and don’t forget the all important yoghurt. This last is very important as it will help mitigate any tummy effects…