10 Steps to preparing your own Indian Curry

One of the reasons why I love India is for its mysterious use of herbs and spices for flavoring, food, medicine or perfume. According to Ayurveda, the traditional Indian system of medicine, a very important part of our health is the food we eat. The general idea is that the food we eat has a huge bearing on the balance of our bodies and health. Therefore the food itself (whole food) and the digestive aids (herbs and spices) must be of the highest quality you can afford in order to have the most potent effect on our body.
Sweet potato curry
When in Rome....So being in India, I've got to share with you some knowledge about making an Indian curry using these digestive aids that herbs and spices are! Curries don't have to be hot and when you learn to make your own you can control the heat, and what goes in your recipe. I learned how to cook Indian food in a previous trip to India where I got the chance to travel around the country. In the US, I have taken Ayurvedic cooking classes and I have an impressive collection of Indian cookbooks and cook Indian food regularly at home. Why?

You see, when you start becoming healthier and healthier, you crave simpler and simpler foods made primarily with whole grains and fresh vegetables and it could become quite repetitive if it was not for the herbs and spices and other condiments that bring aroma, texture and flavor to your food. The Indian culture does it really well.

Indian spices_copy

Today, I'll only go over how to prepare an Indian curry. There are a 10 things to consider which will help you customize your curry to your own taste. There are never two curries the same by the way in India, even the same dish may taste completely differently based on the chef who prepared it as rarely is a written recipe followed. I think it is a true statement to say that there is no such thing as a definitive curry recipe so relax and make your own magic following these 10 steps to create your curry:

  1. Decide on what type of curry you're going to make: vegetarian or not and then choose your main ingredient.
  2. Select the pan accordingly. I like to use a wok like pan for creamy curries and a flatter pan for drier curries, like stir-fried veggies.
  3. Select your cooking fat: You have the choice between the traditional ghee used by the Indian housewife (clarified butter) or oil. In which case, given we'll be cooking at medium heat, I'd recommend coconut oil. Olive oil should only be warmed at low heat or not at all... Choose ghee from organic grass-fed cows, or organic vegetable based ghee or unrefined coconut oil
  4. Choose your cooking liquid: Most curries are water-based. Stock is sometimes used in India cooking but it is not a common practice as meat is usually cooked on the bone and this create sufficient robust flavor. Whatever liquid you choose to use, make sure it is lukewarm as adding a cold liquid to carefully blended spices will impair the flavors.
  5. Add the right kind of salt: Choose Himalayan pink salt or grey sea salt for its mineral content and minimum effect on blood pressure. Because Indian curries contain so many spices, you may not taste the salt. It does not mean it is not there. Salt is actually worked out to achieve an overall balance of flavors. Follow the recipe to add salt.
  6. Choose your thickening agent to achieve desired consistency: Indian cooking does not rely on flour to thicken sauces. Instead the correct consistency is more usually achieved by adding ingredients such as dairy cream or coconut cream, nut pastes, onion puree, tomatoes or ground seeds such as poppy, sesame and sunflower. I personally use tahini (sesame paste) and coconut milk and cream as well as onion and tomatoes puree.
  7. Add color to your dish: Some of the ingredients in the curries recipes are there not only to determine texture and consistency but also color, like tomatoes. Onions in some curries are softened but not browned which gives the dishes their distinctive pale color and in other recipes, the onions are browned which gives the dishes their reddish-brown color.
  8. Choose your souring agents: Have you noticed how curries have a slight sour taste which balances and emphasizes the other flavors? Well these souring agents can also affect the curries texture and consistency. One of my favorite sour ingredient is tamarind which darkens and thickens a sauce. Lime, lemon and white vinegar will be neutral agents which won't change the consistency and color of the dish but when combined with a thickening agent like coconut milk or nut paste will change the consistency. A few other exotic sour ingredients (I need to bring some back with me) are dry mango powder, and dried pomegranate seeds. Finally yogurt and tomatoes are also used for their sour taste in some curries.
  9. Control the heat: The most important ingredient to add a fiery flavor is the chilli. The Indian chilli is thin and long like finger, closer to the Thai chilli than the Mexican chilli. If you can procure this one in a Eastern grocery. Inquire about how hot the chili you buy are, read labels. Remember that fresh chillies are hotter than dried chillies. You can also make your own paste from dried chillies for great color and a different taste. Simply soak the dried chillies for 15-20 minutes in hot water and then puree them. You can keep the paste in an airtight jar up to 5 days in the fridge. I am including a recipe for a home-made curry paste at the bottom of this blog.
  10. Actually cook your curry: A key determining factor of success when cooking your curry is maintaining that the fat should be heated at the right temperature and maintained steady until the spices have released their aroma. Here's how the sequence of event goes:
    1. Start by cooking the onions (chopped super thin is best for texture of the curry. They will blend in the sauce better)
    2. Once the onions are softened, add the ground spices and lower the temperature
    3. Respect the order of cooking of the spices in the recipe. This is because some spices require more cooking time to open up and release their flavor (like mustard seeds) so they'll be added first, while others will cook really fast and would burn if added too early.
    4. Note that sometimes Indians puree the onions, garlic and fresh ginger root together to create a paste. The cooking time will be shorter.
    5. Pay attention, trust your nose, keep the temperature constant at medium heat, not high and your dish will be a success!!!!

Curry paste
Check out this Curry Paste Recipe. To just make your own curry powder, simply omit the last two ingredients in the ingredient list (wine vinegar and oil) and you've got yourself a delicious curry powder blend.

Bon appetit!