Curry 101

4 Sep

If you asked me what restaurant in London you absolutely must go to, I wouldn’t tell you about a pub, or a temple of haute cuisine. I’d tell you to you go far from the usual tourist stomping grounds in the West End to Tayyabs on Fieldgate Street in Whitechapel.

Why? Because they do the best South Asian food I have ever had. Period. No contest.

A really well-done curry is a joy to the taste buds. The way the different flavours play off each other, herbs and spices and oils orchestrating a symphony in your mouth. The sauce just crying out to be sopped up with soft naan or pilau rice. Delicious! Indian vegetarian food has a special place in my heart too, for making humble veg into something much more than the sum of its parts.

So, I decided that I liked curry so much that I wanted to try to make it at home. Here’s what I’ve learned so far:

The actual techniques involved in making curries are definitely less complicated than sourcing your ingredients. Your best bet is to go to an Indian grocery store, which should exist where you live if you’re in a fair-sized city in Britain or the States. If you have to go out of your way to get to one, consider it an adventure!

Once you’re at the grocery store, they will sell you spices in huge bags rather than piddly little jars, so if you make one trip, you’re set for a long time. Also, the spices will smell and taste stronger and better.

Making curries converted me to the the concept of mise-en-place. It basically means: do every single bit of your prep before you start cooking, including measuring things like spices out beforehand. That way, if the recipe tells you to add your teaspoons of garam masala, coriander, cumin etc., you don’t have to be frantically digging around for your spice jars and your measuring spoons – you just measure them into a bowl before you start cooking, then add them all at once.

Beyond that, if you’ve ever made a stew or chili, you can definitely make curry. It might require a little more patience with your prep, but it adds a whole lot of flavour and excitement to your diet!

My current favourite cookbook is Madhur Jaffrey’s Curry Easy (called At Home with Madhur Jaffrey in the US). It’s not so much curry made easy as curry simplified – not ridiculous numbers of ingredients, no roasting each individual spice. But each recipe I’ve tried so far has been fabulous. Here’s a straightforward recipe of hers that you can make on a weeknight. I like to serve it with plain white rice and a salad made of big hunks of cucumber, Greek yogurt, a clove of garlic, and some fresh mint.


Minced Lamb with Potatoes (serves 2-3)


Note: You can get all the spices you need at the supermarket, but if you buy them from an Indian grocery they will be both cheaper and better-quality.

3 tbsp neutral oil (i.e. not olive

2x 3-inch cinnamon sticks

1 medium onion, peeled and chopped finely

1 teaspoon peeled and grated fresh root ginger

3 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped

450g / 1lb ground lamb

3 tbsp Greek yogurt

3 tbsp tomato puree/passata

1 tsp ground cumin

2 tsp ground coriander

¼ tsp cayenne pepper

¼ tsp ground turmeric

1 ¾ tsp salt

1 big baking potato, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks

230ml/1 cup water

Making the Thing

Heat the oil to medium-high. Add the cinnamon sticks and let them sizzle for 5 seconds.

Add the onion and stirfry until it starts to brown at the edges, 7-8 minutes.

Add the ginger and the garlic and stir for 1 minute.

Add the lamb, stirring and frying until it’s no longer pink.

Add the yogurt, tomato, cumin, coriander, cayenne, and turmeric, and stir for 1 minute.

Add the salt, potatoes, and water. Bring to the boil, then take down to a simmer and cover. Let cook for 30 minutes. Job’s a good’un!


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