Foods You Should Know: Curry Part 1…India

Curry is one of those words that immediately brings about a flood of sense memories. The aromatic spice, the richness, the heat, the vibrant colours, all come back to you when you hear that word. This is not saying that these memories are positive. North Americans seem to have a love hate relationship with curry and I plan to investigate why.

Curry is a generic term that westerners give to a large group of dishes from India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Thailand and other southeast asian countries. The word curry comes from the Tamil word “Kari” which essentially mean sauce.  Generally, a curry is a dish with a mixture of spices which normally consist of a number of herbs and spices as well as chilies. They can be wet and soup or stew-like, or they can be dry. They can be fiery hot or creamy and rich.

In the first instalment of this two part series on curry we will focus on Indian Curry. As I talked about way back in April in my Naan Bread Extravaganza, India is a diverse and interesting country when it comes to food. It’s regionality makes it one of greatest food cultures in the world.

Below I will talk about a few of the most popular curries in India which will make ordering at your local Indian Restaurant.*

Chicken Makhani(Butter Chicken): Butter chicken is training wheels for Indian food. It’s mild in it’s heat and it’s flavour. There is nothing over the top butter chicken but it will really do a good job as an entry point to the flavours you will encounter in Indian cuisine. Butter, tomato paste, yogurt and spice marinated chicken, clove, cinnamon, ginger, garlic and fenugreek are all included in a classic butter chicken.

Korma: Korma is a general term for a curry with a think yogurt or cream based gravy or curry. Usually containing braised meats such as chicken, lamb, beef, or fish, korma is another great gateway curry. It’s usually pretty mild when it comes to spice and flavour but it gives you a great idea of what a curry can be.

Tikka Masala: One of the great dishes of Great Britain. Most people will find this strange but for the historically illiterate readership, India was a British Colony for about 150 years. The Brits gave the Indians scotch and repressed emotions, and the Indians gave the Brits spices, grain and curry. Tikka Masala is now one of the great pub foods in Britain. It’s mix of spice and huge flavours make it like a butter chicken on steroids, everything is amped up.

Saag: Saag is a spinach, mustard green and fenugreek green based curry that looks like a bizzaro creamed spinach. This Nepalese dish, is eating widely in northern India. It’s usually spiced with star anise, clove, garam masala. It’s light, super flavourful and usually pretty spicy. Usually made with lamb, paneer** or chicken.

Rogan Josh: This is a Kashmiri and Punjabi dish that is one of my favourites. Usually made with lamb, and a yogurt/browned onion/tomato based sauced. Usually much thinner in consistency than butter chicken or Tikka Masala, Rogan Josh blends the aromatics of clove, cinnamon, bay and cardemom with the heat of chilis. This is where things begin to get hot when it comes to this list.

Dhansak: Dhansak is a lentil curry that originates from Persia. It was brought to India but the Parsi people who were Zoroastians exiled from what is modern day Iran. Lentils, vegetables, garlic, ginger and other garam masala based spices are braised with meat or squash to make a dry style curry which looks more like a mash of lentils and other reduced veggies reduced into a semi wet sauce. It’s spicy and unbelievable filling.

Vindaloo: If you like spicy food this might be something you will be into. Either that or it will redefine spicy for you and you will bow to it as the pinnacle of foods that make the underside of your eyes sweat. Hailing from the western coast of middle India in the region of Goa, vindaloo is actually a hold over from the brief Portuguese occupation of India. Based on a wine and garlic dish from portugal the people of Mumbai made this dish fiery hot hopefully as a park to the usually cruel Portuguese colonial rule. A blend of chili peppers, vinagar, ginger, and usually beef or chicken vindaloo will test your ability to handle spicy food.

Hopefully this gives you a bit of an overview of Indian cuisine and curry. Stay tuned for the next in this series where I discuss Thai Curry.

*There curries will go from Mild to extremely Hot. Don’t pee or touch your eyes after eating Vindaloo Curry.  Just a tip that I picked up from my penis.

**Paneer is a indian farmers cheese that is almost rubbery but it also takes on the flavour of whatever it’s cooked in.