Last week, I asked all sorts of Indian food lovers, cooks and chefs to chat about the word ‘curry‘. For some, it gets the pulse racing in anticipation; for others, it gets the blood boiling in anger. In almost all cases, mere mention of the term ignites and invites strong and diverse opinions – all aired here.
However determined people might be to avoid ‘curry‘ (just the word, of course – no-one showed the slightest inclination to pass up any type of Indian food!), all were able to determine their own personal definition of the type of items ‘curry‘ called to mind. I then pleaded with them to relinquish a recipe from their own repertoire that illustrated their ideas.
So this, my ever-hungry readers, is the deliciously diverse ‘curry collection’ that my curiosity created…
The Tamil chef at Cork cafe, Iyer’s, says, “A seppankizhangu (taro root) kari would be one of my all-time favourites. The starchy root’s texture lends itself well to spicing and it benefits from proper marinating techniques. I prefer it dry – rather than the ‘wet’ dish ‘curry’ might typically denote -with plenty of spices, cooked in oil at high heat to crisp up the edges until almost biscuit-like.”
Unsurprisingly given his moniker, Indian food blogger ‘The Curry Guy’ Dan is a fan of the word; although he feels that where many dishes like rogan josh are concerned, it’s no longer needed as an additional explanation in order for diners to decode the dish description. His current favourite ‘curry’ is a lamb rogan josh shared with him by Annayu’s chef, Madhup Sinha.
Darjeeling Express‘s founder says, “There is a dish which we call ‘yellow curry’ in my house – my Bihari grandmother used to make it and I can only presume it was a dish she learnt from her home. The chicken dish is yellow in colour and I’ve never encountered it outside my family. It has very unusual and distinctive spicing and is the only dish I know that has no name except ‘curry’! As a third generation cook of this dish, maybe I should think of an interesting name for it – or maybe let it continue on to the next generation as ‘yellow curry’!”
The food writer and chef says, “One recipe that always reminds me of home was my mum’s masala chicken. My recipe is slightly different, but every time I cook it, I can’t help but smile; thinking of the good times we shared tucking into my mum’s masala chicken over the family dinner table.”
The founder of food and recipe blog Come Con Ella says, “My definition of ‘curry’ has evolved into ‘a mixed spice of South Asian inspirations’. I would use this to season something made with coconut milk, something akin to the autumnal chickpea, spinach and coconut curry I featured on my blog.”
Chef Cyrus finds the term ‘curry’ contentious to say the least, but to this coastal Indian, a dish so-called must involve coconut. The chef’s Leeli kolmi ni curry fits what he feels counts as ‘curry’ – literally, green prawns with spicy gravy. The recipe yields a sort of Indianised version of the classic Thai green curry; featuring plump prawns swimming an aromatic, fresh, fiery coconut milk-based sauce.
The ‘Finely Chopped’ food blogger and Mumbai-based Bengali says, “I would say that the Bengali ‘murgir jhol’ (chicken curry) that is traditionally made in households on Sunday afternoons would be closest to my idea of ‘curry’; along with machhed jhol, the thin ‘curry’ made with the sweetwater fish Bengalis so relish.”
The food writer and blogger at ‘KaveyEats’ says, “The dish that jumps to mind when the word ‘curry‘ is used without any other qualifier is my mum’s chicken curry, a simple North Indian tomato-based curry with delicious spicing and not too much chilli heat. This recipe is one of the reasons that my mother’s recipe site, Mamta’s Kitchen, came into being, as my sister and I both missed it so much when we left home.”
Turban Street Cafe’s head chef says, “I think that my recipe for chicken cooked with yogurt and whole spices is a good portrayal of a simple, ‘curry’-like dish. Originating in India’s roadside diners or ‘dhabas’, it demonstrates the non-complex, rustic approach to cooking a great ‘curry’ without exotic ingredients or techniques. Modest and wholesome yet full of flavour. A perfect blueprint for an immaculate ‘curry’, and, as a child, my first introduction to the ‘curries’ of India.”
The Bawi Bride says, “There are two very popular Parsi ‘curries’; unimaginatively called ‘red’ and ‘green’ curry. Of the two, the red is my favourite. I follow the recipe my maternal grandmother gave me. Back when she was alive this was my favourite dish and she’d make it for me every Saturday despite the protests of other family members who’d rather have something else!”
Food blogger ‘Food Urchin’ says, “I would say that the simple mutton curry that I put on my blog using fresh spices from a dabba supplied to me by Sanjay at Spice Kitchen fits my definition of ‘curry’ fairly closely. It certainly feels more definitive than pouring a sauce straight from a jar. The only shame is that it does look rather ‘brown’…”
The Brighton restaurateur says,”My Curry Leaf Cafe co-owner and chef Kanthi’s ‘gutti vankaya koora’ is definitely one of the dishes that defines ‘curry’ for me. This dish comprises baby aubergines that are stuffed with coconut, coriander, chilli and sesame, then simmered in an onion, coconut and tamarind sauce. The recipe originates from the Southern state of Andhra Pradesh, and was a hit at Diwali. It’s an absolute knockout.”
Kanthi Thamma’s Gutti vankaya koora
Stuffed baby aubergine curry
For the stuffing:
- 25 ml oil
- 1 tbsp cumin seeds
- 2 medium green chillies
- 20g ginger, minced
- 4-5 garlic cloves, minced
- 25g desiccated coconut
- 1 large onion, sliced
- 20g jaggery/palm sugar/brown sugar
- 2 tbsp tamarind pulp
- 1 tsp ground coriander
- ½ a bunch of chopped coriander
- salt, to taste
- 8 baby aubergines, slit into quarters with stalks intact
For the sauce:
- 100ml vegetable oil
- 1 tsp mustard seeds
- 1 sprig fresh curry leaves, washed
- 1 tsp fenugreek seeds
- 2 green chillies, slit lengthwise
- 25g ginger, Julienned
- 2 medium red onions, sliced
- 200g tomatoes, chopped
- 1 tsp ground coriander
- salt, to taste
- 20 gm jaggery/brown sugar/ palm sugar
- 50ml tamarind pulp
For the stuffing, heat half the oil in a pan set over medium-high heat, then add the cumin seeds, chillies, ginger, garlic, and coconut and sauté for 1 minute. Then add the onions and sauté for about 5 minutes until they start caramelising.
Remove the pan from the heat, cool, and then whizz to a coarse paste in a blender with jaggery, tamarind pulp, ground coriander, fresh coriander, and salt to taste.
Stuff the slit aubergines with this mix, then heat the remaining oil in a pan set over a medium heat, gently add the stuffed aubergines and cook for about 5 minutes, constantly turning them until they soften.
For the sauce, heat the oil in a pan set over medium-high heat, then add the mustard seeds, curry leaves, and fenugreek seeds and toss them for a few seconds.
Add the green chillies, ginger and onions and continue to cook until onions turn golden-brown. Lower the heat and add the chopped tomatoes, ground coriander, salt, and a splash of water and cook for about 10 minutes until the tomatoes cook and form a thick sauce.
Add the jaggery and tamarind pulp and cook for about 5 minutes more, adding a little water if you think that the sauce is getting too thick or dry.
Add the stuffed, cooked aubergines and allow to cook, covered for another 5 minutes on a very low heat until the sauce is of a thick coating consistency. Do not stir, or the stuffing will fall out.
After 5 minutes, remove the lid and check that the tip of a table knife can easily pierce the aubergine flesh. If they are soft and cooked, they are ready – serve hot, with ghee-topped rice.
- Read what the featured foodies think of the word ‘curry’ here
- Read my response to the neighbours who criticised my ‘constant ‘curry’ cooking here
- Read about strange ‘curry’-flavoured food products here
- Read about the science of ‘curry’ here
Main image: Rajasthani laal maas but Ashish Bhatia