Most spice-lovers are likely to be big fans of curry. The saucy, often meaty melange of sauce and spice can be found being eaten all over the world, far beyond its many, many points of origin!
Whether you’ve been curry-crazy for years or have just started getting into the wondrously spicy stuff, here are a few things you might want to know about what may arguably be the world’s most flavorful dish:
1 The idea of “curry” is actually Western
While we tend to associate curry with places like India, Thailand and even Morocco, the English word “curry” wasn’t actually coined until the British colonized India right around the 17th century. The word “curry” was purportedly taken from the Tamil word for sauce or gravy, kari, thanks to the region’s penchant for saucy dishes laced with all sorts of spices.
Food experts and historians argue that prior to the discovery of curry many cultures did not refer to their saucy, spicy dishes served with bread or rice exclusively as one thing. This means that “curry” is a considerably modern term used to generalize a wide assortment of saucy dishes from all over the world, which are rarely actually called curries in the original local tongues.
2 How curries are made is mainly regional
Because of the flexibility of what it means for something to be a curry, there are as many kinds of curry out there as there are places that make it. Southeast Asian curries often feature fresh chillies and coconut milk while South Asian and Middle Eastern ones feature nuts and yogurt, and even under those umbrellas there are some major regional differences and nuances.
With this in mind, whenever you’re searching for a curry recipe make sure to specify exactly what sort of regional curry you’d like to make, just to make things a little easier for you.
3 It’s less about heat and more about the flavor of the spices
Any good curry cook will tell you that, contrary to popular belief, curry’s spiciness is less about the heat and more about flavour. While there are a handful of deathly hot curries out there (we’re looking at you, vindaloo) making a curry isn’t always about piling on the chillies.
A great curry will actually contain a variety of spices that balance each other out and provide a full spectrum of bright, bold and even subtle flavors. Think of sweet cinnamon, acerbic cardamom, licorice-scented fennel seed, aromatic curry leaves and sharp coriander seeds. Curry isn’t always heat and despair, you know.
4 Premade curry powder is completely optional
While curry powders and pastes are totally wonderful and useful ingredients to have around the kitchen, you can actually make a solid curry without any of the pre-blended stuff! If you have a good selection of herbs and spices on hand, you can actually play around with the spice blend to your taste to make a curry tailor-made for your taste buds!
Maybe try a mild blend using turmeric, ginger, garlic, coriander seeds and a pinch of red chilli powder (try getting the bright red kasmiri chilli powder from an Indian specialty store if you can) or, if you’re feeling super adventurous, you can make a fresh Thai-style paste using fresh red chillies, cilantro, onions, ginger, basil, fermented fish paste and lemongrass.
5 Toasting spices is required
If you’re going to make a curry off the top of your head, you’ll have to remember one key step: always make sure to lightly fry or toast your spice base, whether it be a dry blend or a paste, before adding the other ingredients.
Think of spices as dormant ingredients. They only wake up and release their flavour after a bit of coaxing with some heat. If you add your spice to your curry towards the end of the process, without any toasting you’ll end up with a very bitter curry with none of the spices’ full flavors.
If you’re feeling up to some curry, why not try these recipes?