All about curry, the universal Indian stew

The wounds of decolonization (almost) closed, the United Kingdom and India easily recognize each other’s qualities: the Indians have learned to play cricket; the English cook curry! The British are so fond of it that the cuisine of the subcontinent is the number one restaurant in their kingdom. They even instituted a National Curry Week.

Every autumn for a week, gastronomic competitions are organized almost everywhere across the Channel, double-decker buses offer tastings of dishes simmered by chefs and adventurous spirits attempt records, such as that of the highest tower (in the occurrence, 1.72 meters!) in papadum, these bean flour pancakes that accompany spicy preparations.

Up to 40 spices make up the curry

The masters of curry, however, remain the Indians, who have been simmering it for more than four millennia. In 2013, American archaeologists detected traces of ginger and turmeric, essential ingredients of masala, this mixture in source curry powder. Other spices (up to forty) complete the recipe: coriander, cumin, cardamom, fenugreek, cloves, nutmeg and pepper, often, but also, according to regional traditions, mustard seed, anise, fennel… Crushed in a mortar, sometimes roasted with a little fat, the whole thing is then dried.

Other flavors have been added over the ages, such as peppers, imported from the Americas via Portuguese trading posts such as Goa in the 16th century. One hundred years later, we find the first mention of a kari in a book of local recipes compiled by a Portuguese officer who traded with Tamils. In India, this word designates a stew, a dish in sauce. The English, wanting to bring a concentrate of exoticism back to the motherland, took over this term and therefore anglicized it into curry to rename it masala.

And it is under this name that they popularized the precious orange powder in the world. Many countries (Thailand, Japan, etc.) have since taken it over to enrich it with other nuances. Today, great chefs use it to give an original touch to all kinds of dishes, including desserts… like chocolate cake!

Curry in all sauces

With a good masala, you can prepare an infinite number of different curries, more or less liquid, more or less spicy. Here are some ideas.

THE BASE: Meat (chicken, pork, lamb, etc.), fish (monkfish, cod, etc.), seafood (mussels): curry goes perfectly with a variety of dishes, even vegetarian ones, which just need to be simmered.

THE BINDER: Plain yoghurt, fresh cream, coconut milk or tomato sauce give the dish its hold and soften or sharpen the flavor of the spices. And even if the masala already contains a myriad of ingredients, you can still spice up the sauce: onions, fresh ginger, garlic, carrots, finely chopped celery.

PAIRING: Rice or lentils, grown in the Indus Valley for millennia, go perfectly with golden powder. But many starchy foods, for example potatoes, do the trick.

➤ Article published in the magazine GEO of March 2020 (n°493, Morocco).

Read also :

⋙ The chapati recipe, the miracle bread of the Indians
⋙ A brief history of the mango, protective fruit of the Indians
⋙ In Mexico, the traditional « flavors » of gastronomy threatened

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