Foodie Tuesday: Currying Favor

graphite drawing

Everybody's curry is a unique and distinctive creature; the joy of curry is in its endless possibilities and the multi-layered adventure of its making and eating . . .

The request was in last evening: curry for dinner today. It’s perfectly understandable to me why so many people in so many cultures have embraced so many versions of this wildly versatile and varied ‘something-in-a-sauce’ meal, centered on a highly personalized and customized blend of spices. I’m pretty sure I’ve never met a curry I didn’t like, from spicy vegetarian to earthy goat to sweet prawn or fruited chicken. I like curries as soups, with bread or noodles or rice, or as lashings of a more restrained saucing version over nearly any tasty food, sweet or savory or both.

I make the world’s easiest and most flexible version of a curry meal, because I’m notorious for never being able to do the same thing the same way twice, and because of my equally well-known laziness. Our household version is pretty bulletproof. Two ingredients: masala and coconut milk. Throw together in a pot and simmer and mellow the sauce until it’s ready, adding whatever I see fit to combine for the day’s version of goodness. It’s handy that a curry concoction can easily be assembled on the fly, using what’s available in pantry and fridge, if (as today) the rest of the day gets a bit cluttered with Doings. There’s not much food that doesn’t play nicely with curry if given half a chance.

The heart and soul of any curry is the masala, the spice blend, and there are countless good pre-made versions on the market. I’m fortunate to have a grand recipe I can whizz up myself, thanks to the good kitchen sense and generosity of my parents’ late friend Q (who really did go by his first initial). The curry powder recipe he shared with us is one of those that requires a fairly lengthy list of spices, some a little less easily found in the average grocery but all well worth the hunt. Once you’ve laid hands on all the ingredients, all you really have to do is grind them together (I use a dedicated little coffee grinder), and you get about a cup and a half of pure 24k turmeric-colored gold.


Q's famous Kincurry--hide your stash when the foodie marauders head into the kitchen!

This is a sweet curry base–it takes a fair quantity to get it hot-spicy, though it can be about as spicy as you want to make it with that sort of adjustment. It goes mighty well with any meat or seafood or vegetable goodness, and is plenty tasty with sweeter things, from fruits to desserts, too. And it stains like boy-howdy, but hey, a good curry is certainly worth losing a good shirt over, if it comes to that.

The drill around my stove is: mix a copious amount of good coconut milk with however much of my precious curry masala I’m in the mood to use, and let it steep for as long as I wish with whatever I’m hungry to add. I am, by the way, fussy about the coconut milk, but not in the way you might think. While I have great admiration for those dedicated folk who make their own exquisitely crafted coconutty deliciousness by bisecting a fresh coconut and processing its innards carefully into perfect homemade coconut milk, I find there are plenty of things I’m quite content to let others fuss over to make my kitchen time easier, thank you very much. My prejudice is for a particular brand of canned coconut milk (nope, I’m not a paid promoter), Chaokoh. Ever since my Thai college roommate introduced me to this elixir I’ve found no other that compared. And yes, folks, I use it straight and undiluted from the tin. If you think your need for “good fats” doesn’t include this indulgence, I think you’re wrong. But go ahead and cheat yourself if you must. The only way I’ve been known to adulterate the stuff in the way of ‘thinning’ it is with homemade chicken broth. Which I do skim, but geez, if you take all of the schmalz out of it you take too away many of the good fats and nutrients, not to mention any genuine Jewish Penicillin in there.

Meanwhile, back at the cooker, there’s a saucy slurry just waiting for everybody to get in the hot tub. Today it was sliced celery, roughly chopped red capsicum, brown mushrooms, and cubed chicken breast and beefsteak, all having been browned first in the cast iron skillet with plenty of ghee, then deglazed with just enough water to grab all of that fabulous fond before diving together into the waiting curry. I didn’t have a lot of time to let it brew today because of the afternoon’s appointments and chores elsewhere, so I had let the coconut milk-curry masala hang about together over low heat beforehand and hoped the quick browning of the solids with a little grey salt and black pepper would bring enough caramelized nuance to the party that the quick coming together would suffice. All of that got scooped onto brown buttered Basmati rice at the table and finished with however much anybody wanted of sliced almonds and a batch of sweetened shredded coconut I’d toasted this afternoon with lots of sesame seeds and a little ground cardamom.

photo with wooden spoon

Sweet garniture . . .

I do like the simplicity of a one-dish meal, even if it’s got a few side components in the way of toppings and pickles and chutneys and garnishes and assorted whatnots. I don’t think anyone left the table starved. Just to be safe I did pass around a few homemade chocolate nut truffles for dessert. I make them in a very homely knife-cut style, but I think of them as the proverbial Smart Girl in the Class: maybe not as universally popular for her unconventional looks as the stereotypical hottie cheerleaders, but wins out on brains and talent and outstanding sense of humor every time. We geeky girls do have our ways. I’m going to assume that our houseguest’s cheerful accusation that I’m a temptress says that dinner went okay, anyway. It sure wasn’t the t-shirt, jeans and mules I potted around in for a weekday of work and errands that inspired the remark. Yup, must be the curry talking!

8 thoughts on “Foodie Tuesday: Currying Favor

  1. ONE of the things we miss the most your not visiting here anymore is the fact that we don’t have an excuse for going out for Indian food as often, if you can imagine i eat less at an Indian buffet than i do when i make the dishes here at home, if it weren’t for the pesky no-goats-in-your-backyard bylaw i would have my own herd for the sole purpose of stewing them in curry. Try this next time you have a hankerin’ for chicken salad sandwhiches…throw a little (or a lot) of that curry recipe, which you are welcome to share with me, in your mix……

    • I’m sure MR wouldn’t mind at all if you raised dwarf goats in your basement, right? After all, it’s so organized now I can’t imagine the goats would have any trouble fitting right in.
      Your recipe is below!

  2. You curry sounds so good, I keep thinking that i should start making my own spice mjx again, but I need to shop abroad for some of the ingredients.. maybe the internet. Is it possible that you could share your marsala recipe or is it a deadly family secret? c

  3. Thanks, both of you! I’ll put up Q’s curry blend recipe tomorrow–home a little too late tonight to go hunting it up.
    Yes, Mark, I love curry with chicken salad. Great in egg salad, too. Or practically anything. Yesterday I came across a website that had a really beautiful and delicious sounding cake that had many layers, one made with each of the individual spices in a curry blend, and one layer that used the blended curry mix. Kind of fussy to make, I’d think, but it sure is cool to think of what it’d taste like and was quite the work of art visually!
    C: I forwarded your post on the Guy Fawkes family extravaganza to my parents, and this was their reply:

    We loved the blog. It reminded your mother of the time that she and [her sister] Judy colored [brother] Eric’s hair with the bit of colorizing mixture that was part of margarine bags many years ago. If you pinched the little “color pouch” and kneaded the bag of margarine-which previously looked like lard, only not as lovely-then you got something that sort of resembled butter.

    A curry spice blend recipe, courtesy of the late Quentin Kintner of Port Angeles, WA.
    I think Q would approve of my sharing this, since he was generous enough to share it with our family in the first place!

    4 T ground turmeric
    3 T ground coriander
    2 T ground cumin
    2 T ground ginger
    1 T ground cardamom
    1 T ground mace
    1 T whole white peppercorns
    1 T whole cloves
    1 T whole fenugreek
    2 tsp ground cayenne

    Grind together and store carefully. That’s it!
    It freezes well, if you’re not fast enough to use it up quickly or planning to give some away. It’s wonderful toasted in either a dry pan or a little ghee before adding to various dishes.

  5. Brilliant. i have written that all down. I love curry but i am not very good at making them. So i am sure that this spice recipe will lift me to another level; in currying favour flavour! thank you again and tell your parents to keep telling those stories i am intrigued b y the colour package. I told my dad the other day. if you knew what colour that marg was before you ate it you never would eat it. c

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