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.
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.
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!