We’ve all heard of ‘Curry’ and most of us have tasted one version or another of this classic spicy, saucy Indian dish. Actually, ‘Curry’ is more of a style than a specific recipe. In fact, there are probably as many ‘Curry’ recipes as there are cooks who make it. And where you eat your Curry is just as important!
There are no fewer than 37 distinct, recognized regional culinary styles in India and its immediate environs. And most of them have their own Take on ‘Curry’, as the terms applies to spicy stew.And that doesn’t count India’s neighbours including Pakistan, Afghanistan, Myanmar (Burma), Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia and Vietnam. Oh… China is a major player in the Curry universe, too. There are, by one count, some 25 different regional Curry styles.
Other well-known regional variations include Indian Red, or Madras Curry along with the two main Thai versions, Red and Green. But the truth is, those well-known Curry styles are just the tip of an iceberg.
Where do you start?
Curry is, properly, the name given to Asian Stews (with or without Meat) that feature a thick, spicy sauce. You can ‘Curry’ anything, from Chicken to Seafood to Vegetables to Lentils. And they do!
The Yellow Curry most of us are probably most familiar with is from India, and its three principle ingredients are fairly common to all Curries: Turmeric, Coriander Seed and Cumin Seed. Most Curries also feature fresh or dried Hot Chili Peppers. ‘Hot’ Curries have more Pepper, ‘Sweet’ curries have less.
Curries can be ‘Dry’ or ‘Wet’. Wet curries are the familiar saucy stews. Dry Curries include preparations in which the Curry Spice mixture coats or crusts the food (usually bite-sized meats) and most of the liquid in the dish evaporates before serving. Dry Curries are among the hottest and most intense of their ilk!
The Western take…
Prepared Curry Pastes and Powders are popular among Western cooks. The ‘Curry’ Powder or Paste you get in a bottle or pouch in the supermarket is, actually, a spice blend that was created for sale to British colonial soldiers and diplomats, who took it home to England. Hence, the popularity of the ‘Indian Take-Away’ there, which is almost always based on some version of good old Yellow Curry.
In fact, every traditional Asian cook who makes Curries probably has his or her own preferred family spice blend, or Masla. It’s probably been passed down in the family for generations and bears the stamp not only of family preferences but regional variations on the overall theme.
The Curry Tree
Oh, yes… You might have heard of the Curry Tree. It’s a real thing. And its leaves are often used in traditional Curry recipes in India and Sri Lanka, its home turf. Like Crushed Sassafras Leaves in File Gumbo, there’s really no substitute for Curry Leaves in some regional Indian Curries. You might find Curry Leaves Dried at your friendly neighbourhood Asian grocery, near the Dried Lime Leaves. If you do, get some and try it!
Remember: Like the cooks of Asia, if you like Curry, it’s almost your duty to develop and cherish your own family Curry recipe!
For a good grounding in Curry cuisine, check out this classic, authentic Red Curry recipe from my colleague, New Zealand food blogger Jen Miller!
~ Maggie J.