How to Make a Great Indian Curry

Top Tips to Make a great Indian CurryCurry is a spicy, creamy and flavorful accompaniment for rice, bread or naan. The right technique and right choice of spices added at the right time is what makes a great curry. Practice with the right sequence of steps and you can change the flavor and taste of the dish. Follow these four simple steps in the right order:

1) Tempering

Commonly Used Ingredients: Mustard seeds, Cumin seeds, Clarified Butter/ Sunflower oil/ Coconut oil / Vegetable oil.

Tempering also known in local Hindi dialect as ‘tadka’ or ‘chaunk’ is a cooking technique used in most Indian recipes. For Indian cuisines, curry preparation starts with tempering but a few well-known exceptions exist. Dahl, Sambar, Stew or Rasam are a few noticeable Indian cuisines that require tempering in the end. For these dishes, temper the spices in a separate pan and add it along with the oil. Tempering releases the essential oil of the spices from its cells and enhances the flavor of the dish.

While tempering, add Mustard seeds, Cumin seeds and other whole spices to 1-2 Tbsp of hot vegetable oil or ghee/ clarified butter; when the seeds splutter, add the rest of the tempering ingredients. Make sure that the mustard seeds pop to avoid the bitter taste. After you hear a popping sound, lower the heat to medium or low. Add the rest of the spices in immediate succession, starting with those ingredients that require longer cooking time followed by those that require less cooking time. 

We recommend Clarified Butter, Sunflower oil, Coconut oil, Vegetable oil, or any oil that can tolerate high temperature. Avoid Olive oil as it breaks down at high temperature. The most common ingredients used for tempering are curry leaves, fresh green chilies, finely chopped onion, whole dried red chili, Urad Dal/ lentil (for crunch), Grated Coconut, Garlic, Fenugreek Seeds, Fennel Seeds, Ginger or powdered Spices; when you add spices like Cayenne/Paprika/Red Chili Powder, use lesser quantity.  

2) Sautéing 

Commonly Used Ingredients: Aromatic spices (Cinnamon, Cloves, Black Cardamom, Green Cardamom, Black Peppercorns, Bay Leaf and Star Anise), Onion, Ginger, Garlic, Tomato, Green Chili and Powdered Spices

For curries where tempering is the first step, Sautéing starts when we add aromatic spices like cinnamon, cloves, black cardamom, green cardamom, black peppercorns, bay leaf and star anise and fry  it for 1-2 min. 

Finely chop the onions and add it to the sautéed spices. Fry till the onions turn translucent, and the color is Golden Brown. Add Ginger and garlic in the form of a paste or after grating, chopping or mincing. At this stage, add salt to avoid burning of the mixture. To the mixture, add chopped tomatoes or tomato puree and cook till the oil separates and sour taste of the tomato is no longer present. Balance the sourness of the tomato by adding 1/2 to 1 Tsp of Sugar. Chop fresh Green Chili and add to the mixture. The juices in the tomato prevent the volatile oil in the Chili from escaping as fumes and irritating the eyes. 

On a low flame, add powdered spices like turmeric, red chili powder, coriander powder, cumin powder, fennel powder or curry powder, and roast for 5-8 min till the spices are aromatic, and the oil starts to separate. The mixture should look glossy. You can add the spices in quick succession or as a spice mix in 2-3 Tbsp of water to avoid burning. This is an important step and decides the texture, aroma, and taste of the curry. 

For Cuisines that use Red meat, add the meat immediately and sear it for 4-5 min to lock in the moisture and coat it with the spices. If you want to create tastier red meat curries, marinate the meat for over 1-hour before sautéing so that the meat turns juicy and absorbs all the flavors from the spices.

3) Curry Base

Commonly Used Ingredients: Coconut paste or Coconut milk (Curry, Ceylon), ground cashew nut (Korma), Ground Almond (Korma), Ground Peanut (Curry), Fresh Cream (Korma, Passanda), yogurt (Korma, Passanda), Pureed vegetable like spinach (saag), Onion or Tomatoes (Jalfrezi, Rogan), Pureed Chilies (Vindaloo).

Curry Base binds the ingredients and mellows down the spiciness, giving a creamy texture to the dish. When you are using the first extract of coconut milk or yogurt as a base, don’t boil it, or you may split the extract. Heat it in a low flame. Fresh Cream does not curdle, and you can boil it safely without worrying about splitting. These three ingredients are usually added as Final Touches.

After adding the curry base, bring the mixture to a boil and when you see an oil film at the top of the curry, add vegetables or white meat. Cover and cook on a slow simmer till it is done.

For the curry preparation, use water as a medium to cook the vegetables. To shorten the cooking time, use boiled water in place of cold water. Another flavorful variation is the addition of vegetable or meat stock in place of regular water. You can also add the excess water from the boiling of the lentils or pasta to the dish.

4) Final Touches

At the end of the cooking - add Garam Masala; it is a blend of 4-5 different spices that add depth and intensity to the curry, instead of making the dish spicy. This Masala is a roasted and finely ground mix that does not need much cooking. The quantity required is small. The homemade Garam Masala gives more flavor and aroma than the store bought ones, but its flavor decreases on longer storage. Prepare Garam Masala in small quantity that can last for ten days and store it in an airtight container.

Add Fresh cream, yogurt, first extract of the coconut milk and the tempered spices for the final touches. To give color and flavor to the dish, chop the coriander (cilantro) leaves and add as a garnish in the end, just before serving. You can also use Lemon wedges, Ginger julienne and Onion Rings as other garnishes.