The joy of curry

I love curry. I used to say ‘the spicier, the better’, but then I moved in with a chili-intolerant man and started making them much milder. Now I still love spice, but I can’t take as much heat as I used to. No big deal – I just serve the chilis on the side where people can add them as they please.

I also used to put salt in my curry – and in everything, really. Like most people, I added a dash or more of salt to whatever I was cooking, although I didn’t really know how much of that salt I was tasting. I understand we grow accustomed to the flavour after a while and need more salt to get the same kick.

Then my chili-intolerant man was diagnosed with high blood pressure – extremely high, although it’s now under control. At the time, I went into health-conscious overdrive and set about eliminating salt, that bane of blood pressure, from our diets. To stop adding salt to my cooking was the work of a moment, but when I started examining the ingredient lists of our packaged foods, I was shocked at how much salt they contained. Puffed rice cereal contains .39 grams of sodium per 30 gram serving – and who’s going to eat just 30 grams? We fill our bowls and get a lot more salt than we bargained on – and we can’t even taste it! I won’t even go into the amount of salt in biscuits and cookies, crackers, crisps, etc. Even condiments and mixed spices contain salt – even curry powder, which we used a lot of at the time.

We live down the street from a very well-stocked Indian grocery, with shelves of different whole and ground spices. How hard could it be, I thought, to make my own curry powder?

Incredibly easy, as it happens. I looked at recipes online (they were all different) and devised a list of ingredients that looked similar to what was contained in our storebought curry powder, without the salt.

Having recently received a small mortar and pestle for a wedding present, I decided to go all the way and bought whole spices, roasting and grinding them myself. The roasting took about 30 seconds per spice, and I had to take them out quickly before they burned. I’ve since learned to turn down the heat and make the process a bit more controllable. I was also given a much larger mortar and pestle, which makes the job much more enjoyable – it even handles the fenugreek seeds, hard little bullets that are exhausting to grind by hand.

The first time I made curry powder, I carefully mixed and added turmeric until it looked and smelled like the stuff in the can from Sainsbury’s. It was delicious, but since then I’ve seldom made the same recipe twice. I’ve gone from carefully measuring out teaspoons of mustard seeds to pouring a bit into my hand, judging it by eye and tossing it into the frying pan. Here’s a rough recipe for what I made this morning:

  • 2 teaspoons whole brown mustard
  • 2 teaspoons whole cumin
  • 3 teaspoons whole fenugreek
  • 2 teaspoons whole fennel seeds
  • 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 3 teaspoons ground coriander (coriander seeds are very difficult to grind — the little husks go everywhere)
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

In a dry frying pan over medium heat, roast the mustard seeds until they are fragrant and slightly darker. Immediately dump into a mortar and pestle, grind into powder and pour into your curry powder jar. Do the same with the other whole spices. Add the ground spices to the curry powder jar, put on the lid tightly and briefly admire the visual effect you get from the different layers of spices. Shake the jar vigorously until the spices are well mixed. Remove the lid and sniff. Ahhhhh …

That’s the most delightful part of the whole exercise, actually – the incredible smell that fills your house as you roast and grind these spices. You don’t get that from store-bought powder. And you can grind the spices in a spice grinder or small food processor, of course, but then your arms and shoulders wont’ get the kind of workout they get from grinding up 3 teaspoons of whole fenugreek – or more if you make a double recipe, which I usually do.

The powder keeps very well, but once I started using it, I found I was using a lot more than I had in the past. I was cooking more curries, but I also found that without the salt, the stuff just tastes a lot better and I wanted more of it in my food.


About emilyallwright

I'm an American living in England with my husband and small child. I'm interested in sustainable living and old-fashioned skills, detective fiction and folk music.
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