Curry. Where do I begin? It’s like taking something like a sandwich and trying to describe the complete essence of what a sandwich is in one paragraph. There are certain conditions that exist such as bread and filling that let us know the form of it but that’s about where the simplicity ends and the magic begins. The same holds true for curry I think, a combination of spices, whole or ground or both, in a dish that is wet or dry, that may contain meat, or fish, or neither. This is the simplicity. The magic is the multitude of combinations. The only other simple fact that cannot be denied is the worldwide love and affection for it, and recognising its place in the repertoire of any good homecook.
While there are so many curry recipes, the one that follows is a general, solid, “go-to” base that is sufficiently versatile so as to appreciate the flavours of both lamb and chicken, and yet complex enough that it can equally be enjoyed as a vegetarian dish. Please don’t be intimidated by the list of ingredients or spices if you are new to Indian cooking, there is nothing listed that cannot be acquired from any good supermarket. For those of you who are somewhat more experienced in the spice department and want to learn some more I am including a recipe from Rick Stein for garam masala. Nearly as complex itself as the curries it flavours, it is a blend of spices that are toasted and then ground and it differs regionally, and perhaps indeed from house to house depending on personal taste. Making your own adds a fantastic depth of flavour to this or any curry and will be that difference maker if you are looking to elevate your cooking.
- 1 tbsp black peppercorns
- 2 tbsp cumin seeds
- 2 tbsp coriander seeds
- 2 tsp cardamom seeds (from 30-40 green pods)
- 4 tsp whole cloves
- 7cm piece of cinnamon stick broken up
- 1 whole nutmeg
Clockwise from top centre: cumin seeds, cinnamon stick, whole nutmeg, cloves, coriander seeds, black peppercorns, cardamon pods
- Place a dry frying pan on a medium high heat and add all the spices except for the nutmeg. Fry for a couple of minutes until nicely toasted and the wonderful aroma of the spices is released. Remove from the pan to a bowl and allow to cool.
- Add the cooled toasted spices to a spice grinder and grate in the nutmeg
- Grind everything to a fine powder. Store in a sealed container out of the sunlight; it will keep its most aromatic condition for a month.
Lamb or Chicken Curry with potatoes, chickpeas, and spinach
- 2 tbsp vegetable oil
- 400g approx. baby (or firm, waxy) potatoes
- 1kg lamb fillet or shoulder, cut into 3cm/1in cubes
- 4 skinless chicken breast fillets (Free-range or organic if possible), cut into 3cm/1in cubes
- 2 onions, roughly chopped
- 4 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
- 2 chillies (green, red, or one of each), deseeded and finely chopped
- 1 thumb sized piece of ginger, peeled and finely grated
- 1 tbsp ground turmeric
- 1½ tbsp garam masala
- 1½ tbsp ground cumin
- 1 tbsp ground coriander
- 1 tbsp chilli powder
- 1 tbsp plain flour
- 2 large tomatoes, roughly chopped
- 1 x 400g tin chopped tomatoes
- 1 x 400g tin chickpeas, drained and rinsed
- 400ml tin coconut milk
- 1 chicken or veg stock cube
- 250g baby spinach leaves
- 200g natural (low-fat is fine) or Greek style yoghurt
- 1 tsp lemon juice
- salt and freshly ground black pepper
- basmati rice and chopped fresh coriander leaf, to serve
Chopped garlic, ginger, chillies and spices
- Wash the potatoes, leaving the skin on. Quarter the potatoes if using small baby potatoes, otherwise cut into ½ inch pieces. Place in a saucepan filled with salted water, put on a high heat and bring to the boil. When boiling, reduce heat and simmer for approx. 5 minutes until al dente and not quite cooked through. Drain and set aside.
- Heat a large saucepan and add one tablespoon of the vegetable oil and then the lamb (or the chicken if using that). Cook over a high heat for 3-4 minutes, or until the lamb is golden-brown all over, then remove and set aside.
- Reduce the heat to medium-low and add the remaining tablespoon of vegetable oil. Add the onions and cook gently for 10 minutes.
- Add the garlic, chillies and ginger and fry for another 2-3 minutes, until golden and softened.
- Add all the turmeric, garam masala, cumin, ground coriander and chilli powder and fry, stirring well, for one minute, adding a splash of water every now and then if the spices stick.
- Add the flour and cook for a further minute. By this stage you should have a nice thick curry paste. Add the potatoes, stirring until they are coated in the paste.
- Add the chopped fresh tomatoes, the tinned tomatoes, the chickpeas and coconut milk and the lamb and heat to bring to a simmer.
- Add the chicken stock cube and half fill the empty tin from the tomatoes, adding that also to the saucepan. Stir well, scraping the bottom of the pan to deglaze and release any residue at the bottom of the pan.
- Heat the mixture until simmering, then cover and cook on a low heat for about one hour, or until the lamb is tender and cooked through. If making with chicken breast, add back into the saucepan about 10 minutes from the end.
- Skim off any excess fat from the surface of the sauce, then add the spinach, stirring through. Cook for 1-2 minutes, until the spinach has wilted.
- Add the yoghurt, season, to taste, with salt and freshly ground black pepper and stir well. Finally add the lemon juice to bring the flavours together.
- Serve onto warmed plates with steamed basmati rice alongside.
Lamb curry garnished with fresh coriander leaf, yoghurt, and chilli