When I very first went to university, and truly discovered the magic of cooking for myself, the first cuisine to dabble my toes in was most definitely Indian. The lure of the exotic, pungent smelling spices has always, always called to me as I’d grown up eating curries and oh my is addictive.
It’s hard to be sure which my first love was – curry or cake – and it has always continued to be a two horse race for first place. The fact that wars have been fought over spice makes utter sense to me. How could you not long to inject as much flavour as possible into every meal? How could you not want to explore a new whole world’s worth of recipes and see just how exciting you can make some very ordinary, everyday ingredients?
It could be as simple as sprinkling a little garam masala on your choice of vegetables cooked with a little oil, garlic and ginger or a more complex dish with layer upon layer of flavour, derived from slow-cooked onions, freshly toasted and ground spices, and not to mention the final flourish of oil tempered with a selection of whole spice to finish dishes such as dhal.
No matter how many are used in a given recipe, Indian cooking works as it balances the spices to perfection and it scintillates the palate as you eat. It makes me cross when I see curry recipes which, thanks to beautiful styling, photography and the use of an Indian word or two, appear on the surface to be the Real Deal but then you read down the list of ingredients and see the dreaded words – “x tbsp curry paste“. European cooks like Jamie Oliver and all too often, the Good Food Magazine in particular are guilty of this and it drives me crazy!
I’ve lost count of the times I seen a saliva-inducing shot of a beautiful curry only to find it’s just a store bought paste or worse, a jar of curry sauce! Shock, horror! :O
Whilst I have purchased curry pastes in years gone by, it was borne out of curiosity as I explored the intoxicating and fragrant world of spice – some were good tasting but the processing always put me off repurchasing. It infuriates me because there’s no need to process spices in the first place and add all kinds of nutritional nastiness. Not to mention that when a recipe calls for “2 tbsp Madras curry powder”, there is no earthly way of knowing when you pick up your little glass jar with a jewel-coloured label off the supermarket shelf, what spices they used in it and if this is in any way what the author of the recipe you’ve chosen intended! It’s an insult to Indian cookery if you ask me!
Which brings up the awkward matter of the subject of today’s post. *Sheepish grin*. Having besmirched store-bought curry pastes and scoffed in utter contempt at the very idea of them, I am about to tell you that you need to make my recipe for All Purpose Curry Paste! Give me a moment to explain myself…
The beauty of making your own curry paste is being able to get a curry on the table quickly, first and foremost. The thing which puts me off making more Indian meals midweek (apart from Hungry Hubby not sharing my single-mindedness on the matter) is being confronted a huge list of ingredients which really makes me want to weep.
I need my heat and spice but I also need feeding, usually within half an hour of starting to prepare the evening meal. If you spend 20 minutes making this paste, you shortcut your way to many a flavour packed meal in the weeks to come. It could be used as a rub or with some yogurt if you wanted to jazz up a steak or come chicken thighs, you can stir a spoonful into some baked beans if you have the same weakness for spicy beans on toast as I do.
When it comes to making a curry with it, I do so by cooking a chopped onion in a little oil or butter then adding a tablespoon of my curry paste. After then, you can add whatever meat, fish or vegetables you want and then take it the way of the tomato by adding a few chopped tomatoes (or opening a can) or go all Southern Indian and crack out the coconuts. Use coconut oil in place of olive to cook your onions then splash in a can of coconut milk when the spice paste has given up it’s intoxicating scent. Like in this prawn curry with cauliflower rice – I’m working on a recipe for this to share with you.
As a quick aside, cauliflower “rice” is a new pash for me. I use a very sharp knife to dice it into small, irregular sized pieces which I then roast with little more than salt, pepper and a spray of nutty rapeseed oil. It roasts in a hot oven in 25 minutes or less and it is so tasty. I turn the fan on in my oven to help drive off excess liquid as you don’t want soggy cauli. It’s brilliant for Fast Days when you can’t spend all your calories on basmati rice, perfect though it is as an accompaniment to almost any Indian dish. And being able to eat pretty much half a head of the creamy, cruciferous veg in one sitting makes me feel very dietetically virtuous!
As for the flavour profile of my curry paste, I’ve spent some time tinkering and to me, this is a perfect base to start your curries from. I love fennel and cardamom and am always drawn to them plus you simply have to start off with twice as much coriander to cumin. It’s a magic ratio. Indian bay does has a slightly different scent to English and do not fear the whole dried chillies – Kashmiri chillies are amongst the mildest.
This blend gives you an earthy, pungent base note to build upon. Add warming ground cinnamon or whole cloves will take your curry in one direction, adding extra chillies and a splash of vinegar takes you away to vindaloo territory. Adding garlic, ginger and oil means cutting out the step of cooking them before adding the spices and in any case, puréeing them brings out so much flavour. In fact, puréed onions are a secret ingredient to many a great curry. They do wonders for the texture – why not give it a try yourself?
There is a time and a place to spend all day creating an authentic Indian feast but on occasion, in this hectic modern life, convenience will trump authenticity – don’t beat yourself up about it, just get your spice (coffee) grinder out and inject a little Indian flavour into your food. Making it yourself totally makes up for the insolent, cheekiness of making a shortcut curry ;)
- 2 tsp fennel seeds
- 4 dried red chillies cherry bomb ones are great here or use 2 of the larger Kashmiri dried chillies
- 4 bay leaves Indian if you can find them
- Seeds of 16 cardamom pods
- 4 tbsp coriander seeds
- 2 tbsp cumin seeds
- 2 tsp black peppercorns
- 2 tbsp ground ginger
- 2 thumb sized pieces of ginger peeled and roughly chopped
- 10 cloves of garlic
- 1 tsp sea salt
- 4 tbsp olive oil
Measure all the spices down to the ground ginger into a dry frying pan and toast on a medium heat until their fragrances are released. Transfer to a plate to cool.
You can grind these by hand in a mortar and pestle or use a mini food processor, spice/coffee grinder or if you have a Bamix with a nut mill, that works very well too (I use a coffee bean grinder I only use for the purpose of grinding spices). If doing it in a machine, you will need to do it in a few batches as most are too small to get it all in in one go.
Once ground, stir in the ginger then transfer to the smallest bowl of your food processor (again I use my Bamix but this time I use it with the multipurpose chopping blade in the tall container that comes with the machine) and add the garlic, fresh ginger and oil. Pulse and process until very well combined and quite smooth.
Transfer to a small sterilised jar and refrigerate until needed.
If keeping more than a couple of days, pour a thin film of olive oil over the top to keep it fresh, topping up as necessary. It keeps for a couple of weeks like this.
You can measure out tablespoons worth and freeze either on a piece of greaseproof until it is solid then transfer to a freezer bag. Or use an ice cube tray you don't plan on using for drinks again to prevent transfer of flavours! Use within 3 months to preserve flavour.