What is curry? Unfortunately, this question does not have a simple answer. While many people believe that curry refers to a single spice called curry powder, found in spice racks at the local supermarket, curry can actually be dry or wet, a mixture of dry spices or a spiced sauce. There is a good chance that the dish you are served at a restaurant won't contain curry leaves. It may not even be hot.
The History of Curry Powder
Much of our confusion dates back to the days of British colonialism. The story goes that a British official, preparing to leave India and wanting to enjoy his favorite Indian dishes after he returned home, ordered his servant to prepare a mix of Indian spices. Thus, the identification of curry with a dry powder was born.
It doesn't help that commercially made curried powders often bear little resemblance to the fragrant spice mixtures prepared from scratch daily by Indian housewives. (This also helps explain why restaurant take-out dishes such as Singapore Curried Rice Noodles get such a bad rap).
What is Curry...Really?
To understand the true nature of curry, it helps to know that the word comes from the Tamil kahri, which means "sauce". Throughout Southeast Asia and India, curries are not spice blends but a dish, one with a liquid, gravy-like consistency. Also, contrary to popular opinion, not every curry is overly hot. This makes sense when you consider that, although curries have been a mainstay of Indian cooking for centuries, chili peppers are a New World fruit. Prior to the capsicum's introduction to Europe (and subsequently Asia) by Spanish and Portuguese explorers, the most pungent ingredient in a curry mix would have been black pepper.Today, there are four spices commonly found in curry pastes and powders:
Chilies - the type used will affect the pungency of the dish; generally smaller chilies are hotter. The red and green curry pastes featured in Thai cooking are made with red and green chilies, respectively.
Turmeric - this is what gives many curries their yellow color.
Coriander - the seeds from the coriander plant, valued since ancient times for their rumored aphrodisiacal properties
Cumin - one of the world's oldest seasonings, it has a nutty flavor and is frequently used in spice blends
Although there are no hard and fast rules, at least three of these spices will be present in most curries.
"Curry is not a thing, it is a state of being." (from the Dinner Co-op Web site)
Next Page - On to the Curry Recipes!