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Curry Theory


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I am not a curry expert by any stretch of the imagination, in fact, I know little about making curries and thought it would be interesting to have a discussion on recipes for preparing the spice base alone, while noting what foods pair nicely with it.

Also if anyone has any techniques or tips on creating a good curry blend/base that would also be great.

Here are some of the spices, off the top of my head, that I go to when making my own curries (using some traditional and non-traditional ingredients).



Black Pepper

Pink Pepper

Long Pepper

Smoked Paprika







Jeremy Behmoaras

Cornell School for Hotel Administration Class '09

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I guess it depends on what style of curry you're looking to make.

I associate galangal, ginger, chilis, and other wet ingredients with a Thai curry. For Indian curries, I always think of dry spices, like mustard seeds, cumin, and turmeric, along with others.

My recipe for green curry paste - which I make when I'm in a place with all the ingredients available, which is - sadly - practically never:

20 small green chilis

3 tablespoons of lemongrass, cut fine

3 tbsp of shallots

2 tbsp of garlic, minced

3 kaffir lime leaves, thinly sliced

1 tsp of galangal. chopped

1 tsp of salt

1 handful of Thai sweet basil

The whole thing gets pounded into a paste, and then topped with a little oil, to help it keep. The recipe comes from a cooking lesson I did at Pum's restaurant, on Ko Phi Phi.

The first "curry powder" I made from scratch was from a recipe in Gourmet magazine. I can't remember the issue, but I think it was a Malaysian style curry, with coconut cream and bananas involved. Back then, my father was obsessed with recreating the curries he'd eaten during his childhood in Southeast Asia, and Saturday nights at our house were spent pursuing this goal. My mother and I drove around to two or three supermarkets trying to find the coconut cream, and were finally contemplating buying a coconut and making it ourselves, when we found some in a baking section somewhere. The spices were no problem, however, and after toasting them and grinding them all together, the taste was a revelation. It was the first curry I ever ate and enjoyed - until then, my father's curry attempts looked highly suspect, since they were ad hoc affairs relying heavily on doses of raw canned curry powder. My father was thrilled that it came out tasting of what he'd grown up with, but even more thrilled that my mother and I enjoyed it as well, since we were always ...polite... about his previous attempts.

I lost that recipe years ago, I wish I still had it.

What really haunts me about curry powder these days, is a Japanese-style curry that I used to eat in Hanoi. You might be familiar with Japanese curry roux blocks, which companies like Glico and House make. It's a popular sort of comfort food in Japan, and shows up in lunch places everywhere. When I was living in Hanoi, there was a lunch cafe that catered to the local expat salarymen - it served, among other things, a curry rice set. But, since curry roux blocks were expensive and difficult to find in Hanoi, the proprietor made his own blend. It was mild, like your standard Japanese curry, but also a little sweet, and faintly suggestive of ginger. If anyone has a recipe for making Japanese-style curry from scratch, I'd love to hear it.

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Curry Theory sounds like a course I would enjoy.

There are infinite flavour variations and so many cultural and geographic connections. That's what I like about curries -- impossible to screw up.

Having said that, the go-to constellation in my wheel is: turmeric, fenugreek, ginger and garlic. You need spicy heat and yogurt on the side. Sweet sultanas, coconut and bananas just make it better. Rice and warm beer. Lamb.

Peter Gamble aka "Peter the eater"

I just made a cornish game hen with chestnut stuffing. . .

Would you believe a pigeon stuffed with spam? . . .

Would you believe a rat filled with cough drops?

Moe Sizlack

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Great topic...Hope it goes much much further....

I have been trying to find some curry spices that are similar to the stuff that the Brits sold pre made in cans 15 years ago or so,,,I probably have the spices in my rack , IF I could get a suitable recipie... keep it going....


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One of the best curry recipes I ever found was one by Colonel Arthur Kenney-Herbert, aka Wyvern. He was an English Army officer posted to India who had a strong interest in food, eventually writing a number of different cookbooks, including the one from which this curry powder recipe came: "Culinary Jottings for Madras"

The subtitle of the book was "A treatise in thirty chapters on reformed cookery based on modern English and continental principles with thirty menus for little dinners worked out in detail and an essay on our kitchens in India."

No self-respecting woman accompanying her husband to India would be without it.

The base curry powder was made up with:

4 Lbs. of turmeric

8 Lbs. of coriander-seed

2 Lbs. of cummin-seed

1 Lb. of poppy-seed

2 Lbs. of fenugreek

1 Lb. of dry-ginger

1/2 Lb. of mustard-seed

1 Lb. of dried chillies

1 Lb. of black pepper corns

The quantities given are quite alarming so feel free to vary them but make sure the proportions are maintained and that you use weight rather than spoon type measures for the quantities. The quantities also refer to the dry weight of the powders rather than the spices themselves. As spices such as coriander yield less powder than chilies or mustard, you will need greater amounts of this spice.

The spice mixture is made up by dry frying each of the spices individually and then grinding them together in a mortar and pestle. Sieve the final mixture to obtain the spice powder. Weigh them at this stage to get your proportions right. You can also use an electric coffee grinder to grind the spices but be warned, if you do this you will never be able to use it for grinding coffee again.

Store the powder in a glass jar (or in the case of the original recipe, many glass jars).

Spices accompanying this base powder when cooking a curry could include any of the following:

cloves, mace, cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom, and allspice.

A beef curry I often make up uses a pound of stewing beef (chuck or blade cut into 1 inch cubes), two tablespoons of the curry powder, 1 cup of chicken stock (I find beef makes it all too strong); 1 cup of coconut milk; 1 small onion; finely sliced; 1 tbsp crushed ginger; 2 cloves garlic, crushed; 2 tsp mango chutney; 2 tsp tamarind concentrate; 2 tsp almond powder; 1 bay leaf.

Salt and brown the beef in some (clarified butter) over high heat, remove beef and place on a plate. Add more ghee and reduce heat to medium. Cook the onion until golden, add the curry powder, stir and fry it until it becomes aromatic. Add the garlic towards the end of this process so it become aromatic but doesn’t burn. Deglaze the pan with some of the stock. Add the beef, the remainder of the stock and turn up the heat to bring to the boil, add the coconut milk towards the end of this time. I then add the browned beef and all the other ingredients, bring it back to the boil and then turn it down low to slow cook for an hour or so. Stir occasionally. When the beef is cooked, you can turn up the heat and reduce the sauce to your desired consistency. Serve with rice and accompaniments.

A low fat version of this can be made by substituting a can of chopped tomatoes and their juice for the coconut milk.

If anyone wants to look at an original copy of the book, it has been digitised and can be found at this web address:


Nick Reynolds, aka "nickrey"

"The Internet is full of false information." Plato
My eG Foodblog

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Jeremey, Others:

The term "curry" is deceptive. It sounds like you're talking about a single thing, which of course you're not. Curry refers to any dish with a spiced sauce in a Southeast Asian style. You have Indian curries, Thai curries, Malaysian curries, even Japanese curries.

In Nepal, for example, the word isn't "curry", it's "masala", as in spice mixture. But not a single mixture ... the average spice vendor would have at least 20 different blends, each of which had names. "Garam masala" is such a mix, but of course it varies.

Further, if you were making a curry in an Indian household, the spices would be added at different times in the cooking. Strong aromatics might be added before vegetables, dried spices added at various points in the cooking, and leaves and herbs added when nearly done or after cooking.

On the other hand, Thai and other Indochina curries tend to consist of a prepared paste, made with a variety of spices in the mortar & pestle, which is the first ingredient in the pot/wok.

There are quite a range of spices which are appropriate to one or another type of curry. Including: garlic, galangal, rhiosome, ginger, astofetida, onion, cloves, cinnamon, capsicum peppers of all kinds, black pepper, cumin (brown and black), coriander (seed and leaf), curry leaves, kafir lime leaves, lemongrass, sawtooth coriander, basil, raw turmeric, dried turmeric, mustard seed (black, brown or yellow), fenugeek, cardamom, caraway seed, dried shrimp and salt. And most of these spices can be whole, ground, roasted, fried, pulverized and/or fresh.

I had a point here, but I've forgotten what it was.

Recommended: Curry, A Tale of Cooks and Conquerors

Edited by TheFuzzy (log)

The Fuzzy Chef


Think globally, eat globally

San Francisco

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I usually make curry with mixture of different spices but dont add all together, i do it in step wise. In first step i add


red chili powder

giinger garlic paste

when these spices completely cook then i add

cumin powder

black pepper powder

all spice powder (if needed)

The curry will be very tasty.

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Jeremey, Others:

The term "curry" is deceptive.  It sounds like you're talking about a single thing,


Thats fair.

I guess what I'm looking for is a better understanding of the technique in applying these spices to a dish (so when to add what spices) and some insight perhaps into the technique of developing a spice blend. Of course this is subject to taste, but I'm sure traditions of various cultures may have some guidelines that help direct you along your way when coming up with your personal curry or "masala" blend.

The truth is. I thought i was never into dishes revolving around various curries because they can often be prepared poorly if you go to the wrong the place. Now that i have been enlightened, and given the fact that I love to cook, why not learn how to prepare them myself and later adjust them to my own tastes or use them as grounds for inspiration of new dishes.

Jeremy Behmoaras

Cornell School for Hotel Administration Class '09

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Of course this is subject to taste, but I'm sure traditions of various cultures may have some guidelines that help direct you along your way when coming up with your personal curry or "masala" blend.

It's really difficult to come up with your own blend -- you really have to get a sense for appropriate ingredient proportions by extensively testing well-researched recipes, preferably from a single author.

I'm exploring Indian blends, and I've been sticking to Julie Sahni's books. It's really easy to get overwhelmed when you're learning curries from several authors and cuisines because the proportions will vary wildly. I really recommend sticking with one recipe source for a while and gain that instinct for balancing spices.

What I've found out so far:

Don't skimp on the oil -- This is where most of the flavor and aroma ends up when heat is applied. If there's not enough of it then you end up with sawdust.

Buy turmeric in bulk :)

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After a particularly memorable fish curry in Bombay many years ago, I was moved to ask about the spices used.

The Indian waiter duly reported back with the word "garam."

In those pre-Internet days I duly researched the word and found it meant "spice mix."

Despite being let down at not finding out the secrets of the dish, I took from this that Indian cooks blend spices according to taste and the dishes. As people have noted above, the mixtures vary from recipe to recipe and I'd add to this that they vary from region to region and cook to cook.

It is worthwhile mastering the procedures for making a curry and then adapting recipes according to taste. This allows you, for example, to remove fenugreek from a mix as many people of non-Indian extraction do not particularly like this spice. It also allows you to find out that substances like astofeida (hing) powder are used to make the spice mixture a bit more gentle on the stomach. I suspect this is a cool food like those that you use in Chinese cooking to balance the dishes.

For a history of Indian curry, I'd second TheFuzzy's recommendation of Curry, A Tale of Cooks and Conquerors

Apart from being a very good read, it also has some nice recipes.

What is apparent from the book is that Indian food has evolved and incorporated many influences from all the peoples that have invaded it over the years.

In the world of vegetarian curry cooking, you cannot go past Sumana Ray's "Indian Vegetarian Cooking." She also has a very good book called "Indian Regional Cooking."

Also you could search through eGullet for posts by wazza, he is a font of information about Indian curries.

Acknowledging the very valid point that "curry" doesn't necessarily imply Indian food or even one dish, I'd also like to recommend David Thompson's book "Thai Food."

As a counterpoint to the Indian curry recipe I gave earlier I'd like to include a Thai curry recipe to give an idea of the processes used.

This one comes from a book by Somi Miller and Patricia Lake called "Thai Cooking Class" http://www.amazon.com/Cooking-Class-Books-...n/dp/1863781439 and is one of the best Thai green chicken curry recipes I've come across. The book is excellent and easy to use.

Note the similarities (ground cumin and coriander seeds) as well as some markedly different ingredients from the Indian curries. Thai preparations add local ingredients such as galangal (a type of fragrant rhizome, from the same family as ginger and turmeric), blachan (very smelly prawn paste), lemon grass, coriander leaves and stems, and cloves.

It is of paramount important that the final dish is tasted and balanced across sweet (use palm sugar to adjust), sour (use lime juice), salty (use fish sauce), and hot (chili). You'll know when you get the balance correct for you.

Green Sweet Chicken Curry (GAENG KEOW WAN GAI)


2 tbsp vegetable oil

1 ½ tbsp green curry paste (bought or homemade [see below])

1 fresh green chilli, finely sliced

4 Kaffir leaves, sliced (if using dried, soak for 10 minutes in water, then slice)

3 cups (750 ml) coconut milk

1 tbsp fish sauce

2 tsp palm sugar

500g raw chicken meat, cut into bite sized pieces (I use thigh)

30 g sliced zucchini or eggplant

30g fresh or frozen peas or pea aubergines

1 tbsp fresh basil leaves


In a large saucepan, briefly stir-fry in oil over a medium heat curry paste, chilli and lime leaves. Then add sugar, coconut milk, fish sauce and sugar. When coconut milk begins to bubble, add chicken turn down heat and simmer to reduce sauce. If it becomes too thick, add a little water or coconut milk.

When chicken is cooked and sauce is desired consistency, add peas and zucchini or eggplant, cooking briefly to retain their firmness. Remove from heat and stir in basil leaves, retaining a few for garnishing. Serve with rice.

Quantity serves four

Homemade Green Curry Paste (KRUANG GAENG KEOW WAN)

4 tbsp roughly chopped lemon grass

1 tbsp galangal, pre-soaked for 30 minutes

2 tbsp chopped garlic

1 medium-sized onion, chopped

2 whole coriander plants, including roots and stems, chopped

1 tsp chopped line or lemon zest

15 fresh green chillies

10 black peppercorns, cracked

2 tsp ground coriander

2 tsp ground cumin

2 tsp shrimp paste (blachan)

1 tsp salt

3 cloves

3 bay leaves

2 tbsp vegetable oil, for blending

Blend or process all the ingredients, using extra oil if necessary to achieve a smooth paste.

This recipe makes about 1 cup (250 ml) of paste. It will keep for several weeks in a clear container in the refrigerator. Freeze what you do not use in pre-measured amounts for later use [most recipes use about 1-2 tbsp of paste]

Nick Reynolds, aka "nickrey"

"The Internet is full of false information." Plato
My eG Foodblog

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First you have to pick a regional cuisine. Thai curries are very different from Indian, and even within Indian, the spices used by the Punjabi are notably different from those used in Kerala.

Asking for a recipe for "curry" is a lot like asking for a recipe for "pie". What pie? What style?

So, pick a region and we'll take its flavors apart. Seems like we have lots of input here.

The Fuzzy Chef


Think globally, eat globally

San Francisco

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