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Homemade curry powder


chappie
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Perhaps it depends on what dishes you are making? From following your foodblog and some of your other posts, I don't recall you using curry powder or other spice blends (with the exception of garam masala) much Mongo.

Are there some dishes that you use curry powder for and others that are prepared from particular amounts of particular spices?

In my indian cooking (rudimentary though it is) most of the dishes I make call for custom quantities and combinations--cumin, coriander and fenugreek in this one, turmeric, coriander, cinnamon and cumin in another etc. And different proportions of each.

I don't have anything against curry powder, but I usually want more control than it offers.

fred,

i almost always use curry powder when making chicken or goat "curries". bengali cooking, especially for fish or vegetables, doesn't call for much spices at all so it doesn't show up much there for that reason. there is so much more that goes into commercial curry powder mixes than just ground cumin, coriander, turmeric, chilli etc. anyway. when i use curry powder i tend not to think of it in terms of the sum of or control over component spices but as a thing in and of itself: if at this stage i add some turmeric, red chilli, pepper and this curry powder what will it taste like? or if at this stage i add some turmeric, red chilli, pepper, cumin powder, coriander powder etc. what will it taste like? what i never do is use curry powder as a catch-all replacement for all other spices in a dish.

what i worry about most is what the end result tastes like--if i like it i don't worry about where the spices were ground or blended.

the one area where most people would probably readily be able to tell the difference between fresh and not-fresh blends is garam masala--but there too probably only in the case of dishes where the garam masala is sprinkled on top of the dish after it comes off of heat. my mother makes custom garam masalas for sprinkling on certain veg. dishes in this way; for curries etc. she is happy to use commercial blends.

mongo

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In my indian cooking (rudimentary though it is) most of the dishes I make call for custom quantities and combinations--cumin, coriander and fenugreek in this one, turmeric, coriander, cinnamon and cumin in another etc. And different proportions of each.

I don't have anything against curry powder, but I usually want more control than it offers.

this is very good reasoning. unless, i suppose, you stock your shelves with a bunch of different powders...

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Well first - curry powder is not really used in the Indian kitchen.. -- many spice mixes are used - like Garam Masala, Chat Masala, Tandoori masala etc... some of these are easy to make at home like Garam Masala and others like Chaat Masala most people buy. Yes in India and even here many Indian cooks buy the premade masalas. If you like a specific taste its good to make your own but some of the store bought stuff -- some of the newer brands are actually pretty good

i'm going to have to disagree with the first statement here. if curry powder isn't used in the indian kitchen i have no idea why there are so many brands of it available in every grocery store in india. and it isn't just people in a rush who use them--i know many, many excellent cooks (my mother among them) who use it. ditto with pretty much every commercial masala (individual or mix). there are many brands, with different blends, and you get to know what you like and how to mix it with other spices to achieve different flavors. it isn't necessarily the case that casual cook begin with commercial mixes and then graduate to painstakingly roasting, grinding and blending their own.

in matters like these, whether in relation to indian or some other cuisine, i find it is largely people outside the culture, and sometimes people originally from it who need to for some reason mystify it, who are invested in things like grinding all their spices fresh whenever they need them. (i'm not including people like monica or tryska in this characterization, of course.) more power to those who want to roast, grind and blend all their own masalas (presumably they also make all their mayos and pickles from scratch)--but i'd be shocked if 99% of them would be able to tell the difference between the same curry cooked with commercial curry powder or some home-made mix.

as for curry leaves--the indian cuisines that use them the most (largely southern indian cuisines) have very little by way of "curries" that at all resemble north indian curries, which are what most non-indians think of when they see or hear the word. the word "kari" means roughly "thin gravy"--how this became something also associated with chicken tikka masala is a long, confusing story.

Note- I said in traditional kitchen in India -- for many years it was not used and this is a fairly recent addition -- spice mixes are used.. but a plain "curry powder" is generally not... commerical mixes are used yes and very much so. So "chicken curry masala" is definately used but a plain old "curry powder" might not be

Monica Bhide

A Life of Spice

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Mexican women use Dona Maria mole and Americans use Ragu pasta sauce, doesn't make it right.  It's a convenience, but I don't think it's much of one.

this isn't an exact analogy. it would be if we were talking about things like bottled rogan josh sauce or biryani paste or things like that--they do exist. powdered spices don't play this role in the average indian kitchen--whether you buy commercial or make your own you are going to use them, along with things like tomatoes, onions and potatoes, to arrive at the home-made version of the bottled sauce.

my advice always to those in search of culinary/cooking authenticity: watch out that you don't become more authentic than the people who actually cook and eat the food on a daily basis.

agreed

Monica Bhide

A Life of Spice

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[the one area where most people would probably readily be able to tell the difference between fresh and not-fresh blends is garam masala--but there too probably only in the case of dishes where the garam masala is sprinkled on top of the dish after it comes off of heat. .

Yes as I mentioned earlier our family is the same and this is one masala we make fresh as well - always

Monica Bhide

A Life of Spice

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According to this India agriculture web site, "Curry powder is a British invention to imitate the flavor of Indian cooking with minimal effort. "

This is true as I know it. That is why the addition of just plain curry powder is a recent addition to the Indian kitchen. Commerical mixes that are specific curry mixes - vindaloo masala, chaat masala etc are very popular now.

Monica Bhide

A Life of Spice

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If you had read the rest of my posts you would have noted that I said in traditional kitchen in India -- for many years it was not used and this is a fairly recent addition -- spice mixes are used.. but a plain "curry powder" is generally not... commerical mixes are used yes and very much so. So "chicken curry masala" is definately used but a plain old "curry powder" might not be

monica,

i was responding to posts as i encountered them--sorry i missed where you qualified this to "traditional kitchen".

generic curry powder has been around a long time as well, and there are still many brands of it available in grocery stores in india. things like kitchen king and specific curry powders are relatively recent, yes, but they haven't superseded generic curry powder completely. rajmah masala is something i'm very grateful for, by the way--i mean when was the last time i had pumpkin or pomegranate seeds (whichever it is that's in there) lying around for me to grind myself?

and i think you'll agree that there are many things that were done "traditionally" that aren't any more: getting flours of all kinds ground to order, always making dahi at home (as opposed to going to mother dairy), ditto for ghee etc. i find it amusing that practice changes in the home-country without too many people getting worked up about it, but foodies elsewhere are determined to hold on to the "right" way of doing things--i'm not saying this is what you are doing, of course. a lot of foodies in the u.s, it seems to me, almost long for markers of complicated "authenticity" in indian and other "ethnic" cuisines--it almost seems to be necessary as a stick with which to beat the lack of these things in their own cuisines.

in some ways it comes down to who the mediators of a particular cuisine in another culture are, what their exposure to the various levels of their cuisine in their home country has been, and to what degree they're willing to go against the grain of the way their cuisine/culture is talked about abroad. too many indian cookbook writers and chefs* seem willing to feed/perpetuate certain ways of thinking about indian food/culture.

younger writers like you can do a lot to combat these misperceptions or to present other pictures to hold up against them.

mongo

*in fact most trained indian chefs don't always have a very good idea of how to cook home food anyway! i have friends back home who went through the hotel management schools and went to work in 5-star kitchens. they can whip up amazing dal makhnis etc. at the drop of a hat but ask them to make a simple alu-palak and they might look foxed.

edit: to re-organize paragraphs

Edited by mongo_jones (log)
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I think we are saying the exact same thing. I agree with what you are saying here. The terms might be confusing to people

yes - people outside of India are holding onto a lot of ways that are no longer so at home. i have an upcoming piece on this exact thread in the Washington Post..

I can almost have a bet that if I have a dinner party and make two versions of each dish - one with commercial mixes and one without 99% of the people will not be able to tell the difference

Monica Bhide

A Life of Spice

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my advice always to those in search of culinary/cooking authenticity: watch out that you don't become more authentic than the people who actually cook and eat the food on a daily basis.

Really, mongo? Not to get into yet another argument on authenticity/traditionality and cooking from scratch (see my most recent comments in the Texas thread), but I think that's one of the worst sentiments I can imagine for a food lover. Some results of taking that literally in America:

* Only make mac and cheese from boxes of Kraft

* Pasta sauce comes from a jar

* Garlic bread comes out of a foil-lined bag

* Cheesecake comes from a box in the freezer section

Etc.

Further, you could only buy your produce at the local mega-mart, and if your tomatoes are tasteless, and your apples taste like carboard, so be it, at least you're not "more authentic than the people who actually...eat the food on a daily basis".

There are lots of advantages to cooking from scratch: cost, flavor, experience, etc. Usually, the only advantage to not cooking from scratch is time. It can be an important or determining factor, I understand. But a lot is lost in privileging convenience. How many people in the US know how make pasta sauce, bread, mac and cheese, or cheesecake from scratch, even following a recipe? How long following America's lead before India is the same?

If it's just about convenience, go out and eat. If you're just trying to get something quick, they can probably do it better than you anyway.

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I can almost have a bet that if I have a dinner party and make two versions of each dish - one with commercial mixes and one without 99% of the people will not be able to tell the difference

And this is a good thing? Most people can't tell the difference between Olive Garden and Babbo, but would you exalt that?

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I can almost have a bet that if I have a dinner party and make two versions of each dish - one with commercial mixes and one without 99% of the people will not be able to tell the difference

And this is a good thing? Most people can't tell the difference between Olive Garden and Babbo, but would you exalt that?

The point is some good quality spice mixes are pretty good. that is all.

Edited by Monica Bhide (log)

Monica Bhide

A Life of Spice

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I happen to like garam masala with coconut and cardamom in the mix. A bit busy at the moment, I could post details later if you want.

edit: I'm one of the "from scratch people" btw. Unapologetically so.

Soba

This is a good thing. the only point I was trying to make is that every Indian cook does not make everything Indian from scratch and they should not have to. If you want to that is a wonderful thing to do :biggrin:

Monica Bhide

A Life of Spice

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Really, mongo? Not to get into yet another argument on authenticity/traditionality and cooking from scratch (see my most recent comments in the Texas thread), but I think that's one of the worst sentiments I can imagine for a food lover. Some results of taking that literally in America:

* Only make mac and cheese from boxes of Kraft

* Pasta sauce comes from a jar

* Garlic bread comes out of a foil-lined bag

* Cheesecake comes from a box in the freezer section

Etc.

extramsg, since i don't spend as much time on egullet as i used to i'm reluctant to get any more stuck into this thread than i already have. i will say again that while these might be good examples of logico ad absurdium, they are not good analogies for talking about the place of ground spices in indian cooking. indian cooking, with commercial spices or not, is still cooking from "scratch" in a way that none of your examples are. i'm reminded of a series of letters groucho marx wrote to warner bros. when they threatened him with lawsuits for ripping of "casablanca" in the marx bros. "a night in casablanca". in one of them groucho noted that while he couldn't guarantee that audiences would be able to tell the difference between harpo and ingrid bergman, he would certainly like to try. this might apply to olive garden and babbo, but doesn't here.

as for the 99% that monica and i have referred to--i'm not speaking of the unwashed culinary masses, i'm speaking of people like egulleters, including possibly you. and i don't use curry powder because i am in a rush--i often use it in dishes which i then stand over and stir patiently for 3 hours.

i'm not advocating an "anything goes and quality doesn't matter" mentality--i am only suggesting that commercial spice mixes don't fit into the predictable slots in this sort of an argument when it comes to indian cooking.

soba, all commercial garam masalas that i know of have cardamom in the mix. i'm intrigued by the coconut though--never heard of it in either commercial or home-made blends. hope you'll share the recipe.

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I would have to disagree somewhat with Mongo.

Most Indian recipes do not call for curry powder; instead they call for specific spices (e.g. "1 tsp of coriander powder", "1/2 tsp of turmeric powder" etc).

If you want convenience, you are much better off buying preground individual spices from your local Indian grocery. These days, the quality of ground spices is pretty good; just make sure you buy in small quanties; Furthermore, the prices are also cheap.

Even if you do want convenience, I can't imagine why someone would buy "curry powder". I have not seen any of my Indian friends that I know in the USA or in India buying curry powder. In the same vein, I do not see why someone would need a "home-grown" curry powder. Remember, "curry powder" is not a well defined thing -- different manufacturers put different things in their curry powders.

As for myself, I buy pre-ground turmeric and red chilli powder; these spices are not that aromatic, and as such there really is no downside to buying these in powdered form. Cumin and coriander I buy in seed form, although you could buy them powdered and still not see any downside. However, the aromatic spices -- cinnamon, cardamon, cloves -- you would do yourself a favor by buying them whole and not in powdered form. In powdered form, they lose their potency real fast.

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I'm not an expert on Indian food or curry powder, but...

In all the Indian cookbooks, recipes, and articles I've read, the reason given for grinding your own from whole spices is something along the lines of 'otherwise you'll be using stale spices,' not because there's magic in starting from whole spices. And the reason for not using curry powder is something like 'because commercial curry powder is mostly turmeric.'

If you reason further along those lines, the key to good (authentic/not authentic is not the issue) Indian food is to have fresh, not stale spices, in an appropriate combination. I don't think it's going too far to say that what Monica, Mongo et al are telling us is that in these days, in fact, fresh ground spices, and appropriate combinations of them, are available for purchase, and used by modern day Indian cooks, both in India and in the diaspora.

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I certainly would not advocate go and buying ground spices from your supermarket (aka McCormick) and using them as convenience shortcuts in making indian food at home.

However, I think it is reasonable to say that if you live in a community with Indian groceries and the like that have heavy turnover of this type of thing, pre ground spice mixes make a lot of sense.

Jason Perlow

Co-Founder, The Society for Culinary Arts & Letters

offthebroiler.com - Food Blog | View my food photos on Instagram

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Again I am referring to spices mixes that are not "plain curry powder" but rather "vindaloo masala " or "pau bhaji masala" or "chicken curry masala" or "chaat masala" - where in addition to the spices you mention Bong a touch of these can lend a nice taste to a recipe.
Yes, I (or rather, my wife) do the same thing. We buy these special-purpose spice mixes to be used with special purpose things as well, speciall when making "chaat"s.
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Again I am referring to spices mixes that are not "plain curry powder" but rather "vindaloo masala " or "pau bhaji masala" or "chicken curry masala" or "chaat masala" - where in addition to the spices you mention Bong a touch of these can lend a nice taste to a recipe.
Yes, I (or rather, my wife) do the same thing. We buy these special-purpose spice mixes to be used with special purpose things as well, speciall when making "chaat"s.

yay :biggrin:

Monica Bhide

A Life of Spice

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If you reason further along those lines, the key to good (authentic/not authentic is not the issue) Indian food is to have fresh, not stale spices, in an appropriate combination. I don't think it's going too far to say that what Monica, Mongo et al are telling us is that in these days, in fact, fresh ground spices, and appropriate combinations of them, are available for purchase, and used by modern day Indian cooks, both in India and in the diaspora.

perfect

yes not only are the better ones fresh they are also coming in better and well thought out combinations... that is the best part ---- we have such a wonderful cuisine and its getting easier to prepare it with a bit of help. This will help make Indian cuisine so much more accesible. .... its gratifying and wonderful to prepare from scratch but why not take some help when you can :biggrin:

Monica Bhide

A Life of Spice

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