I don’t know about all of you but I just love to cook. I also love to eat. When we move to a new place, one of the first things we do is visit restaurants that serve the local cuisine. In Texas, that meant bar-b-que but we also found the best breakfast tacos around. In Argentina, grilled beef tenderloin was high on the list but empanadas quickly became our favorite. In Germany, it was frikadelle and potato salad near Ramstein and spaetzle with just about anything in Stuttgart. In California, it could mean sushi, Mexican food, or a classic American diner, all with a California twist. In fact, Californians specialize in fusion cuisine, taking food from other cultures and turning it into their own.
After leaving these places, we usually miss the food so much that we learn how to make it ourselves. I’ll never forget our first assignment to Eielson AFB, Alaska. There were NO restaurants of note in the area; even Fairbanks, a 45 minute drive in good weather, had only a Thai restaurant to add to the list of places serving very typical American cuisine. I learned how to make Indian Curries and Japanese Donburi at home. I relied on a cookbook that I still own to this day, the Encyclopedia of Chinese & Oriental Cookery by Jennifer Brennan. Sounds a little dated, doesn’t it? She wrote this book before the US market had caught on to ingredients like miso or Thai curry paste in a jar. Believe it or not, her miso substitute was actually refried beans. Nevertheless she had some great recipes and my all time favorite was for beef curry. The reason I liked it so much is that I could adjust her recipe so easily – once I learned the technique I could make all kinds of curries even though they might not have been very traditional.
I’ll share a modified recipe for curry powder from Brennan’s cookbook but you can also use any of the quality curry powders available in stores today. Remember, those jars are really full of multiple spices and if one of them seems lacking in flavor, you can always augment it by turning to your spice cabinet and tossing in a little more special something. That way, you make the recipe really yours. If you’re not sure where to buy quality spices, I recently found My Spice Sage. They offer free shipping and throw in samples to boot.
Homemade Curry Powder & A Quick and Easy Curry
You can use whole spices and grind them or you can use ground spices. Remember, the former retain flavor for a longer time and will make a more aromatic and tasty mix.
Get yourself a cookie sheet with edges and place a piece of foil on it (or use a cast iron skillet instead). In their own piles, heap:
1/4 cup of cumin seeds
1/2 cup of coriander seeds
1/4 cup whole fenugreek
6-8 dried red chilis (1/2 tbl cayenne pepper is the ground substitute)
1 tbl black peppercorns
1 tbl mustard seeds (black is preferable, but brown and yellow will do)
Place them in a preheated oven at 300°F and allow the spices to slightly brown. It will take about 10 minutes and you’ll be able to smell their wonderful aroma. Be careful of the red chilis as they can be very potent when heated. Grind these warmed spices in a spice mill or with a pestle and mortar. Place this all in a jar you can seal and add:
2 tbl ground tumeric
Give the jar a good shake and you have curry powder!
To make a curry paste, add two to three tablespoons of curry powder to about a 1/4 cup of white vinegar. Let it sit while you saute a chopped onion and some minced garlic in a little ghee or canola oil until the onion is golden, then add the paste to the hot pan. Cook until the mixture starts to stick a little and becomes very fragrant. Then add about a pound of protein of your choice – stew beef, pork or lamb shoulder cut into bite size pieces, or chicken. I haven’t tried tofu but I bet it would work fine. Stir until all the protein is coated. Sprinkle with a teaspoon of sea salt, turn down the heat, and cover with a lid. In about ten minutes you’ll find your meat is cooking in its own delicious gravy. From here, you can go many directions but we usually add a small can of diced tomatoes, veggies of choice (carrots, potatoes, green beans, etc.) and cook until the veggies are done. If you want a really rich curry, add a can of coconut milk at this point and cook until the flavors meld, about 10 minutes more. Yum!