I remember promising a curry recipe a few weeks ago. Here is not one, not two, but hundreds of recipes all in one go. This is more of a recipe recipe, a formula for creating a variety of dishes.
Yes, I do use a recipe book sometimes, when I want a specific dish such as a tikka, balti, rogon josh, or coriander chicken, but most of the time I just use this base recipe and decide how spicy or creamy I want to make it. And because each time is different, each time is an adventure.
So, as usual, this post pays little more than lip service to a standard recipe format, and because of the inherent flexibility, what little lip service there is will be fleeting indeed. I've listed ingredients (some mandatory, many optional) in groups to go with the different stages of preparation. I think the overall method is far more important than getting too anal over ingredients.
Onions, plus optional additions such as ginger, chillis, and garlic.
Spices: powdered cumin, coriander, curry powder, and (my secret weapon) a teaspoon of Nina Patak's hot curry paste. You can also mix things up by adding an off-the-shelf sauce or paste such as butter chicken.
Meat: whatever you want. I usually use chicken or prawns, occasionally lamb. You can also add tinned chickpeas either instead of, or as well as, meat. Or vegetables, of course. I don't do vegetable curries often so I almost didn't think to mention that.
Sauce: one or more of the following: chopped tomatoes, cream, coconut milk.
Finishing touches (all optional): ground almonds, chopped coriander (cilantro). And anything else you associate with curries.
Ha Ha Hahahahaha!
Oh, OK then, but these are just guidelines to get started. The fun is in varying and experimenting for yourself.
So, for enough for 2 or 3 portions, you want...
1 medium onion, chopped. If you're adding other stuff, then anything up to 1" cube of ginger (finely chopped), 1 or 2 chillis (seeded, unless you like it hot, and chopped), 1 or 2 cloves of garlic (finely chopped).
A generous teaspoon of the dry spices. The hot curry paste is my secret addition to just about everything, even when I'm using a ready-made sauce or following a recipe. This is what adds the heat and its own flavour. Use with care.
Meat: whatever you need to feed yourself with!
Usually 1 tomato. More if that is all I'm using for liquid, less (or none) if I'm going for really creamy. This bit is really just a balancing act, with the idea of ending up with enough liquid to avoid the sauce drying out and sticking. It's surprising how much liquid a tomato will add when it mushes down.
Heat the oil in a large pan, and fry the onions (and other ingredients in that group, except for garlic). This should be done long and slow, so the onions soften and turn golden. I usually let them cook slowly for about 15 minutes.
If using garlic, add that when the onion is almost ready otherwise it can burn.
Add the spices, and stir in well.
Add the meat. Stir until coated with spices and fry on a high heat until it changes colour.
One exception to this method: if I'm doing prawns, I leave them out and carry on with cooking the sauce, and then add them about 10 minutes from the end to avoid overcooking them.
Another exception (with Christmas approaching): if you are currying already-cooked meat, like, say, just for the sake of argument, leftover turkey, add that near the end too, just so it heats through. I curried turkey left over from Thanksgiving in a very creamy sauce. Delicious!
If using tomatoes, make a gap in the centre of the pan and add them. Turn the heat down low and let them mush down (stirring occasionally) for about 15 minutes.
This stage needs watching carefully, because you don't want the dish to dry out and start catching on the bottom of the pan. This will depend on many factors such as the ingredients you use and how good your pan is. The trick is to keep stirring and separating food from the bottom of the pan so it doesn't get a chance to catch. You should have some liquid from the tomatoes very quickly to help things along. If you think it looks dry, and a few spoonfuls of water to help things along.
Stir in the remaining liquid ingredients (if used), and let the whole dish simmer on a low heat until the meat is cooked through.
This stage is very forgiving. You can finish off as soon as the meat is cooked if you're in a hurry, or you can do it long and slow. You can even take it off the heat and let it stand for hours before resuming cooking. Just make sure you stir the ingredients together again when you raise the heat again, and add more liquid if it looks like drying out.
Finally, if the sauce needs thickening, stir in a handful of ground almonds.
Garnish with chopped coriander, sliced hard-boiled eggs, sliced tomato, cucumber, whatever, depending on what takes your liking and how fancy you want to make it.