A few years ago, while learning how to cook at university, I realised that to make many curries you follow more or less the same sequence of steps. Once memorised, that sequence became super helpful to me. I was able to quickly and efficiently produce a healthy, filling curry without a recipe or too much thought. So in today's post I'm going to show you this sequence in the form of a flowchart. The graphic illustrates how to make a base, then spice it, add your 'bulk' ingredients, then garnish and season - and it's adaptable and all in one pot. What more could you want?! On this page you'll see three curries I made using this sequence: coconut-potato, tomato-chickpea and coconutty-tomatoey butternut squash. In addition, I've written up the usual fully detailed recipe (for the pedants out there :P) below the flowchart. Make sure to right-click the flowchart and choose Save Image As.. so you can refer back to it later!
Please bear in mind that when I say 'curry', I do not seek to simplify the whole of India's cuisine. I use the word curry as an indication that the resultant dish will be a central, often carby, ingredient such as potatoes or legumes, cooked in a sauce spiced with the likes of cumin, turmeric and chilli powder. That is what the term 'curry' means in Britain: merely a helpful indicator to the nature of the dish. In fact, on reading up, it seems in India the term curry doesn't even exist; it is an anglicism, exported during the British occupation of India.
I've grown to love the curry 'sequence': it's such fun to cook. Black mustard and cumin seeds fried until they pop. Onions, ginger and garlic added and sweated till soft. In with the 'big four': ground cumin, coriander, turmeric and chilli powder. Wonderful aromas fill the kitchen. Next up, coating the bulk ingredient in the spiced base. Chickpeas, potatoes, butternut squash, lentils - all work well. Now the liquid: I've found the perfect combination is one tin of chopped tomatoes plus half a can of light coconut milk and a scant cup of water. It produces a vibrant orange hue; slightly sweet, slightly acidic and not too rich. This can be reversed for a more coconutty curry – ½ can tomatoes to a whole can of the coconut milk. Stirring through some spinach or kale at the end adds a contrast in colour, texture, and a healthy touch.
Seasoning with salt and lemon juice will bring everything to life. I always season food with salt and acid and usually skip the pepper; it's a spice in itself and its flavour doesn't always go well. A final sprinkle of garam masala adds one last waft of Indian spice. Garam masala – a mix of cinammon, cardomom, cloves, bay leaves and cumin (sometimes other spices, too) – is best added at the end of cooking. The initial spices have by now imparted their flavour but lost their fresh aroma; seasoning with garam masala solves this. Finally, to garnish: fresh coriander for its slightly zesty, herbal flavour.
Phew! That was a lot of chat about curry. Do let me know if you find the graphic useful. You'll find the full recipe just below it. I really hope you enjoy using this sequence, and even expand on it!
Adaptable One Pot Curry
|4 tbsp||neutral oil|
|1 tsp||black mustard seeds|
|1 tsp||cumin seeds|
|2||medium onions, finely chopped|
|4||cloves garlic, finely chopped|
|1||thumb ginger, finely chopped|
|2 tsp||ground cumin|
|2 tsp||ground coriander|
|2 tsp||turmeric powder|
|½-2||tsp chilli powder (depending on your heat tolerance)|
|for the bulk ingredient:|
|1½||400g/14oz can chickpeas, drained|
|OR||½ a butternut squash, peeled and cut 1 inch dice, parboiled (see step 6).|
|OR||1 cup (160g) dried red lentils, rinsed|
|OR||3 medium baking potatoes, cut into 1 inch cubes, parboiled (see step 6).|
|for the liquid:|
|1||400g/14oz can chopped tomatoes|
|½||400g/14oz can light coconut milk|
|½||can water (=200ml/a bit less than 1 cup)|
|OR ½||400g/14oz can chopped tomatoes|
|1||400g/14oz can light coconut milk|
|½||can water (=200ml/a bit less than 1 cup)|
|1||large handful baby spinach or curly kale|
|½ tsp||garam masala|
|a few||leaves fresh coriander|
- In a large pot or casserole dish, heat the oil over a high heat.
- Fry the black mustard and cumin seeds until the mustard seeds start to pop, about 1-2min.
- Turn the heat down to medium and add the onions. Sweat them for 5 minutes.
- Now add the ginger and garlic. Fry for another 5 minutes.
- Stir in the ground cumin, ground coriander, turmeric and chilli powder. Cook for another 5 minutes.
- Add your bulk ingredient. If using potatoes or butternut squash, steam or boil them for about 5-8 minutes to parboil them.
- Add your choice of liquid: for a tomatoey curry use 1 can tomatoes + ½ can light coconut milk or for a coconutty one the other way around. Then add ½ can water.
- Bring to a boil, then turn down the heat and simmer for 15 minutes.
- Stir in the spinach or kale until it wilts (a few min).
- Check to see if your potatoes, butternut squash or lentils are well cooked.
- Sprinkle over the garam masale and season with salt and lemon juice to taste.
- Garnish with fresh coriander leaves and serve with rice, naan bread or roti.