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The diversity of curry powder

The diversity of curry powder

Curry powder, the world’s most popular spice blend, takes us on a fascinating journey through taste and tradition. Forget about a single recipe, curry powder is a chameleon, adapting to local preferences and family secrets across the globe.

Imagine this: A posh London supermarket like Harrods selling fancy curry powder and a street vendor in India offering individual portions in little plastic pouches. This is the magic of curry powder – It’s everywhere, from high-end to humble beginnings.

So, what exactly is curry powder? There’s no single answer. It’s a symphony of spices, typically including turmeric, cumin, coriander, ginger, and black pepper. Some blends add garlic and cinnamon, creating a warm, inviting aroma that elevates any dish.

The beauty lies in its diversity. Unlike a standardized spice mix, curry powder is a blank canvas. Each region, community, and even family has its unique blend, reflecting local availability and taste preferences. This creates a myriad of recipes, all waiting to be explored.

You can craft your signature curry powder at home. Start with a simple base like turmeric, chili powder, and cumin – the classic Nepali way. This is what I learned from my neighbor, the Palpali Newar family. This mindset has been with me since childhood, even though I’m now the head of Indian, Arabic, and Oriental cuisine for a multinational company, surrounded by a rich array of spices from Mother Earth.

Experiment with spices like coriander seeds, fennel seeds, or mustard seeds. Want a smoky touch? Add a cinnamon stick or cloves.

I also cherish memories from my mama and uncle Chabilal Marahata, also known as ‘Chop Bhaje,’ and ‘Sharma Ji,’ who started fish and aaloo chop at Malekhu. Sharma Ji used to make a fish masala blend from roasted white sesame powder, sarsyun seed powder (yellow mustard seed), cumin powder, chili powder, turmeric powder, and a hint of timmur. This blend was one of the best sellers and a crowd-pleaser.

Despite its popularity, our family never standardized the recipe or scaled it up like the rest of the country because we lacked entrepreneurial minds like our neighboring countries. I’m reflecting on this as I recall my traveling experiences and spending time with chefs and chef entrepreneurs from various nations.

Cumin reigns supreme as the world’s favorite spice, coriander is the herb of choice, and garlic is a global staple. Black pepper, the king of spices, holds the top sales spot. Turmeric is considered the gold of spices because of its brilliant yellow color.

But curry powder’s story goes beyond taste. Following World War II, a wave of South Asian immigrants brought their love for curry to Britain. Today, curry is as British as fish and chips, with chicken tikka masala even being called a ‘true national dish.’ One of the famous dishes from Japan is Katsu curry, basically a thick curry sauce served with steamed rice and breaded and fried chicken.

The health benefits are another perk. Curry powder’s diverse spices offer a treasure trove of goodness, potentially boosting brain and digestive health, promoting fullness, lowering blood sugar, and even providing antibacterial properties.

Now, let’s not forget garam masala, another popular spice blend from Asia. This ‘hot spice mix’ is perfect for meat and chicken dishes. Some people include garam masala in curry powder too.

While pre-made curry powders are readily available, there’s something special about creating your own. Adjust the proportions to suit your palate. Like more heat? Add chili powder or black pepper. Prefer a milder flavor? Reduce it. Dislike a particular spice? Leave it out. There are no hard and fast rules.

Here’s a list of spices you can use in your curry powder mix, along with some recipe ideas.

Basic curry powder (all-purpose): Combine two tablespoons of coriander powder, one tablespoon of cumin powder, one tablespoon of turmeric powder, and one teaspoon of chili powder. This is a great base to add to any dish for a warm, savory curry flavor.

South Indian curry powder: To the basic recipe, add one teaspoon of mustard seeds, one teaspoon of fennel seeds, and a few curry leaves. This blend is perfect for lentil curries, sambar, and vegetable dishes.

Nepali curry powder: For a touch of the Himalayas, add half a teaspoon of ground timmur berry and half a teaspoon of fenugreek seeds to the basic recipe. This unique blend pairs well with lamb, goat, and stews.

Winter curry powder: Add a touch of warmth with half a teaspoon of black pepper, and a pinch of ground cloves, and a hint of nutmeg to the basic recipe. This blend is perfect for winter curries and stews.

Fish curry powder: Include half a teaspoon of fennel seeds and three green cardamom pods in the basic recipe for a seafood-friendly curry powder.

Red meat: For richer dishes, add a small cinnamon stick and a pinch of ground nutmeg to the basic recipe.

Remember, salt and lemon juice are your friends, balancing out the flavors. Don’t be afraid to experiment.

The author is a UK-based R&D chef