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Curry Powder

Note: They are as varied as the countries that grow or use them. Mom ('Ralph') Dorrington (Mom's Recipes)  wanted to know if her Curry Plant that she bought to plant with her geraniums could be used for cooking. The label identified it as Helichrysum italicum. Another source identifies it as Helichrysum Stoechas (Immortelle stoechas) Provence-Beyond (Beyond the French Riviera.

After some surfing, the editor finds that the culinary curry (Murraya koenigii) is actually made from the Indian curry tree. Curry powder is actually derived from a potpourri of other spices that closely resemble Garam Masala.  

According to The Whole Chile Pepper Cookbook, there is no single recipe for curry, because each recipe requires its own special blend.  There is general agreement of most of
our sources that the homemade version is better than the commercial curry powder on the
shelves. Martha Stewart toasts the seeds first and grinds with fresh or dried curry leaves.

1. Curry

The Indian Curry Tree is  a small tree has hard, useful wood. Leaves are pinnate, with 15-19 leaflets. Since they contain essential oils when braised, a distinctive smell is emitted, like that of a faint odour of anise.

A native of India, it spreads as far as Northern Thailand; cultivated in the Malayan region.

The leaves are widely used as a flavouring in Indian curries especially fish curries, adding a distinctive flavour to the dish. The roots, barks as well as the leaves can also be used both externally and internally as a medicine.


Source: Gernot Katzer's Spice Pages (http://www-ang.kfunigraz.ac.at/~katzer/engl/generic_frame.html?Murr_koe.html)

Curry leaves are extensively used in Southern India and Sri Lanka (and are absolutely necessary for the authentic flavour), but are also of some importance in Northern India. Together with South Indian immigrants, curry leaves reached Malaysia, South Africa and Réunion island. Outside the Indian sphere of influence, they are rarely found.

Curry powder is a British invention to imitate the flavour of Indian cooking with minimal effort. Some curry powders, or so the books tell, indeed contain curry leaves, but probably only for historic or linguistic reasons, since dried curry leaves lose their fragrance within days. A typical curry powder should derive its taste mainly from roasted cumin, roasted coriander, black pepper, chiles and roasted fenugreek. Additionally, ginger, lentil flour, salt and sweet spices (cinnamon, cloves and green cardamom) are frequently added. The yellow colour stems from turmeric. Spices with no tradition in India (e.g., galangale, caraway, allspice, celery or zedoary) are unreasonable and should not appear in anything that claims an Indian origin, though they are sometimes listed as ingredients in curry powder. But since curry powder is not a traditional recipe, anyone is free to sell his own creation.

Curry tree in full flower
Observant readers will notice that the recipe for curry powder outlined in the previous paragraph appears like a compromise of the Northern Indian garam masala and the Southern Indian sambaar podi (see cumin for both mixtures). Anyway, you cannot represent the large spectrum of Indian cooking styles in one single spice mixture; Indians prepare their mixtures separately for each dish and usually do not store them, thus guaranteeing the unique flavour of each recipe. Curry powder, therefore, belongs more to British or international cuisine than to India; anyone trying to cook authentic Indian recipes should stick to traditional Indian spice mixtures or, even better, single spices.

Curry leaves are used fresh; for some recipes, the leaves should be oven-dried or toasted immediately befor usage. Another common technique is short frying in butter or oil (see ajwain for this procedure) . Since South Indian cuisine is dominantly vegetarian, curry leaves seldom appear in non-vegetarian food; the main applications are thin lentil or vegetable curries (sambaar) and stuffings for the crispy samosa. Because of their soft texture, they are never removed before serving, but can be eaten without any hazard. See coconut for the Southern Indian recipe bese bele.

In Sri Lanka, the delicious chicken and beef curries are flavoured with curry leaves; the leaves are furthermore used for kottu roti, vegetables and sliced bread which are quickly fried together.

Fresh fruits of the Curry tree
Curry leaves may be kept in the refrigerator for some time, but are better deep frozen; do not remove them from the branches before usage!

The term curry is applied inflationarily to many dishes of Far Eastern origin. As shown above, in its true home South India it means a thin, spicy vegetable stew; in Thailand, though, any food cooked in coconut milk is called a curry. Burmese curries owe their flavour to a fried paste of ground onions and other spices. Lastly, in Indonesia, any spicy food may be termed a curry (kari in Indonesian). Sometimes, even Ethiopian (see long pepper) or Caribbean recipes are called curries!

2. Garam Masala Ingredients

Note:  Julie Sahini does not include coriander or cumin in her ingredients. See Tandoori Salmon. Madhur Jaffrey, an Indian cookbook author, grinds up the spices whole: cinnamon, cardamom, cumin, nutmeg, black peppercorn, cloves. Martha Stewart uses star anise, fennel seeds, cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, and nutmeg in her garam masala.  The following are the ingredients listed on a label from House of Spices, Flushing NY.

bay leaves
cumene (cumin)

1.   A fast-track version from Julie Sahni. 

2    t cumin seeds
2    t coriander seeds
2    t mustard seeds
1    t fennel seeds
1    t whole cloves
1/2  dill seeds, or 1 t dried dill weed
1 1/2     inch cinnamon stick, crushed into bits
1    t black peppercorns
1    t ground red pepper
2    t ground turmeric

1.   Grind all spices except red pepper and turmeric till finely powdered.
2.   Add red pepper and turmeric and continue till thoroughly blended.
3.   May be stored in an airtight container in cool dry place for 3 weeks (maximum flavor) to  3 months.

2.  Whole Chile Pepper Cookbook (hotter, of course)

5    T dried ground red New Mexican chile (they don't specify what type)
2    t ground Cayenne pepper
4    T coriander seeds
4    T cumin seeds
1/2  t ground ginger
1    t ground fenugreek seeds
1    t freshly ground black pepper
1    T cardamom
1    t cloves

Mix all ingredients together and grind in a blender or with mortar and pestle till fine.  Store in tight-fitting jar.