Curious About Curry

Recipes in “The Art of Good Cooking” for various curries that use curry powder made me wonder about the background and history of curry. Curry is a very general word used to describe many different types of dishes from various Southeast Asian Cuisines. From my research, I found that the actual word Curry came from the Tamil word Kari, meaning spiced sauce. Because of the influence of my stepmother, most of my experience with curries are of north Indian decent. Homemade north Indian style curries are almost always better than any restaurant version (I have yet to figure out why that is) and though they can still be heavily spiced, they can actually be healthy and use very little oil and cream which are often the main ingredients in any takeout curry.

I was surprised to find that many of the curry recipes in “The Art of Good Cooking” were very similar to the north Indian curries I know so well. The main difference, however; is curry powder. I learned to cook Indian food without curry powder but during the 1960’s in New York, this is what was readily available. Though I don’t have any proof, it seems curry powder was much less potent and intense during this time. Many of the original recipes I encountered called for almost twice as much curry powder than what was needed. This leads me to my main issue with curry powder: its always different. Since curry powder is just a mix of different spices, it can be any mixture of ground coriander, turmeric, cumin, fenugreek, red pepper with even some ginger, garlic, fennel seed, cardamom, black pepper, or cinnamon added in. In addition to the variety of types, the amount of each spice varies. Some may have more turmeric (which will leave more of that thick and heavy spicy smell throughout your home), some may be a mixture of equal parts, and some may have more heat or red pepper.

Personally, I prefer to just use the individual spices that I want to taste instead of dealing with the hassle of finding the right curry powder. For most dishes that I make, I like to use a combination of turmeric, cumin, and ground coriander (equal parts cumin and ground coriander and about half as much turmeric). There are, however; some good curry powders out there. Trader Joes makes a nice one that is pretty similar to the spice mixture just mentioned. Most of the mystery with curry powders can be solved by looking at the ingredients but the proportions of the spices will always leave you guessing.