Apr 29, 2013

Curry Does Not Come From A Bottle


Until I had the great good fortune to begin my Asian adventures in 1974 with a year at the University of Singapore I thought curry was a powder and that it came in a bottle.  Quite soon, however, as I began to travel throughout Asia and the Indian subcontinent I realized curry was both ubiquitous and altogether different from the powder in a bottle.


The word “curry” derives from the Tamil word “kari”, which means sauce. It is thought that the first curries were sauces made in prehistoric times from mustard seeds, coriander, fennel and tamarind pods pounded into a paste with mortar and pestle. As trade led to travel curry spread, and each area adapted it to its particular taste. There are innumerable types of curry, from wet (including coconut milk, broth, or vegetable puree) to dry (more like a dry rub as we might use in barbecue), from fiery hot (the Vindaloo from Southwest India is known for fire) to mild (the mildest I know is from Japan where it’s one of the most popular dishes in the culinary repertoire).


Curry powder was invented during the middle 1800’s for English colonists heading home from time in India. The English are curry connaisseurs, and to this day some of the finest I have ever eaten is found in London.  Indentured laborers working the sugar plantations are thought to have brought curry to places such as Trinidad, from where it spread to other countries such as Jamaica and the rest of the Caribbean.


Why did curry evolve? The cynics say it was developed to mask the discouraging smell of food beginning to spoil in hot climates, much in the way that perfume was developed to address the fact that in times past bathing was a once in a very long while event for many people, especially northern peoples. I prefer to believe that human ingenuity led to foraging, which uncovered the richness of plants and herbs that could add flavor and interest to diets based on modest ingredients.


Our curry will feature fresh lemongrass, fresh ginger, garlic, cilantro, limes, coconut milk (the low-fat kind, thank you very much!), and chilies.  Our use of the chilies will be discreet, since I know that few people like to jump-start their endorphin rush with painfully spicy food as I do. Our protein is chicken, a perfect foil for curry because it’s a mildly flavored meat, and we have some apricots for a little sweetness. Some brown Basmati rice and a green veg will round out our meal.


I can’t wait.

P.S.: Given our ingredient list, is our curry a wet or a dry one? Certainly the Junior Chefs will know the answer to this question after the class.