I’m all for adventurous cooking, so I was intrigued when Wok Wednesdays included a curry dish from Stir-Frying to the Sky’s Edge . After stir-frying (correctly) for only about 6 months, I’ve realized how versatile a wok can be. And now my curry powder curiosity has led me to understand much more about what I’m stir frying.
This spring I bought and seasoned a proper carbon steel wok. Since then, I’ve made spinach, broccoli, chicken, shrimp and beef dishes, and even hot and sour soup from scratch. (Because the soup was not with Wok Wednesdays and was directly from another book, I haven’t blogged about it.) With Grace’s guidance, I’ve moved beyond traditional Chinese recipes to recipes from Trinidad and Jamaica as well as a fusion recipe with Burmese and Indian influences.
So it should come as no surprise that we have moved on to stir-frying curried beef.
The recipe itself is pretty simple. First you stir-fry red onions and garlic.
Then you sear thin strips of flank steak steeped in a small amount of liquid and cornstarch.
After that you sprinkle curry powder on the meat and mix it as the meat continues to cook. Finally you add tomatoes, peas and a bit of broth to create a sauce.
The end result was delicious, although not as spicy as I would have liked.
In my spice drawer, I had Sharwood’s mild and hot, which I mixed in equal parts for my stir-fried beef curry.
With a lingering suspicion that my curry powders are not authentic, I did a bit of curry powder research to satisfy my curry powder curiosity.
Yes, I know I shouldn’t be using such old spices. I’ve written about keeping spices past their prime and if I followed my own advice I should have already have pitched these containers. But that’s a conversation for another day.
Here’s what I found out:
Satisfying My Curry Powder Curiosity
What is curry powder?
Curry powder is a combination of spices. There is no single, universally accepted mixture or recipe. Traditional Indian cooking does use the spices that make up curry powder. However, which spices are in any particular recipe vary by individual cook, the dish involved, region, caste and custom. The commercially available versions of curry powder are a European invention. (The Larousse Gastronomique Culinary Encyclopedia says that the Dutch and British began making and selling curry according to “formulas” in the 19th Century.) Prepared curry powders vary in spiciness and can range from mild to extremely hot.
Can you make curry powder at home?
Yes, it is easy to make your own curry powder. Depending on the recipe, you may need to roast the spices and grinding them yourself in a spice grinder (coffee grinder reserved for this purpose works fine) or a mortar and pestle. Typical ingredients include cardamom, cinnamon, mustard, cumin, cloves, coriander, cayenne pepper, black pepper, bay leaves, ginger, fenugreek, fennel, and turmeric. Here is an interesting collection of homemade curry powder recipes.
Are curry leaves the same ingredient as curry powder?
No. As Monica Bhide points out, curry leaves may be used in curry powder, as one of many ingredients, but the leaves themselves are a separate herb used in southern Indian cuisine.
What is garam masala?
Garam masala is another combination of spices used in Indian cooking. Curry powder (or the spices that combine to make what Westerners call curry powder), is cooked with vegetable and meat ingredients. By contrast, typically the cook stirs or sprinkles garam masala into the dish in the final stage of preparation. Indian cooks often roast or cook garam masala spices in hot oil to release their aroma. (Have you noticed that spices are stronger when they are roasted than when they are ground uncooked?) Here is the garam masala version that Monica Bhide likes best.
It’s a few weeks past New Year’s, but I’ve just resolved to throw out my containers of commercially produced curry powder and make my own. And when I do, I’ll use fresh spices to make my mixture.