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Curry Dishes

Curry and dishesWhat is Curry?

Curry, one of the defining dishes of both Indian and Thai cuisine, is a complicated topic. Complicated, and spicy.

Taken from the Indian word kari, meaning a spiced, soup-like sauce, the term was assimilated into the English language with some minor mistranslation by the Europeans. In India, there are a wide variety of these spicy and sauce based dishes, all with distinguishing characteristics and flavor. Early travelers mistook all such dishes to be included within the term, and so the word became an English reference to this, eventually becoming a terminology mistake so widespread that it currently shows no signs of correction. In actuality, though it appears on countless Western restaurant menus and packaged "Indian" products, the term "curry" is not used in any of the languages of India.

That being said, curries are now widely known as being soup/stew-like dishes of Indian decent, though Thailand has a wealth of celebrated curry dishes as well, and are characterized by their unique and pungent blend of spices. These stews usually contain meat, fish, or vegetables, and are served with rice and/or traditional flatbreads. While the original South Indian kari typically is a mix of curry leaf, coriander, pepper, cumin, mustard seeds, fenugreek and turmeric, many curry dishes prepared in Western restaurant cuisine (and listed in cookbooks) contain garlic, ginger, onion, chili, turmeric, and oil; variations on these core ingredients, as well the addition of other spices and ingredients, create the different varieties of curry dishes we see today.

Making Curries

Curry dishes can be excellent choices for the health-conscious, as the powerful, calorie-free blends of seasonings can make up for flavors lost when reducing fat and sodium intakes. Heavy spices open the pores and increase circulation throughout the body, and lean protein like chicken or turkey avoid becoming "boring" under their influence. It is important to watch out for some Thai curry dishes using coconut milk; though delicious, coconut milk has a high fat and calorie content.

True curry making can be a long and involved process. It is widely recognized that authentic curry blends/pastes, possessing the true depth flavor for which they are applauded, cannot be bought pre-made. A truly perfect curry must be made from scratch, with the complete combination of spices being ground by hand using a stone mortar and pestle. This process can take hours; in Thailand, it is said that more of the cook's time revolves around hand grinding the proper flavorings for their meals than actually cooking them. Modern blenders and coffee grinders can be used, but the results will not be the same as doing it by hand.

Curries can be wet or dry. The dry are made from herbs pounded or ground by hand, and tend to keep quite well when stored properly and kept away from moisture. Wet curries are prepared in the same fashion, but added to with water, lime juice, coconut milk, or vinegar to create a paste, and have a shorter shelf life than dry varieties. Store-bought curry powders are widely recognized as being sub-par and inauthentic in most cases; they tend to display the same ignorance embraced in the term "curry", and can be nothing more than a bunch of poorly selected dried herbs ground into a fine powder.

Types of Curry

There is a vast array of so-called curry dishes out there, whether authentic Indian sub-continent preparations, Thai variations, or the restaurant versions many Western fans have grown familiar with. There are too many to list, but some of the better known and recognized include

Garam Masala : Masala is the Indian term for a spice mixture, perhaps the closest thing to a "curry" dish, by our standards, in the Indian language. The masala mixture is the foundation of cooking in India, and garam is the best known outside of the area. Usually hot, the core ingredients tend to be cinnamon, black pepper, cardamom, cumin, and cloves; this foundation base is subject to constant variation based on the location and the cook, and is mostly used with meat or sometimes rice.

Kashmiri Masala : a close variation of Garam Masala, and made milder than garam by the addition of cardamom

Mussaman Curry Paste : a Muslim curry paste; cloves, coriander, cinnamon, white pepper, cumin, star anise, cardamom, red chilies, peanut oil, shallots, garlic, kaffir lime leaves, lemongrass, galangal, shrimp paste

Nam Prik Kaeng Khiao wan or Gaeng khieo wan (Thai Green Curry Paste) : possibly the spiciest of Thai curries; blend of green chillies, garlic, lemongrass, coriander seeds, shrimp paste, galangal, cumin, coriander root, white pepper corns, kaffir lime, used with meat and vegetable dishes (*note: Thai dishes often add lemongrass and coconut milk to their curries)

Nam Prik Kaeng Phet Daeng or Gaeng ped (Thai Red Curry Paste) : generally milder than Thai green curry, though measurement depends on amount of chillies used; same ingredients as green curry, utilizing dried red chilies instead of fresh green

Taaza Masala (Indian green curry) : literally a green blend made up of garlic, ginger, coriander, and mint, and used in stews

Tikka : most commonly used in meat dishes; garlic, ginger, red chile, coriander, black pepper, and often plain yogurt
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