How to make a Curry

Understanding Spices

Let’s Curry a Little Flavour!

Although curries have become an integral part of the British way of life and one of the most popular dishes consumed in restaurants and ‘take outs’ – for most of us the very thought of cooking a curry from scratch at home is quite daunting! Yet we know that the easy way out – reaching for a jar of curry sauce or paste – means a poor approximation of the real thing.

In reality, stepping over the threshold into that mystical world of exotic sounding dishes with unfamiliar ingredients should not faze us. Putting together a tasty, even individual curry requires no more skill or ‘know-how’ than producing a good beef casserole! There are very few, if no, set rules, endless variations and the possibility (though not the necessity) of being creative. Making a curry that is at least as good as, if not better than, the one we are prepared to travel miles to enjoy can be created in our own kitchens.

What is a ‘curry’?

According to Glynn Christian (Real Flavours) “The word ‘curry’ is almost certainly based on a Tamil word kari, which means a spiced liquid… the essential ingredients are cumin, coriander, with chilli and turmeric: the first two for flavour, the third for heat and the last for flavour and colour, but turmeric doesn’t have to feature at all…ginger, cinnamon, cloves and cardamom can also be included.”

The term curry was actually a British invention of the 18th century!

‘Curry’ covers a vast array of dishes from the Indian subcontinent, with heady, aromatic flavours and different degrees of heat. They can include meat or fish, be vegetarian or vegan. A basic curry sauce can be adapted for numerous different dishes, can be kept for a week in the fridge or cooked in large quantities and frozen for future occasions.

Six of the most well-known curries are:

  • Tikka Masala – with a mild creamy sauce
  • Korma – with dairy for taste not heat
  • Dhansak – with sweet and sour elements
  • Jalfrezi – higher up the heat scale but not too dominant
  • Saag – reasonably hot but not overwhelming
  • Vindaloo – potentially with excessive heat

However, at the risk of not ‘running before we can walk’, where do we start when attempting to make a curry?

Ingredients for a basic curry sauce:

Oil, Onions, Garlic, Cumin, Coriander, Chilli & Ginger (fresh) is a very popular addition.

The sauce can be dairy based (eg. yoghurt), plant based (tomatoes (fresh, tinned or paste) spinach, coconut milk) or simply stock or water.

Further options, in what is an extensive range of ingredients, include turmeric, chilli peppers, sweet peppers, fennel seeds, fenugreek, curry leaves, star anise, kaffir lime leaves, lemon or lime juice, galangal, shrimp paste, red paprika, zedoary, asafoetida, tamarind soaked in water, grains of paradise, salt and pepper.

Again, there are no definitive rules – but maybe not all at once!

It is worth noting that there are many excellent curry spice blends out there to simplify the whole process of making a curry and whether or not individual spices or blends are used it is important to source the best quality available for an authentic result.


A curry sauce is made in a similar way to any other savoury sauce.

  • Fry onions and garlic
  • Add spices and cook to release flavour and heat
  • Add stock/dairy/ tomatoes/ coconut milk or similar ‘medium’
  • Blend or sieve if a smooth sauce is required.
  • The longer the cooking process the richer the flavour and colour.
  • Protein in the form of meat, fish and/or pulses can be part of this process or added at a later time. Vegetables are an important healthy addition.

Footnote. To lessen the heat of a curry add milk, sour cream, yoghurt, coconut milk, tomato sauce, lemon/lime juice, vinegar, sugar (small amount) or peanut butter. Alternatively, add more vegetables, protein or carbohydrates or serve with extra rice, bread or potatoes.

There is a whole new tasty and healthy world out there for anyone who feels ‘curry curious’! Browse further curry recipes here.

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