A couple of months after I first landed in the U.S., my husband and I went down to San Diego for a family wedding.
It was my first time meeting his family, so I was a little nervous, not to mention excited about seeing San Diego. At the wedding (which was lovely), I remember sitting down to chat with one of his close relatives. No doubt, in trying to make me feel comfortable, she asked me what part of India I was from.
Then she proclaimed, “I don’t like curry.”
I was a little taken aback by this, but rolled with it. I started trying to explain that “curry” can mean several different things, but nope, she wasn’t having it. So, after a while, I gave up.
Over the years, I’ve noticed continuing confusion about what exactly “curry” is. So I’m here to set the record straight.
Aren’t you lucky?!
Curry is a leaf
If you like South Indian food, you like curry leaves. Because “Southie” food is practically impossible to prepare without this wonderful leaf.
It actually comes from a tree that is native to India, and you are unlikely to find it anywhere other than Indian or South Asian grocery stores, though I’ve seen more and more places that sell them online (I’ve never bought them online so far).
Curry leaves are wonderfully aromatic, and while I often use them when making South Indian food, I also sometimes use them when cooking Thai and other Asian meals.
Curry is a spice
Curry powder isn’t a single powdered spice but, rather, a combination of several spices, much like garam masala. It was developed by the British after they colonized India, for which I must be grateful, since I love it.
Curry powder is extremely fragrant while also being quite delicate in nature.So when I use it, I try to ensure it’s the primary spice I use (as in the Oriental Beef Stir Fry with an Indian Twist recipe I shared the other day), rather than overwhelm it with several others. Here’s a recipe for curry powder by Aliza Green, if you’re interested (I haven’t tried it, but it looks good).
Me, I just buy mine at the Indian store (though I have started making my own garam masala at home).
Curry is a dish with gravy
This is probably the misconception about Indian food that drives me craziest. Not every Indian dish is a “curry.”
You see, when we say we’re going to “make a curry,” we mean we’re going to make a dish with gravy, as opposed to a dry preparation.
So that beef stir-fry recipe? Not a curry. This “kofta curry” pictured above (“kofta” is Hindi for meatball and yes, I will post the recipe soon)? Curry.
You can have curries that are made with completely different bases for the gravy; yogurt, tomatoes, onion… the possibilities are endless.
If you’re going to have “a curry,” you’re going to have a dish that has gravy in it. Unless you’re British and “going out for curry,” which means you’re just going to find the nearest Indian restaurant or takeout and gorge yourself because Indian food is where it’s at, baby.
So. There you go. Curry, curry and more curry.