Source: Curry - Patricia G. Solley, 1997 (To go there: )
Curry is no single plant or seed or root. In the words of Norman Douglas, novelist extraordinaire of South Wind,
"Curry is India's greatest contribution to mankind."
It dates back at least 4500 years ago--being found in excavations of the ancient cities of Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro in what is now Pakistan. It probably achieved its full flower in southern Indian on the Malabar Coast of Kerala (see Salmon Rushdie's The Moor's Last Sigh!). Curry spices were mentioned in the Vedas, the sacred Hindu text--and the spice trade began to heat up as early as 700 BC, involving Arabs, Dravidians, and Phoenicians.
The first mention of curry itself was in the Mahabharata, an epic pooem written around 400 AD. When Bhima asks Yudhishthira how he'll disguise himself in King Virata's Kindgom, he says, "I shall appear as the ex-cook of King Yudhishthira as I am well versed in the culinary art. I shall prepare King Virata's curries and shall supersede even those experts who used to make curries for him before."
No one agrees on the derivation of the word (kari, Tamil for "sauce"?), but all cognoscenti agree that the yellow powder sold commercially in little glass or tin containers is a travesty.
Almost all also agree that that same yellow powder is JUST FINE for a lot of food preparations. In fact it does JUST FINE for all the soups in this (Patricia's) collection.
But, for the record, this ancient, modern, and infinitely various combination of spices can be ground up of any of hundreds of ingredients--among which are: tumeric, cumin, saffron, fennel, black pepper, cinnamon, cardamom, allspice, cayenne, cloves, coriander, dill, mace, fenugreek, ginger, garlic, nutmeg, onion, and mustard seed.
Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama set up trade in Indian in 1502 after fighting the maharaja of Cochin into a deal. A fateful agreement, for the Portuguese were to forever change the nature of curry by introducing chile peppers into the mix--chiles not known to the Old World until Christopher Columbus brought them home from the New World in 1493.
Origin - Southern India and Sri Lanka.
Curry leaves are extensively used in Southern India and Sri Lanka (and are absolutely necessary for the authentic flavour), but are also of some importance in Northern India. They have been introduced to Malaysia by the many South Indian (mostly Tamil) immigrants during the British colonial era. Outside the Indian sphere of influence, they are rarely found.
Curry powder is a British invention to imitate the flavour of Indian cooking with minimal effort. Some curry powders, or so the books tell, indeed contain curry leaves, but probably only for historic or linguistic reasons, since dried curry leaves lose their fragrance within days. A typical curry powder should derive its taste mainly from roasted cumin, roasted coriander, black pepper, chiles and roasted fenugreek. Additionally, ginger, lentil flour, salt and sweet spices (cinnamon, cloves and green cardamom) are frequently added. The yellow colour stems from turmeric. Spices with no tradition in India (e.g., galangale, caraway, allspice, celery or zedoary) are unreasonable and should not appear in anything that claims an Indian origin, though they are sometimes listed as ingredients in curry powder. But since curry powder is not a traditional recipe, anyone is free to sell his own creation.
Observant readers will notice that the recipe for curry powder outlined in the previous paragraph appears like a compromise of the Northern Indian garam masala and the Southern Indian sambaar podi (see cumin for both mixtures). Anyway, you cannot represent the large spectrum of Indian cooking styles in one single spice mixture; Indians prepare their mixtures separately for each dish and usually do not store them, thus guaranteeing the unique flavour of each recipe. Curry powder, therefore, belongs more to British or international cuisine than to India; anyone trying to cook authentic Indian recipes should stick to traditional Indian spice mixtures or, even better, single spices.
If you want to try curry leaves, you should fry them in hot butter fat for short and add to the dish immediately before serving (see ajwain for this procedure) . Since South Indian cuisine is dominantly vegetarian, curry leaves seldom appear in non-vegetarian food; the main applications are thin lentil or vegetable curries (sambaar) and stuffings for the crispy samosa. See coconut for the Southern Indian recipe bese bele.
In Sri Lanka, the delicious chicken and beef curries are flavoured with curry leaves; the leaves are furthermore used for kottu roti, vegetables and sliced bread which are quickly fried together.
Curry leaves may be kept in the refrigerator for some time, but are better deep frozen; do not remove them from the branches before usage!
The term curry is applied inflationarily to many dishes of Far Eastern origin. As shown above, in its true home South India it means a thin, spicy vegetable stew; in Thailand, though, any food cooked in coconut milk is called a curry. Burmese curries owe their flavour to a fried paste of ground onions and other spices. Lastly, in Indonesia, any spicy food may be termed a curry (kari in Indonesian). Sometimes, even Ethiopian (see long pepper) or Caribbean recipes are called curries!
(from Tamil kari: "sauce"), in Western usage, blend of ground spices adapted by British settlers in India from the traditional spice mixtures of Indian cuisine; also, any dish characterized by such seasoning. The basic ingredients of commercial curry powder are turmeric (which imparts the characteristic yellow colour), cumin, coriander, and red, or cayenne, pepper. Other ingredients may include chilies, cloves, cinnamon, fenugreek, nutmeg, ginger, mace, mustard seed, fennel, poppyseed, allspice, anise, bay leaves, and black or white pepper, all roasted and ground fine.
In traditional Indian cookery, spice mixtures called masala are prepared in the home and may vary in ingredients and proportions according to the particular dish to be seasoned or the preferences of the cook. Some masala are blended with a liquid, such as water or vinegar, to make a paste. The primarily vegetarian curries of southern India, seasoned with sambar podi and other traditional blends, are the most pungent, often containing hot chilies. By contrast, classic, or Mughal, garam masala of northern India contains only raw cardamom seeds, cinnamon, cloves, and black pepper; variations on this mixture add coriander seeds and cumin seeds but avoid hot or pungent ingredients. Lamb and poultry are common features in the curries of the north.
Spicy, gravied dishes have been a mainstay of South Asian cookery since antiquity, perhaps deriving from sour-milk stews. Certain spices have long been known for their antiseptic and preservative properties, particularly in regions lacking natural means of refrigeration.
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