Monday, April 11, 2011

Vegetarian or Carnivore - Indian Food is the Perfect Cuisine!

My first experience with curry was when I was in high school. Dad was on second shift, so I decided to make dinner for Mom and me. I made Beef Curry. It had beef cubes with onions and apples and was absolutely wonderful. I made it quite a few times when Dad was on shift work because Mom and I were a bit more culinarily adventurous than my dad was. I've wanted to find that recipe (long ago lost over multiple moves across country and back) and the one I'm going to share here is the closest I've found to it. I'll admit I haven't tested it, but the only thing I see that I don't remember is the ketchup. We ate it over rice. I would suggest Basmati rice. It's more traditional and it's wonderfully fragrant and nutty. You could also use egg noodles (or those eggless noodles that they have now). I got this from


4 lbs. stew beef, cut into 1 1/2 inch cubes
1/2 c. flour
2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper
3 lg. onions, sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 c. apple juice
4 tbsp. cider vinegar
2 lg. red apples, peeled, cored and cut into lg. chunks
3 tsp. mild curry powder
1 tsp. thyme
1/4 c. brown sugar
1/2 c. ketchup

Coat meat with mixture of flour, salt and pepper. In a crock pot layer meat, onions and apples. On top of this pour garlic, apple juice, vinegar, curry powder and thyme. Top the entire mixture with brown sugar and ketchup. Cook on low temperature for 8 hours. 
Now, you may be wondering why beef if Indians consider cows sacred. Well, there are several reasons for that. Indian food culture is a blend of Asian, Middle Eastern and British along with any other cultures that controlled the region throughout the centuries. Then you have the area's religious influences such as Christianity, Islam and Hindu all having input into India's food culture. In fact, Indian cuisine doesn't really have any "curry" per se. The word "curry" is actually an anglicized version of the Tamil word for "sauce", which dominates Indian food selections.

Chicken Tikka Masala w/Naan bread -Wikimedia Commons

If you've ever been afraid to try an Indian restaurant because you don't see "curry" on the menu, rethink your hesitation. Indian food is chock full of sauces, whether with meat (primarily chicken, lamb and goat) or vegetable. There is no single ingredient in India that makes something a "curry" because the original word, kari, could also be compared to the words "soup" or "stew". Almost always served with Basmati rice or pilaf, it is eaten with naan bread much like other cultures eat who eat flat breads. You tear the bread and scoop the food into it and eat it. Of course, you can eat with a fork as well (even if only to help scoop the food onto the bread). But, rest assured, that which we in the US know as curry does exist on the Indian menu. Any recipe that uses garam masala as a seasoning ingredient would be comparable to our use of the word curry. 

"Curry" powders vary by region. -Wikimedia Commons

Curry powder is actually a combination of spices based on a variety of cuisines in South Asia (India is part of Asia) and can vary from place to place. Indians use Garam Masala which we would call curry powder, but they often mix it themselves adding different ratios of ingredients depending on the dish they're about to make. If you've ever watched Aarti Party on Food Network or Indian Food Made Easy on Cooking Channel, you may have seen them using either a mortar and pestel or a coffee grinder to make their own garam masala or curry powder from fresh herbs and spices.

Garam Masala (Hot spices) is a very popular blend of spices in pakistan and india. Brown cardamom, Green Cardamom, Cinnamon, Cloves, Nutmeg , Mace and black pepper are the main ingredients. However cumin seed, caraway and bay leaves are also used. In punjab it is further diluted with coriander powder.
-Wikimedia Commons

It wasn't until I began frequenting Indian restaurants in the area that I learned just how varied their cuisine was and how wonderful it was. There are things I don't like, to be sure. Cilantro is one of those things (not even in Mexican food!! Yuck!), so any of their cilantro dishes, like their green chutney, will be avoided by me. I also don't like their raita, which is a yogurt-based sauce or dip that is frequently found on the salad or appetizer tables. I find it too bitter for my tastes. It reminds me of Greek tzatziki which I also don't like. Of course, if you like the Greek one, you'll probably like the Indian one. But, I will be leaving my share to you. My not liking it doesn't make it bad.

Raita sauce -Wikimedia Commons

Not all dishes are sauce based. Some are baked in a tandoor oven at extremely high heat. Because of the construction of these ovens, internal temps can reach 700+ degrees! The best known item, I believe, cooked in a tandoor oven would be Tandoori Chicken. It is first marinated in yogurt that is full of the rich flavorful spices of the region. With that yogurt coating, it is then baked in the tandoor oven until cooked through. This is no ordinary baked chicken, I can assure you. 

Tandoori Chicken still on skewers -Wikimedia Commons
It's the construction that generates the intense temps in this oven. -Wikimedia Commons

The best way to introduce yourself to Indian cuisine, I think, is to go to an Indian buffet and take a little of everything found on the steam table. Yes, you will find some things to be spicy; others not so. But, you will learn which things you like and which you don't. Or you will learn that you don't like it at all, and that's OK. You did try it and now you know. 

An Indian buffet in Melbourne, Australia. -Wikimedia Commons

If you find one thing that is something you'd like to eat again, but you think it might be just a bit too spicy for you, then instead of the buffet, order from the menu and ask them to make it mild. That's right. Unlike many restaurants, most Indian restaurants can make the dish to match your heat preferences. I like mine just a little above mild. I like there being a little heat but I want to be able to savor the flavor. I also don't like blistering my mouth, which hot foods have done to me in the past - whether spicy hot or heat hot. I don't want anything so hot that I can't taste the food. Where's the pleasure in that? How can you enjoy your meal if you can't taste it?

Madhur Jaffrey's Quick & Easy Indian Cooking

The smells in most Indian restaurants only enhance the experience in my mind. If I eat in a restaurant where I can't even tell they serve Indian food except for the menu, I'm left to wonder how much flavor my food will have. They say that not being able to smell can affect the way foods taste. I say BEING able to smell these spices makes the foods taste even better! 

The Curry Secret

I've eaten in vegetarian Indian restaurants and in those that offer meats and it hasn't mattered. I get a complete and fully satisfying meal in all of them! So, I would suggest that if you find yourself near an Indian buffet one day while at lunch, take a break from your normal routine and see what they have to offer. I think you will stretch your taste horizons more than you'll know.

One of my favorite choices in a non-buffet setting. It's like having a personal buffet!
They usually offer your choice of vegetarian or non-vegetarian and there is usually rice in the middle.
This is Thali.
-Wikimedia Commons


  1. an Indian, this is the first blog post that I have come across that talks knowledgeably about Indian food, and the forever-misunderstood curry! Great to meet you via A-Z :)

  2. I love Indian food, especially vegetarian.

  3. Fabulous post! I've never tried curry, but always wanted to.

  4. I've read that the tumeric in Indian food's curry is wonderfully healthful. It's said to be a terrific anti-inflammatory, making it great for people who suffer from arthritis or other bone/joint/muscle problems. It's also said to protect the liver, inhibit the growth of skin cancer, and even stave off Alzheimer's.

    I'll have to try this recipe!

    My “I” post is here:

  5. WOW! Lotta work and good information, there. Nice job on a great post.

  6. No curry for me! In Japan, most restaurants have wax covered replicas of the food on the menu displayed in the window and it's easy to point to what you want to order.

    One dish was beef in some sort of sauce served over rice and I since I don't like most of the other meals with vegetables, that looked good to me.

    Wrong. It was beef curry. I took one bite and that was enough.

    Popping in by way of the A-Z Challenge. I’m blogging at:
    Write, Wrong or Indifferent
    Marie Anne’s Missives
    In the Garden With Sow-n-Sow
    Every Day Crochet