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Here is how I made my curry. In my frying pan I did this:

  1. Added olive oil (maybe one and a half teaspoon)
  2. Added garlic (minced from a jar)
  3. Added about one teaspoon of ground turmeric, ground coriander, and ground cumin
  4. Added veggies

I stirred and after a while I noticed there was something odd. The ground spices on top of the veggies wouldn't go away, no matter how much I tried to stir and how much more olive oil I added.

What did I do wrong?

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What do you mean by "ground on top of the veggies"? –  BobMcGee Sep 7 '12 at 3:33
    
ground = "turmeric ground, coriander ground, and cumin ground"? Need to make a sauce then add veges, otherwise you have a dry fry curry which is gritty. What recipe are you following? –  TFD Sep 7 '12 at 3:37
    
@TFD, yes that is correct. Are my ingredients right though? Even before I added the spices, the grounds didn't mix well –  Hawk Sep 7 '12 at 3:38
    
@jak With what you described, you got the correct result. If you don't like that, use a recipe with a complex sauce –  TFD Sep 7 '12 at 3:41
    
@TFD well, except for the olive oil. That's kind of odd for a curry. Normally they also include ghee, vegetable oil, or butter, and some sort of liquid to build a sauce base. –  BobMcGee Sep 7 '12 at 3:43

6 Answers 6

I like to add unground spices (cumin seeds, mustard seeds, fennel, star anise etc. and of course garlic and chili depending what curry I am making) at the beginning, gives a better flavour to the oil. Then I would add meat and/or veggies, stir fry them a little bit, and finally add the ground spices and water. Water will dissolve the spices and will make it easies to have them cover the veggies uniformly. This is very important especially for turmeric which, if added in oil, only results in a mess. I find ground cumin or coriander are less problematic.

If the ground spices sticked to the veggies you should have just added some water, not oil, which has probably made things worst.

Also, as I generally use fairly high temperatures with the spices at the beginning, I would use vegetable oil (I use sunflower oil) or ghee (clarified butter) rather than olive oil.

PS: no need to be depressed for a meal that did not come out OK. That is how you learn cooking!

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In most Indian restaurants, one only sees the gravy based curries. This is just one side of Indian cooking. For dry curries, the technique is totally different.

For most dry curries, you temper whole spices in hot oil (traditionally sunflower, mustard, canola or groundnut oil). After tempering, the vegetables are added (usually one one kind at a time in a curry or maximum two). Then you add salt and other ground spices and let the vegetables cook.

Depending on whether you desire a north Indian style or a south indian style curry, you would add slightly different whole/ground spices.

Your curry did not come out well for some of these reasons:

  1. Too much turmeric. Turmeric is for color/nutrition properties, but a pinch or two should suffice. A whole tablespoon would only be required if you are cooking like 5 pounds of vegetables.

  2. The olive oil's flavor does not really blend well with traditional Indian spice mixes, so you should try different oil. Also olive oil doesn't get hot enough to temper mustard seeds and the like and might start to smoke if heated too much.

  3. The ground spices should be added to the vegetables and not the oil, as many others have pointed out.

Having eaten south indian curries all my life, the traditional tempering ingredients are mustard seeds, dry lentils(to give a bit of crunch). For the ground spices, usual is a pinch of turmeric, salt, chilli powder(can be substituted with dry/fresh chillies) and asafoetida(for an umami note).

North indian curries have a tendency to include onions to most curries and have mustard seeds, cumin powder, coriander powder, fennel seeds and of course chilli powder.

This is the basic technique for dry curries, and you can use most vegetables, from potatoes to beans to green peppers, though as I mentioned earlier, traditional curries just have one or two vegetables at a time.

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+1 Excellent summary of issues. Good to see recognition of main North and South differences. How much change in chilli level from your experience (for North and South)? –  TFD Sep 9 '12 at 0:25
    
@TFD: It is more complicated than that I am afraid. Each state has a variation, some south Indian states like Kerela tend to include coconut in the curries and are generally less spicy whereas Andhra Pradesh, another south Indian state is known for spicing up their dishes considerably. But if you want a broad classification, I would say South Indian curries generally have more chilli heat. –  Dharini Chandrasekaran Sep 9 '12 at 1:14
    
Thanks. Yes, just interested in general observations - the world's a big place! I have had conflicting reports for Indian inports, must be some local pride issue? –  TFD Sep 9 '12 at 22:45
    
haha, yes maybe :) –  Dharini Chandrasekaran Sep 9 '12 at 23:14

I've seen and lived curries all my life. So, here it goes:

  1. Olive oil is something I won't use for curries. It has a very sweet flavour to it. Unlike suggestions from everyone else to use ghee, I would personally recommend you to use canola or sunflower oil but definitely more than half a teaspoon even if it is non-stick pan. Even though Ghee adds a lot of flavour to the dish, I just think its not worth making your dish unhealthy.
  2. Try to use fresh garlic as much as possible, not only does it add a fresher flavour to your dish, it will also add its nutritional values http://lifestyle.iloveindia.com/lounge/benefits-of-garlic-1473.html. Having said that, I'm not a 100% sure about the nutritional values of the bottled garlic.
  3. You need to go easy on the ground turmeric. It has a very very distinct flavour that can over power the whole curry. I generally only add about 1/4 of a teaspoon and that's enough. I remember when I started cooking and I ended up using about 1 teaspoon and it ruined the whole dish. Turmeric is used not only for its distinct yellow colour but also for its anti-septic values. Ground coriander, and ground cumin seem ok though.
  4. Even in a dry curry, you can add finely chopped or minced onion, which actually helps keep the curry dry enough without letting the spices soak up the oil. Once the oil is hot enough, you were absolutely right in adding the garlic but garlic burns very quickly, so you need to keep an eye on it. And if you decide to use onion to the recipe, you can add both onion and garlic at the same time, which will also prevent the garlic to burn. When you add the spices, you need to fry the spices on low heat until the oil separates from the sauce (onion, garlic, spices). That's when you can add the veggies.
  5. A trick to make your sauce smoother is to blend it once its fried, before you add the veggies. And if you like the taste of coriander, it adds beautiful finishing touches.

Hope its helps and there's always a next time to do better :)

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1  
Saying that using ghee is unhealthy does not really mean anything. Like for any other ingredient, it depends how much you use, how often you eat it, what else you put in the dish, at what temperature you cook it etc. You cannot generalize. –  nico Sep 7 '12 at 11:11
    
@nico: I understand and agree with what you're saying. It totally depends upon the regularity and amount of its consumption. But, I personally advocate people not to use it and even without advocating for it, I have friends and family who have cut down on it a lot. For more: goodmeasures.com.au/is-that-ghee-in-my-curry –  Divi Sep 7 '12 at 11:21

If you add the ground spices before the main ingredients (ie. the veggies) the oil will suck up the spices, making the pan much drier when the veggies are added. Therefore, much more oil has to be added, resulting in a less healthy meal.

Only add ground spices once the main ingredient is well on its way, is how I see it.

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Never use olive oil when making Indian curries, the flavour is too strong.

You need to fry your spices right at the start of the dish to bring out their essential oils before you add other ingredients. Many people fry/soften onions and garlic first then add the spices to be fried as doing it this way helps to avoid burning the spices.

Once the spices have been fried you can add your other ingredients and stock/base sauce etc and simmer till done.

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+1 -- this is the answer. Fry the spices before adding anything else. Some people call it the "biscuit stage" where you have a dry mixture of oil and ground spices, cooked but not burned. Then add garlic and onion, and cook these. Then add everything else and finish cooking. –  slim Feb 18 '13 at 10:52
  • Fry your chopped onions on a medium heat first in vegetable oil until translucent and starting to brown (5 - 6 mins).
  • Then add your garlic and freshly grated ginger fry for a further minute
  • Then add your spices and fry for a further 2 minutes then add your veg.
  • If you are cooking chicken, fry your chicken first on a high heat to seal in the moisture then remove and add after you've cooked your spices. If you try to do it after you've added spices you need the heat to be higher causing your spices to burn.

I've cooked with and without ghee, and I prefer it without, but that's a personal preference.

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