Foolproof veggie curry anyone?
January 3, 2014 8:59 AM   Subscribe

I'm a decent cook in general and thanks to having had a few close Asian friends and a partner over the years to cook with/watch cook I am pretty decent at some Indian stuff ... bhaji's, paneer dishes, dhal etc... but I've always ballsed up vegetable curry. Why? I can't see where I go wrong.. I have the main spices, I use fresh ginger and garlic generally, I've tried grinding spices, different recipes, slaving for hours... it all comes out crap, or at best tasting just like my dhal. I've experimented with different amounts of spices and never get that tomatey, spicey kick so perfected by even the crappest take away. Even tried a course recently but the teacher was crazy, so I sacked it. Any tips? If it involves Aubergine all the better ;) Thanks in advance...
posted by tanktop to Food & Drink (22 answers total) 37 users marked this as a favorite
I've always heard that the main difference between at-home curry and restaurant curry is the massive amounts of butter. Most home cooks aren't willing to use as much fat as restaurants do.
posted by something something at 9:03 AM on January 3, 2014 [2 favorites]

Jar of green curry paste. Fry some up with a little oil. Add veggies in a sensible order, coconut milk. Crack the wine and start on the rice.
posted by pompomtom at 9:08 AM on January 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

ghee is clarified butter, what something something was undoubtedly referring to. also, yogurt, a lot of finely chopped green onions, and 2-3 large pinches of the right curry powder (hotter) per quart.
posted by bruce at 9:10 AM on January 3, 2014

Are you adding enough salt? Salt enhances the flavor of the other ingredients, so if you find the overall flavor lacking, maybe try that.

My second thought is whether you're over or undercooking your veg.

(Coconut and curry paste are not the branch of curry OP seems to be looking for, BTW. Thai curries are delicious, but they seem to be specifically looking for approaches to Indian food.)
posted by Sara C. at 9:10 AM on January 3, 2014 [5 favorites]

butter and/or rich tasty coconut milk (or higher fat yogurt, if that's your base).

What are your standards ? My curry (veggie or meat) is generally the same:

Cut up onions, peppers, little ginger and garlic, and cook (in a little oil) with spices. When onions are nearly translucent, add coconut milk, more spice, diced tomatoes (can, drained), garbanzo beans (can, rinsed and drained), and maybe peas (frozen), or cauliflower (finely chopped).

I'd put eggplant in after onions were sweated, but not yet translucent, depending on size of the chunks.

I've put lentils in, on occasion, but they can overwhelm it.

My spices are Penzy's, so depends on if I want hot or mild, or whatever.
posted by k5.user at 9:13 AM on January 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

Have you consulted Manjula's Kitchen yet? Her videos are my go-to for technique demos.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:22 AM on January 3, 2014 [5 favorites]

make sure to not overcook the veggies.
posted by Jason and Laszlo at 9:23 AM on January 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

What specific dish are you trying to make? not all veggie curries are the same flavor profile. if you're looking for a tomato-ey aubergine dish, maybe try Baingan Bharta?

Defn check out Manjulas Kitchen as recommended above.
posted by darsh at 9:23 AM on January 3, 2014 [2 favorites]

Sorry, I linked straight to the curry list, here's the entire list of recipes/videos.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:24 AM on January 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

Do you use tomato paste? I find that a shot of tomato paste (the kind from a tube) sauteed after I've bloomed the spices really boosts the flavor.
posted by Frowner at 9:41 AM on January 3, 2014 [3 favorites]

Something you could try is blanching the veggies first and then shocking them in ice water. Make the curry base in a separate pot and then add the veggies afterwards. This stops the veggies getting too soft and miserable.

Pataks madras curry paste is AMAZING by the way for a quick fix for a curry base when you aren't in the mood to faff around getting the spices together by themselves.
posted by JenThePro at 9:54 AM on January 3, 2014

Tomato paste often helps after you've bloomed the spices. Another thing I've started doing (after my friend's mom told me to try it) is to make a blend of fresh tomatoes, garlic, ginger, and the chili pepper (I use a food processor). I pour the shake like mixture in to the bloomed spices and sometimes the onion and let it cook a few minutes before adding the root veg. This has really helped step up the sauce.
posted by kendrak at 10:00 AM on January 3, 2014

3rd-ing Manjula's Kitchen. Watch the videos...they make a world of difference vs. just reading the recipe.
She leaves out onions and garlic, but if you want them, they'll work in her recipes, e.g. purée them with the tomatoes for saag and butter paneer, etc.
I can't stress this enough...if you want Punjabi/North Indian curries, Manjula will sort you out.
posted by Kreiger at 10:29 AM on January 3, 2014 [3 favorites]

Try this: [I've been making this forever, as have my mom, mom-in-law, grandmothers etc...]

1. Heat a pan in which you will cook the veggie curry on medium heat. Once it is somewhat hot (hold your hand a few inches on top of the pan, your palm should feel the warmth), add 2-3 teaspoons of oil/ghee.

2. Add a teaspoon of cumin.

3. Add finely chopped onions (use approx. 1.5 large onions for a curry of 2-3 medium sized boiled potatoes, a cup of chopped cauliflower, half-a-cup of green peas, and 2-3 tomatoes). Saute the onions on medium heat until they caramelize and turn brownish. You can also set the pan on low-medium heat, cover it, and let the onions cook until they are soft and brown - make sure to not burn them.

3. Add finely chopped tomatoes or tomato paste (run the tomatoes through the food processor). Let the onion-tomato mixture cook on medium to low-medium heat. Cook this until you start seeing this mixture seep oil on the sides... once you cook this "masala" of onions and tomatoes for say 20-ish minutes, it will start showing specks of oil on its edges - that's when the masala is ready.

4. Add the chopped cauliflower.

5. Add about 2 cups of hot boiling water to this onion-tomato masala with cauliflower now.

6. Add the boiled potatoes that have been roughly mashed.

7. Add the peas.

8. Add 2-3 teaspoons of grated ginger (you can adjust this amount to taste, some people hate ginger, some people love the kick of ginger - its variable).

8. Add salt (to taste), add a dash of sugar to balance the salt and acidity (from tomatoes). Add red chili powder. You can also substitute finely chopped green chilies for red-chili powder.

9. Let this curry simmer for a few minutes until your cauliflower is cooked through (as cooked as you like it to be - some people like it a bit on the raw side so there's some bite to it, others prefer it to be all squishy and well cooked).

10. Once the curry is cooked through (bring it to at least a boil once during step 9), add finely chopped coriander (cilantro) - say 2 tablespoons of finely chopped cilantro.

11. Enjoy with naan/paratha/rotis.

12. Some people add cashew paste (2-3 tablespoons of cashews + 2 tablespoons of water blended in food processor), or almond paste to thicken the curry and give it a richer taste. You could do that in step 3.

The key to this curry is the "masala" in steps 3-4 - sauteing the onions-tomato mixture until it starts releasing the oil that initially went into the pan. There are too many variants of veg curries - you can experiment (with other veggies) once you get step 3 and 4 right. Good luck!
posted by greta_01 at 10:31 AM on January 3, 2014 [17 favorites]

What Krieger says - if you want onions and garlic, and I do, you can still use Manjulas methods.
posted by mumimor at 10:31 AM on January 3, 2014

I forgot about the aubergines: you can do the same with chopped aubergines (about 1.5 cups) instead of the cauliflower in the above recipe. In that case, you're using onions+tomatoes+aubergine+boiled potatoes+green peas (if you like them!). You can add other veggies like green peppers (capsicum) etc too.

Or, here's another resource.

Scroll down to "Kura, Kurma, Pulusu or Subji: Home Classics with Fresh Vegetables" section. She has a bunch of curries, and all of her recipes are classic Indian home-cooked food.
posted by greta_01 at 10:43 AM on January 3, 2014

A while back I took a vegetarian Indian cooking class and got a couple of nice tips out of it. The best one was to cook the initial base mixture of onion / tomato / garlic / ginger-garlic paste / oil, and then transfer it to a food processor and puree it, then move it back into the pan. Without doing this, my homemade curries were always too watery and lacked the smooth sauce that restaurant ones did.

Once you get that part down reliably, you can do lots of variations for different vegetables, basically adding various spices and cooking them for different lengths of time in the sauce. (Sometimes you may want to precook them first, as with eggplant or squash.)

If you are doing a really big batch you can use an immersion blender in the actual cooking pot, but that only works if you are doing a lot. It's generally easier to just dump it into the Cuisinart and puree it for 10s, then move it back in.
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:50 AM on January 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks a lot people, yep Manjula looks great.. like a lovely mum... cheers for the recipe Greta, looking forward to trying :)
posted by tanktop at 11:07 AM on January 3, 2014

Argh, I'm a scatter brain - I forgot - add a teaspoon of turmeric in step 2 above as well, after the cumin!! Sorry!!

You can usually add the turmeric at pretty much any time between steps 2-4!!
posted by greta_01 at 11:20 AM on January 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

Eggplant (aubergine) is watery and a bit bitter before being cooked. If you want to maximize its flavor and texture in a curry, slice or cube it, salt, rinse, dry and then either grill or roast in the oven with a generous amount of ghee or oil before adding it into a curry. It will improve and concentrate the flavor immensely.

Roasting beforehand improves some other fresh veggies going into a curry. Experiment and find the ones most worth the effort to suit your taste.
posted by vers at 1:54 PM on January 3, 2014

An earlier comment asks if you have been putting enough salt in, but I wanted to ask if you have been adding a bit of sugar. Sugar added should not be enough to give a noticeable sweetness, but what it does add will make all the existing flavors more dynamic.

The other thing that changed up my curry results was to make sure that I was cooking the spices first. EXCEPT garam masala, which goes at the end. I will have to try the food processing tip above, it sounds interesting.

One of those curry recipes is on AskMe. It is a bean curry, but the basics are all there.
posted by whatzit at 2:11 PM on January 3, 2014

Response by poster: Feedback ;)

Well had a shot last night.. kind of generically blending a lot of the above tips. Not perfect.. but way, way better.. I did actually want to have seconds. Yep tried sugar and salt.. and making the sauce (masala?) first blending it etc.. definetely a big bonus (esp with green chilli).

Can see a few people could relate to this problem so can vouch there's good tips above. Nice one :) Thanks.
posted by tanktop at 8:49 AM on January 4, 2014

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