Spice-y not spicy curry recipes
April 28, 2020 7:18 AM   Subscribe

I would like recipes for curries using base spices, but without curry powder or chilli powder as an ingredient. Surprisingly hard to find. Do you have a tried and tested approach?

Here is what I have in our cupboard already: Garam masala, dried cumin, ground coriander, tumeric, fenegreek powder, garlic powder, paprika, canned chopped tomato, coconut milk, stock of all flavours. Assume I also have lots of other dried herbs and spices that didn't occur to me to reside in the "curry" genre (ie oregano, Chinese five spice). Also this list leans towards Indian, but I am open to curries of other cuisines as well so long as they are not spicy and require very easy to procure ingredients.

I know that I should be able to make a curry from this. But all the recipes I look up ask for "curry powder" or add chilli powder and I do not want to use either for "reasons". I tried using those recipes and just omitting those elements, but they just didn't taste very good, I don't know if it throws the ratio of the other spices off or what.
posted by like_neon to Food & Drink (20 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
I like this one

Chicken Curry

It does say chile powder but I read it has a hot spice rather than "chilli" the dish spice.

I've been eyeing this too. But it makes a lot, and I"m not sure I'm that committed

Curry Sauce
posted by Ftsqg at 7:24 AM on April 28, 2020

Just leave out the chilli powder in any given recipe-you will get less heat but the range of other spices will still give a lot of depth of flavour. If I make a mild chilli I go for minimal chilli and a lot of cumin.

Love this chicken tikka masala. I would simply leave out the chilli to accommodate that requirement.
posted by koahiatamadl at 7:30 AM on April 28, 2020 [3 favorites]

Most korma recipes are pretty low on the spice level. I recently made this and found it delicious and easy to make.

For curries that have chile peppers in them, consider substituting Kashmiri chile powder. It is an essentially heat-less pepper. Most recipes without any chile powder will not only taste off, but will also tend towards the wrong color, which is mildly unappetizing and may contribute to your sense of taste.

I'm a bit confused why you want to avoid curry powder at all. Most (but not all) curry powders have no chile peppers in them - especially if they are not labelled as "hot". This is deliberate because the curry powder forms the base of the dishes flavoring, allowing the chef to separately control spiciness. I wonder if there is some other ingredient you find distasteful. In particular, garam masala (which you seem to be fine with) is somewhat spicy due to the amount of black pepper in it - certainly more than most curry powders.
posted by saeculorum at 7:32 AM on April 28, 2020 [1 favorite]

Could you clarify what you're looking for? Is it just "non-spicy curry"?

Because "curry powder" is really just a spice blend (Penzey's link), or this recipe, here; you can leave out the cayenne, and even the black pepper if that's too much, or follow the general outline of the Penzey's one, minus the peppers, which it seems like you've got most of the ingredients for.

Once you've got your own blend, you can use it in the recipes you've got already.
posted by damayanti at 7:34 AM on April 28, 2020 [3 favorites]

consider substituting Kashmiri chile powder

(to clarify my own post, paprika is an adequate substitute for Kashmiri chile powder if you don't have access to an Indian grocery. Unfortunately Kashmiri chile is effectively impossible to find outside Indian groceries.)
posted by saeculorum at 7:53 AM on April 28, 2020

Since a few people are asking. Trying to avoid 'curry powder' as the ones I've bought, even labeled mild seem to have some sort of heat? Full disclosure though, not spicy to my palate, I'm trying to make curries for my 18 month old toddler. She rejects the ones I make with the curry powders and I was assuming it was due to heat but maybe it's some other flavour. Or maybe she just doesn't like the brand?? (Schwartz in the UK).

But when I use garam masala (which I know is also a spice blend) she likes it (also Schwartz brand). That was the most recent experiment at least. But I personally wasn't happy with the taste of the result, and I haphazardly threw in tumeric, cumin, coriander, chicken stock in it to try and salvage it to something I felt was palatable. In the end I stirred in yogurt before serving because she eats anything slathered in yogurt.

Just trying to find a few different recipes without any "hot" spice to guide me in future curry creations. I couldn't recreate what I made the other day to save my life.
posted by like_neon at 8:01 AM on April 28, 2020 [1 favorite]

Based on your update, I went looking for advice on how Indian families introduce food to babies and toddlers. This is just the first site I found, but they have suggestions from some families and at the bottom the list of recommended articles includes several recipes specifically for babies.

Big Apple Curry

Avoiding chile powder is a good idea, for other spice mixes it seems like there may be a familiarity element in play. You could also try mixing it with yogurt to dilute the flavor and make it a little more palatable for her while she is getting used to the flavors.
posted by Lady Li at 8:18 AM on April 28, 2020 [1 favorite]

Powdered ginger, powdered garlic, powdered coriander seed, a lesser amount of powdered cumin add a nice base note of complexity to many stews. If you want it to be more curry-like also add tumeric. If you enjoy a touch of licorice taste add a touch of ground fennel seeds. If you want the spices to penetrate they need to be fried in oil, if you're browning onions or meat end by adding the spices to the pan. Suggested proportions are a quarter teaspoon of garlic and cumin each, a teaspoon of ginger and coriander each, a half teaspoon of fennel. Heaped teaspoon of turmeric if you're using it. Experiment to taste.

Garam masala often has some peppery heat to it, maybe you should avoid it. People do mix their own according to taste.
posted by glasseyes at 8:28 AM on April 28, 2020

You might want to explore the world of Japanese curry, which is generally full of warming spices that are not particularly spicy. These generally use a curry block or curry roux, which you can buy or make yourself.

Here's a very simple version using garam masala (the cayenne and curry are optional and can be left out). The blog post also includes plenty of recipes in which you can use the curry roux; for instance, here's an easy chicken curry you can make with your finished roux.

Here's a more complex version from the NY Times that uses a blend of many spices (again with the optional cayenne). This one has a ton of flavor and forms up into a brick for easy storage.

Here's one more from Serious Eats.
posted by ourobouros at 8:30 AM on April 28, 2020 [1 favorite]

Camelia Panjabi's very good curry cookbook has a sort of "default basic" curry recipe with no chile and no curry powder that goes like this for two servings:

4T oil
1 large chopped onion
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1/4-in square piece of fresh ginger, chopped
3/4t coriander powder
pinch turmeric
1/4t cumin powder
1/4t garam masala
1t paprika
2 tomatoes
1 cup water
chopped cilantro leaves

Heat the oil over a medium flame and cook the onion until brown, at least half an hour. Add the garlic and ginger and cook for another minute. Add the coriander powder and cook for another minute. Add the other spices and cook for 30 seconds. Add the tomatoes and water and cook for five minutes.

Now, add whatever other ingredients you want and cook them in this sauce until they're done.

Finish with salt and cilantro leaves.
posted by nebulawindphone at 8:56 AM on April 28, 2020 [4 favorites]

The base for this cauliflower curry is delicious, and I'm sure you could adapt it for chicken or different vegetables. It calls for a green chile, but I've made it both with and without and it's great either way.

(You do not need to mash anything with a mortar and pestle, the NYT is just being weirdly pretentious with their recipe instructions as usual.)
posted by catoclock at 9:53 AM on April 28, 2020

Came to suggest Japanese yellow curry - specifically the mild S&B Golden Curry. Although if she doesn't like "curry" (which to me generally means lots of turmeric), she probably won't like this either.

Pretty much anything that uses fresh chili could use Bell Pepper instead, and in general just not adding dried/powdered chili works fine. Like literally anything in the Madhur Jaffrey cookbooks tastes fine without chili.

All that said, that's a really picky age, and she'll probably be rejecting a lot of things; sometimes it's better not to cater that and just make food *you* like.
posted by aspersioncast at 10:11 AM on April 28, 2020

Based on your update - in my family in the UK little people get introduced to what passes as an Indian curry with kormas or butter chicken. Some recipes are more mild than others so have a look.

If their grandma cooks, there is also a curry recipe in her 50 year old English cook book which is not anything I would call a curry. But it is a good way to use up alllllll the Xmas leftovers and whatever other random things she can find in the fridge. It is not unpleasant and goes well with lots of mango chutney. So anything like that will use your curry powder but be quite mild and depending on what else you throw in may be acceptable to the little one, without being inedible for you - as long as you don’t have your heart set on something more interesting.

If colour is a concern paprika can add a lot of red and a hint of sweetness which may also be nice. But it’s not high on the list of ingredients for most Indian curries I’ve seen but who cares, you’re preparing a family meal.
posted by koahiatamadl at 10:18 AM on April 28, 2020

Just popped in to say fenugreek is a very strong presence in any dish, handle with care.
posted by Max Power at 10:52 AM on April 28, 2020

My wife's Indian and we recognise nebulawindphone’s recipe as the right basic approach.

Definitely start with onion (not sure they need to be totally brown, just soft and golden), then garlic and ginger (you can get a paste in jars), then cook your spices before adding tomato and cooking a bit more. At this point you have a sort of paste.

Then you can add whatever you like. Coconut milk and some meat or veg and you won’t need much more!

Garlic/ginger and cooking the spices make all the difference really.
posted by Ted Maul at 11:03 AM on April 28, 2020 [2 favorites]

I recently made the NYT Japanese curry brick linked by ourobouros. It was easy and fun to make the bricks, and the finished dish was very, very mild (much too mild for my taste, in fact, but from the comments here I guess that's true to the style). It calls for some cayenne, but you would just leave it out in your situation.

For anyone encountering a NYT paywall, here is my summary of the recipe:

• 1 (2-inch) cinnamon stick, pounded into small pieces
• 1 dried bay leaf
• 1 tablespoon brown mustard seeds
• 1 tablespoon coriander seeds
• 1 tablespoon fennel seeds
• 1 tablespoon cumin seeds
• 1 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
• ½ teaspoon whole cloves
• 2 cardamom pods
• 1 dried shiitake mushroom, broken into pieces
• 1 (1-inch strip) dried kombu, cut into bite-size pieces
• 1 ½ teaspoons whole black peppercorns
• 1 orange, zested
• 1 tablespoon ground turmeric
• 1 tablespoon ground ginger
• 1 tablespoon sea salt
• 1 teaspoon sweet paprika
• 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper, or more to taste

• 1 ½ cups/340 grams unsalted butter (3 sticks)
2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour

1. Toast the first 9 ingredients (cinnamon through cardamom) in a dry skillet over medium heat until fragrant, stirring, about 2 minutes. Transfer to a spice grinder.
2. Add the mushroom, kombu and peppercorns to the grinder and grind until well pulverized. If your grinder is too small, do it in batches. Transfer the pulverized spices to a bowl and add the remaining spice mix ingredients (orange zest through cayenne, if using).
3. Make a blond roux with the flour and butter. Turn off the heat, add the spice mix and stir to combine.
4. Line a shallow vessel with parchment (cake tin, quarter-sheet pan, loaf pan, etc.). Make sure the shape and size of the vessel will easily allow you to divide it into thirds later. Pour in the spice mixture and let it cool for a few minutes at room temperature.
5. Cover and transfer to the fridge. Once firm (an hour or two), unmold the mixture and divide it into thirds and then thirds again, for a total of 9 pieces. Wrap each brick individually in plastic wrap and store in the fridge or freezer.

Heat 4 tablespoons of light oil in a pot or large skillet over medium-high heat. Add veggies and protein of your choice and saute until partway done, as you might do for soup. Add 4 cups stock or broth of your choice, and simmer for about 15 minutes to finish cooking the veg/protein. Add 1 curry brick and simmer gently until the curry has thickened, about 10 minutes. Season to taste with miso, soy sauce, rice vinegar, minced ginger, scallions, etc. and serve over hot rice.
posted by slenderloris at 11:17 AM on April 28, 2020

Oh, also, if you are trying recipes that call for curry powder you can just sub the garam masala directly, since that one seems to pass muster.
posted by Lady Li at 11:36 AM on April 28, 2020

I’m in the UK and I find Korma powder (Schwartz) and Bart’s Mild Curry Powder are tolerated well by my 17 month old. Also I use Korma paste too.

Also any Annabel Karmel curry recipe seems well-received (I make her Fruity Chicken Curry, Mild Prawn Curry, and Chicken Korma quite frequently).
posted by peanut butter milkshake at 1:56 PM on April 28, 2020

Tumeric (a central ingredient in curry powder) is a very bitter flavor. Maybe your little one doesn't like that.
posted by cacao at 3:27 PM on April 28, 2020 [1 favorite]

Thank you everyone! Lots to experiment with here.
And I agree, I definitely don't want to cater to toddler pickiness, but just trying to introduce a variety of flavours and don't want to always associate curry = spicy to her. Works the opposite way for me too, sometimes I worry I only find things that are spicy to be tasty to me! So I think a lot of these suggestions will be good for developing both of our palates.
posted by like_neon at 2:28 AM on April 29, 2020

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