Curry, the English term for garam massala, is used in Far Eastern cuisines to great effect .It can be mild or “hot” but never searing. English civil servants stationed in India liked to eat searingly hot curried dishes and when they returned to the United Kingdom asked for such Oriental restaurants.
In northern India, curried dished tend to be relatively mild, whereas in the south around Madras (Chennai), slightly more pungent.
Caribbean nations also use curry, as transplanted Indians brought the spicy culture with them. The proportions of garam massala (garam=hot; massala=mixture of spices in Hindi) changes according to personal preferences, and practically every family has its own secret recipe, many handed down from generation to generation.
Curry is always a delicate balance of spices. Mild curries contain a large proportion of turmeric, an inexpensive, yellow and mild spice. It lacks finesse and is mostly used in low-end curry mixtures.
The core spices of garam massala are: black pepper, cardamom, coriander seed, cumin, cloves and cinnamon.
Variations abound – in Bengal mustard seeds are added, in Chennai fenugreek, in the south tamarind and asafetida, in Punjab bay leaves, fennel and coconut in Gujarat.
European chefs use garam massala in a few dishes and very sparingly. To them, spice should enhance the falvour of the main ingredient and not overpower it. An overly curried shrimp in coconut or cream sauce ruins the flavour of delicate shrimp.
In Thailand, Myanmar and Vietnam, curry or combinations of spices differ, as do the main protein ingredients. In some cuisines pork dominates, whereas in others it is more delicate seafood. Accordingly, chefs change the strength of spicing.
Sri Lankans curry almost everything, but just enough to mask the flavour of the main ingredient. They balance the depth of flavour with the strength of curry. Sri Lankan dishes are always artfully spiced.
Blending your garam massala is relatively easy; do refrain from mixing too much at a time. Over time, spices lose their strength.
Here is recipe you may want to try:
2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp whole cloves
one 5 cm cinnamon stick broken into pieces
1 Tbsp ground cardamom seeds
1 Tbsp cumin seeds
1 Tbsp coriander seeds
Dry roast all ingredients for one to three minutes. Grind to a fine powder. Keep in a cool and dry place in a well sealed container.
Malay chicken curry
5 cm piece of ginger peeled
3 large garlic cloves, peeled
1 stick lemon grass, white part only
1 Tbsp Asian chili sauce
1 Tbsp ground coriander
1 Tbsp ground cumin
1 tsp turmeric
2 Tbsp corn oil
1 cup chopped onion
1 Kg chicken thighs, skinned, boned and halved.
Salt and pepper to taste
1-cup coconut milk
2 Tbsp limejuice
Prepare mixture in food processor or in a mortar and pestle. Add chili sauce coriander, cumin and turmeric. Blend well.
Heat oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add onion sauté for two minutes, stir in curry mixture and sauté for one more minute.
Add chicken, season with salt and pepper and brown on all sides for approximately two minutes. Add coconut milk, limejuice. Bring to a boil.
Simmer, uncovered, for 15 minutes or until chicken is cooked.
Garnish with thinly sliced red onion and green chilies if desired.