The Curious History of Curry
Is curry a dish or a spice blend? Actually, it’s both. The “dish” originated in India but has since spread world-wide. The word curry is derived from Tamil, a South Indian language, meaning sauce. It was British traders that lumped together any dishes made from a mix of onion, ginger, turmeric, garlic, pepper, chilies, coriander and cumin, cooked with shellfish, meat, or vegetables, as “curry”. Curry powder is a generic term for a blend of spices commonly associated with East Indian cuisine.
Curry predates the arrival of Europeans in Indian by more than 4,000 years. The ancient villagers of the Indus Civilization ate dishes spiced with turmeric, ginger, and garlic. With the arrival of Arab, Chinese and European traders to India, the spicy dish transformed with the influence of spices and ingredients from other cultures.
The curry we are familiar with today is the result of hundreds of years trade between India and other countries. As the dish made its way to the west, the spice combinations changed even further, reflecting the taste palates of the new countries. Depending on the country of origin, curries can have more meat versus vegetables, heavier on chilies or cloves, or have a coconut milk base.
Which Curry is My Favorite?
I like all types. I do tend to favor the coconut based curries, like Thai Panang curry. However, I do not limit my curry spice just to stew type dishes. I liberally add curry powder to sweet and savory dishes as well. My Collard Greens with Red Lentil curry dish is based on a traditional Indian curry that uses red lentil and spinach. Since I have a bunch of collard greens ready to harvest at the moment, I decided to replace the spinach with it. I also used a sweet potato to add a bit of sweetness to the dish and some canned tomato and pepper puree from this summer’s harvest. The result is a healthy, hearty meal that will warm you up on a cool, fall evening!
- 1.5 tbsp of butter (or Olive oil if you want to make this Vegan)
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1 inch piece of ginger, finely chopped
- 1 large yellow onion
- 1 med sweet potato, peeled and diced
- 1 large bunch Collard Greens, chopped
- 1 cup red lentils
- 1-14oz can tomato puree
- 1.5 tbsp curry powder
- 1 tsp turmeric
- 1 tsp cumin
- 1 tsp mango powder (optional)
- cayenne pepper (optional)
- In a medium stock pot, add the 1 cup of the red lentils and cover with 2 cups of water, and boil 30 minutes, or until cooked.
- While the lentils are cooking, sautee the onion, garlic, and ginger in the butter.
- When the onion mixture is soft, add the diced sweet potatoes and sautee for 5 minutes.
- Add the spices, canned tomatoes, chopped collard greens and cooked lentils. Simmer for 25 minutes, or until collard greens are done. Add a little water if the curry looks too dry.
- Serve over rice.
Serve this curry over Basmati or any long grain rice. It also tastes great on its own or with some naan. A special thanks to Hillari Moon Spices for supplying me with her wonderful Curry Spice Blend.