Bombay Curry

Once you’ve had or made this characteristic Bombay Parsi curry, you’ll understand why Indians tend to think of most curry powder as a joke. Curried this or that, especially with raisins and chopped apple, is planets away from the complex, intense thing we call curry. The list of ingredients may seem dauntingly long, but once the masala is ground, you’re making a simple stew.

Roasted chickpeas are sold at health foods stores and Indian groceries (ask for husked channa or gram; split chickpeas are called channa dal). If you can’t get either type of chickpea, just double the quantity of peanuts.

All you need to go along with a curry, aside from a drift of fluffy white basmati rice (or Tomato Rice,) on a large platter, are fried or toasted Papads on the side, Simple Onion Kachumbar ( the equivalent of a salsa), and wedges of lime to be squeezed over everything. This was my favorite Saturday lunch in Bombay in my mother’s house and is an occasional dinner treat in ours. The recipe is exactly as dictated to me in 1962 by my mother’s cook, Andrew de Souza.

Curry is perfectly wonderful served immediately, but a day or more in the refrigerator allows the flavors to melt together even more.

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Ingredients

  • 1 ½ pounds well-trimmed boneless lamb, stewing veal, or boneless chicken thigh meat; or 2 pounds chicken legs or thighs
  • 2 teaspoons Ginger-Garlic Paste
  • 1 walnut-size ball of compressed tamarind; or substitute lime juice to taste or 8 pieces of kokam

Masala

  • ½ coconut (if using a wet-dry grinder; optional)
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 1 (1-inch-long) piece peeled fresh ginger
  • 6 to 10 dried red chiles
  • 1 tablespoon raw peanuts
  • 1 teaspoon roasted chickpeas (husked channa or gram) or split chickpeas (channa dal); or 1 additional tablespoon peanuts
  • 2 teaspoons coriander seeds
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 1 teaspoon white poppy seeds
  • ½ teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 1 (2-inch-long) stick cinnamon or cassia (optional)
  • 4 to 6 whole cloves (optional)
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons peanut or sesame oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 10 to 15 curry leaves
  • 2 cups coconut milk (if not using fresh coconut in the masala)
  • 1 teaspoon (or more) salt
  • 1 to 2 potatoes, each peeled and cut into 8 pieces

Method

  • Cut the meat into 1- to 2-inch pieces; rub it with the paste and let it marinate at least half an hour.
  • Soak the tamarind in 1 ½ cups boiling water for at least half an hour. Using your fingers, loosen the pulp from the seeds and press it through a strainer. If there’s still a lot of pulp on the seeds, resoak the tamarind in warm water and press it through the strainer again. Reserve the strained pulp and discard the residue.
  • To make the masala: If you are using a wet-dry grinder, pry the coconut meat out of the shell. Using a stout knife or a peeler, peel off the tough brown skin. Cut the coconut meat into small pieces. Coarsely chop the garlic and ginger. Pull the stems off the chiles. Grind the coconut, garlic, ginger, and chiles to a paste with the peanuts, chickpeas, coriander, cumin, poppy seeds, turmeric, and cinnamon and cloves, if you like. Add water to make a paste, using as little as possible. If you are working with a food processor or powerful blender: Because coconut never gets ground to a paste in a food processor, omit it and use commercial coconut milk as part of the cooking liquid. Pulverize the dry spices—chiles, coriander, cumin, poppy seeds, turmeric, and cinnamon and cloves, if using—in a coffee grinder before combining them with the garlic, ginger, peanuts, and chickpeas in the food processor or blender. Use just as much water as you need to make a fine, thick paste.
  • Once the masala is made, heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion and curry leaves and cook until the onion is browned, stirring occasionally. Add the meat and cook, stirring constantly, until it loses its raw look. Then add the masala paste. Cook over moderate heat for 5 to 10 minutes, stirring so that the masala doesn’t stick to the bottom and burn. Add a tablespoon or so of water from time to time, just enough to keep it from sticking and burning.
  • Add enough water to cover the meat generously (or water and coconut milk, if you made the masala without fresh coconut), at least 5 cups of liquid in all. Salt, starting with 1 teaspoon. Bring to a boil; reduce the heat to a simmer and cook, partially covered, until the meat is meltingly tender and the oil floats on top. Lamb or veal will take about 45 minutes to an hour, but the chicken will be tender long before the curry gravy is ready. Remove it after about 30 minutes and simmer the curry liquid for at least another 15 to 20 minutes, returning the chicken to the pot when the curry is completely cooked. It should be a thick, spoonable gravy, not at all watery or runny. Add the potatoes halfway through the cooking.
  • When the curry is done, add the tamarind bit by bit until the curry is pleasantly acid.
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