Curry Model

Preparation info

  • Difficulty


  • Yield:

    6 to 8


Appears in


By James Peterson

Published 1991

  • About

Although it’s impossible in a short space to include a collection of authentic Indian dishes and to explain the traditions that give each one its character and dictate the spices, spice mixtures, and other ingredients that go into their preparation, it is possible to outline a basic system that is common to most Indian curries. The resulting dish may not be identical to any particular authentic and regional Indian dish, but the ingredients and techniques will be authentically Indian, and the cook who experiments with the basic ingredients will develop a sensitivity to the balance of spices in the same way a European-trained cook will have developed an almost instinctual sensitivity to herbs. The amounts of each of the following ingredients will vary enormously depending on which of the other ingredients are being included. Cooking times will also vary. Shellfish such as shrimp or scallops may only need a minute or two, strips of tender meats about 5 minutes, a quartered chicken about 40 minutes, and stewing meats about 2 hours. Slow-cooking meats should be gently stewed in stock or water following the techniques for any stew (that is, careful degreasing, and never allowing it to boil; see “Methods and Ingredients for Braises and Stews,” and the braising liquid then converted into a curry.


Main Ingredient
2¼ to 4 lb/1 to 2 kg (6 to 8 oz/175 to 225 g per serving) of one of the following:
chicken, quartered or sectioned into small pieces
lamb cubes or strips from the leg or shoulder
stewing beef (chuck, shank, or other stewing cut), cut into cubes or thick strips
tender beef (sirloin, strip, rib), cut into cubes or strips
shrimp and other shellfish (left whole)
firm-fleshed fish fillets, cut into cubes or strips
vegetables, cut into chunks, florets, or strips
Cooking Fat
About 2 tbsp/30 ml:
mustard oil
sesame oil
coconut oil
vegetable oil
Fresh Aromatic Ingredients
onions, thinly sliced, chopped, or puréed 2 large 2 large
finely chopped garlic 1 tsp to 3 tbsp 5 to 45 ml
finely chopped fresh green chiles such as serrano 1 tsp to 3 tbsp 5 to 45 ml
grated peeled fresh ginger 1 tsp to 1 tbsp 5 to 15 ml
Spice Mixture
1 tsp to 2 tbsp/5 to 30 ml or more to taste:
traditional garam masala
modern garam masala
bengali five-spice mixture
sambaar powder
basic curry powder
Individual Spices and Herbs
any of the spices contained in spice mixtures above ¼ tsp to 2 tbsp 2 to 30 ml
curry leaves 10 to 30 10 to 30
fresh or dried fenugreek leaves, soaked in water with a pinch of salt for 30 minutes to remove the slightly bitter taste ½ cup 125 ml
saffron 1 pinch 1 pinch
ground turmeric (for color) 1 tsp to 1 tbsp 5 to 15 ml
cinnamon leaves, gently fried for 10 minutes 1 or 2 1 or 2
bay leaf 1 or 2 1 or 2
ground mace ⅛ to ½ tsp 1 to 3 ml
grated nutmeg ⅛ to ½ tsp 1 to 3 ml
star anise pods, crushed 1 or 2 1 or 2
Liquids and Moist Ingredients
1 to 3 cups/250 to 750 ml:
tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and chopped
coconut milk
slivered almonds
1 to 3 tbsp/15 to 45 ml:
nut butter (peanut, almond, cashew)
ground seed paste such as sesame, poppy, mustard, or fenugreek
cooked and puréed onions
dried legumes, cooked separately and puréed, especially pink or yellow indian lentils, hulled mung beans (moong dal), yellow split peas (channa dal), or split g beans (urad dal)
coconut paste (ground coconut pulp)
Acidic Ingredient
2 tsp to 2 tbsp/10 to 30 ml:
lime juice
underripe tomatoes
tamarind extract (see note,)
green mangoes (fresh, dried, or powdered)
Aromatic Finishes (Tadka) optional
cumin seeds 1 to 2 tsp 5 to 10 ml
brown mustard seeds ½ to 2 tsp 3 to 10 ml
cloves ¼ to ½ tsp 2 to 3 ml
asafetida ⅛ to ¼ tsp 1 to 2 ml
aromatic vegetables such as chiles, garlic, and onions
Final Herbs optional
1 to 3 tbsp/15 to 45 ml whole or chopped leaves: cilantro, mint, basil
Final Addition of Spices
any of the foregoing spices or spice mixtures worked to a smooth paste with water (if the spices in the mixtures have not been roasted, the spice mixtures should be gently cooked in oil or butter until they release their perfume)


  1. (Optional) Brown the meat or seafood in one of the cooking fats and reserve.
  2. Cook one or more of the fresh aromatic ingredients in fresh cooking oil or in the fat left in the pan. The ingredients can be gently sweated or quickly sautéed.
  3. Stir the spice mixture and the additional spices and herbs into the hot vegetables and cook gently until the spices release their aroma. If the base is being used for a long-cooking stew, the spices are better added at the end.
  4. Return the meat to the pan (seafood should be added later because it cooks so quickly) and add one or more of the liquids. Simmer gently until the meat has finished cooking. (Thickeners can be added at the same time as the meat or added when the meat is done.)
  5. Add nuts, if using, one of the thickeners, and an acidic ingredient.
  6. (Optional) Cook one or more of the tadka ingredients in hot ghee until they release their aroma. Stir the hot tadka into the finished curry.
  7. (Optional) Add chopped herb or whole leaves.
  8. Season to taste with salt and, if necessary, final additional spices.