I wouldn’t exactly say that I grew up eating Indian food, but it has been an integral part of the British culinary landscape for at least 200 years. Every British town of any reasonable size will have a curry house or two and I lived for many years in both Birmingham and London, which boast many Indian dining spots, ranging from the cheap and cheerful to expensive fine dining.
Predominantly operated by Bangladeshis most of them offer a pretty similar set of dishes, many of them created for or heavily tweaked to suit the British palate and unrecognizable from dishes that would actually be found in India, which boasts a rich and varied tapestry of regional cuisine. Luckily, in recent years many new restaurants have emerged that tap into this regional treasure trove as well as taking inspiration from Indian street food.
When I first moved to the American South it was hard to track down Indian food but as the Indian immigrant community has steadily grown so has the choice of restaurants and grocery stores to find great Indian dishes and ingredients.
I make no claims of authenticity when it comes to playing with Indian ingredients in my own kitchen but I do enjoy experimenting with interesting and sometimes obscure spices, or snacking on street food like panipuri and chaat.
Hence my recent expedition to stock up on ingredients, including an array of spices from which to blend my own curry mix. Grinding and blending your own curry spice mix is not only fun, but you get to control the heat levels and flavor profile, accentuating the things you like and avoiding the fillers you can find in supermarket curry powders. It just takes a bit of experimentation to come up with a blend you’ll love. It also makes your kitchen smell great.
I particularly like the aniseed notes of fennel seeds, as well as the distinctive aroma of fenugreek so these feature strongly in my mix.
Curry Spice Blend
2 tablespoons coriander seeds
1.5 tablespoons cumin seeds
1 tablespoon fennel seeds
2 teaspoons fenugreek seeds
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
1 teaspoon yellow mustard powder
0.5 teaspoon red pepper flakes
0.5 teaspoon cayenne
Put the coriander seeds, cumin and fennel seeds in a pan and toast over medium heat, stirring regularly, until fragrant, about 5 minutes. Keep a close eye on the pan to make sure the spices don’t burn.
Add the toasted spices to all the other ingredients and grind to a powder. An old coffee grinder will do a good job or if you have the stamina you can use a pestle and mortar.
Store the blend in a jar or airtight container.
This is a versatile blend that can be used in any recipes featuring curry powder. I used it to create a quick midweek dinner featuring two local products currently in abundant supply: field peas and tomatoes.
Field peas were a new phenomenon to me when I first moved here. Where I come from peas are small and green, but I soon discovered the delights of crowder peas and pinkeyes.
Field Pea and Tomato Curry
1 medium onion, diced
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 tablespoons curry powder
3 medium tomatoes, roughly chopped
0.5 cup vegetable stock
2 cups cooked field peas
Heat the oil over medium high heat. Add the onions and curry powder. Cook until the onions are softened, about 5 minutes.
Add the tomatoes and stock and simmer for 15 minutes until the tomatoes soften and the sauce thickens. Add the field peas and cook for another 10 minutes. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper.