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Go_slows blog for recipes and general cooking stuff

The Basic Curry Sauce

Rating: 3 votes, 5.00 average.
The following guide is something I have put together to help provide a starting point for people wanting to cook curries at home. I don’t cook to exact measurements and generally curries are not overly affected if you vary what goes in. For example you may use 2 large onions instead of 3 medium onions or add more or less chilli, its all to taste really.

The first recipe is the way my mum taught me to cook curry. I’m the youngest of 6 children, after raising 4 girls I guess my mum figured that I might as well learn the same things they did since they turned out okay!! The basic sauce listed below is used for most dishes, you alter the amount of chilli mix to dictate heat and add additional ingredients for flavour, or dependant on what you are making. The types of dishes you get in an Indian restaurant (korma, madras etc) don’t translate to Indian cooking that you do at home as such, a normal meal would be a meat dish, a veggie dish and rice/nan’s. For more elaborate meals you may start with some small dipping type dishes, a couple of meat dishes (normally mutton and chicken) served with a simple vegetable dish (cauliflower, potato – as Bombay alloo you get in restaurants) followed by a sweet desert.


Basic Sauce.

Fenugreek, whole cardamom, whole coriander, mustard seeds if you wish
2 large onions chopped
2 tins of tomatoes, chopped by preference.
Fresh ginger finely chopped, 2 heaped teaspoon
Garlic, roughly chopped, 2 heaped teaspoon, but adjust to taste

Spice mix – ½ tablespoon ground cumin and ground coriander, 1 tablespoon of ground turmeric and garam masala
Additional spices – Paprika, chilli powder, ground chillies etc.

1. Warm oil in pan over high heat. Use enough oil to line bottom of pan to depth of 1-2mm.
2. When oil is hot add 1 tablespoon of the fenugreek, whole cardamom, and whole coriander, add mustard seeds if you wish. When this all heats up and starts to pop add the garlic and turn down the heat.
3. When garlic begins to colour only slightly add the onions. Cook the onions until golden brown. Add some chilli mix (see below) at this point for a hotter curry, 1 teaspoon does give quite a bit of heat or alternatively finely chopped green chilli.
4. Add the fresh ginger whilst stirring the onions. The ginger will cause the onions to stick but make sure the onion and ginger is well mixed (about 15-30 seconds of vigorous mixing to ensure the mixture does not stick to the pan).
5. Add 1 table spoon of the spice mix, make sure the mixture is coated. Keep stirring making sure the mixture does not stick, you'll know this is ready by the smell – it’ll start smelling slightly burnt but fragrant
6. Stir in the tomatoes and reduce the heat to a simmer. When the tomatoes are warmed up stir/smash to get rid of any lumps and also to scrape the pan to collect up any of the mixture that has stuck (yep, despite my best efforts I always end up with a little stuck to the pan, no great worries).
7. Add some more of the spice mix and any other seasoning for taste. Add more garlic at this point for taste, puree if you want.
8. Once heated through and starting to reduce turn off the heat and allow to cool. Transfer to a food processor and wizz to get smooth. Put in back into the pan and heat to reduce by 1/4 to 1/3.

The sauce is best made the day before you want to use it but you can cook straight away with it if you prefer.

To the above you can add any meats or vegetables. If you want a more liquid curry, add the water (or white wine, or whiskey) at this point, remembering some of the liquid will boil off. Cook the dish partly covered. Try not to add more liquid during cooking, the additional liquid will not have time to blend with the spices. If the curry is to be spicey add any paprika or chillis once the sauce is made, try to avoid adding any more spice towards the end.

Spices, Ginger and Garlic

I use either TRS or Rajah brand, that are the best I have found. Available from Indian shops or online they cost about £1 for 100g of any spices you buy. Since you only use a teaspoon or 2 at a time they last a long time. I tend to buy twice as much ground tumeric and garam masala as ground coriander and cumin. I make up the spice mix in a jar and just keep that to hand, it means I am not measuring every time I cook.

In an ideal world you would use fresh ginger and garlic, but cooking curry is not like cooking fine French food so short cuts and easy cooking is permitted! I use minced garlic and ginger, keep them in the fridge so they are there when I want to cook, again the rajah brand but what ever you can get.

One of the great things about the basic sauce is that you buy your spices, minced garlic/ginger and tins of tomato’s in advance, they don’t cost a great deal, so when you want to cook a curry all you need are onions and what ever you are putting in the curry.

Various curries – some notes

For meat dishes, the meat should ideally be added raw and cooked in the sauce, this is particuly important for red meat. Pre cooking the meat will seal it, so it will not have a chance to infuse but it does mean cooking time is shorter. If you are planning to precook then only do so as far as it is cooked i.e. for chicken cook till it is white and cooked through, not till it is browned.

If you are planning to do lamb I find that the curry works very well with mutton and done in a pressure cooker. If you don’t have one then simply cook for a longer time or in a slow cooker.

If you are making a chicken dish I prefer to use chicken legs and thighs on the bone. At the end of cooking it should be falling off the bone, I de bone at this point and serve the dish without bones. If you are using chicken breast then cut this into cubes.

If you are making the dish using minced meats then you want to cook over a slow heat for a long time. Do not add too much liquid to the mix, you want it to cook quite dry. Mix in the minced meat and stir to ensure that it all separates and then turn down the heat. Ideally at this point put the mixture in a slow cooker. A minced meat dish is ideal like this since you can cook it first, put it in the slow cooker and move onto other dishes. Towards the end of cooking I add frozen peas, I have found these work best.

For mixed meat and vegetable dishes simply add the vegetables towards the end of cooking allowing slightly longer for the vegetables to cook then you would if you were boiling the vegetables. For example if I was doing chicken with potato’s I would add the potato’s 20-30 minutes before the end of cooking, I know I can boil potato’s to soft in 15 mins so this extra time allows for the fact the curry is simmering, not boiling.

For creamy dishes add the yoghurt at the end of cooking, ideally before serving with the curry on a low heat, allowing the yoghurt to warm. If you are planning to save some of the dish for later, remove that amount before adding the yoghurt. Alternatively you can add cream mixed with a little ground cumin and coriander, again at the end of cooking.

Biriyani dishes are very popular in Punjab (more so in Pakistan but given punjabs location on the border with Pakistan this is understandable), and is a favourite of mine. If nothing else, serving the rice and curry in one bowl saves on the washing up!!

There are 2 ways you can cook a biriyani, it all depends on when you are serving it. Over time I have found cooking in the oven is the best, it means I can prepare it ahead of other dishes and that last minute scramble to serve.

In either case you need to make some part cooked rice, you do this by adding the rice to boiling water, allowing to cook for 2-3 minutes and then removing from the heat, draining and then running under cold water.

1. Make the curry adding meat or vegetables until it is cooked but still not quite i.e. for chicken this would be when you have taken it off the bone, for vegetables, they should be firm. Once the dish is ready add half cooked rice to the dish and allow it to cook with the curry until the rice is done. If you want a drier dish then add raw rice. Stir the rice in, it will take liquid from the dish so you will need to add more liquid. Its better to only start with a little liquid when you cook the curry and add more rather then add too much at the start and end up with a very wet rice dish. Ensure the heat is kept low to prevent sticking, and serve when the rice is cooked.
2. Again, make the curry adding meat or veg until it is cooked as above. Part cook some rice and layer the dish, rice followed by curry. I normally do 6 layers i.e. 1/3 rice then 1/3 curry, 1/3 rice then 1/3 curry etc. Place covered in a oven at 150C for 30 minutes. When you remove the dish leave it covered for 10 minutes to cool and then stir the whole mixture.

If you want a saag (spinach dish) make sure and sweat the spinach first, I prefer to chop the spinach after sweating, but this is really not important. I generally use tinned spinach so I don’t need to bother with washing, trimming and sweating the spinach. For potato dishes use new potato’s, the last thing you want it to end up with is mash in the curry!

To add some spice to the dish, cook mustard seeds with the fenugreek. If you are making a dry, spicy dish i.e. bombay potatoes or rogan ghost, then reduce the amount of tomatoes (perhaps just using tomato puree), add more mustard seeds then fenugreek, and add the garlic once the mustard seeds start to pop. For spices, northern dishes traditionally use just chopped chillies and garam masala, southern dishes tend to use powdered chillis that give a more concentrated taste.

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Curry Recipes


  1. Ooops's Avatar
    Will be trying some of this if I can find good enough ingredients here.
    Nice one
  2. Lily's Avatar
    this is on the menu for the weekend. may have a few questions regarding the meat and cooking time depending on what i find at the butchers
  3. go_slow's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by Lily
    this is on the menu for the weekend. may have a few questions regarding the meat and cooking time depending on what i find at the butchers
    No worries, ask away
  4. trophydan's Avatar
    Thanks GS - I have been meaning to print and digest for several years now, and just found this blog post. Co-incidentally, and fortunately a visiting Indian colleague has just given me a carrier bag full of spices to add to my collection :-) Only thing I am missing, but she has promised to post, are curry leaves.


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