Red, yellow, or green, panang or masala, sweet or fiery hot. Curry is not just one spice but rather a blend of flavorful herbs (like cumin and coriander seeds) that come in powder, liquid, or paste form.
In addition to purchasing it (see our favorite store-bought options, pictured below and detailed at right), one option is to experiment by making your own (see recipe below to get started). Typically, Indian curries are tomato based and Thai curries use coconut milk, but improvisation is the only real rule. This summer, skip the traditional steak and chicken rubs and marinades, and instead use curry when grilling fish, add a dash to salad dressings, or try it with Southern standards like collard greens, sweet potatoes, and squash. In main dishes, curry goes especially well with sweet ingredients like peaches and raisins. Replace it regularly (preferably every six months) as the more subtle and delicate flavors will fade over time.
And remember, there is no one best recipe for curry, and no single correct or authentic way to use it. Go wild. Your taste buds will thank you.
All-Purpose Curry Powder
3 tbsp. whole coriander seeds
4 tbsp. whole cumin seeds
1 1⁄2 tbsp. ground turmeric
1 tsp. chili powder
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. garam masala (available at natural-foods and Indian specialty stores)
Toast whole seeds in frying pan or toaster oven until they start to pop and change color. While still warm, grind using mortar and pestle. Add powder spices. Store in airtight container in a cool location.
PICTURED FROM LEFT TO RIGHT: Prik King curry paste, $0.79, available at Central Oriental Market, 704-532-9888; Laxmi garam masala, $1.99, available at Sunuvkriti, 704-567-5916; Organic Goan fish curry, $3.89, available at The Home Economist, 704-522-8123; Ra Jah mild madras curry powder, $2.99, available at Sunuvkriti; MDH curry masala, $1.99, available at Sunuvkriti