Monday, July 13, 2009

Weekend Curry

I usually dedicate a good chunk of my Sunday to cooking something fairly time intensive. I often don't get to start cooking dinner until after 9pm on weekdays and usually go out for dinner and drinks with friends on Saturday, so Sundays are my only opportunity to have a go at any kind of real culinary undertaking.

Curry is a fairly common dish in Japan, though Japanese curry is far sweeter and nowhere near as spicy as Indian curry. Blocks of curry roux are easily available in grocery stores and are super cheap, not to mention one of the easiest things to cook. I am a big fan of Japanese curry and used to eat a good bit of it, but these days I'm big on knowing what goes into the food I eat and, by that standard, packaged curry just doesn't do it for me. So instead I decided to have a go at curry from scratch.

It started when I was talking about cooking with a girl and she challenged me to make curry without using the roux. There's no way I'd turn down a cooking challenge, not only because I wanted to impress said girl, but also because my reputation as a guy who can cook was on the line. My interest in her has since cooled, but I'm not giving up on the challenge. With that, I decided to take it one step further and do it not only without using curry roux, but without curry powder either.

In the basement of the Ameyokocho Center in Ueno there is a decent sized S.E. Asian market that I like to go to for Asian ingredients that are hard to find in Tokyo (you'd be surprised at how little variety of non-Japanese Asian food products are readily available here). One store in the market has a wide variety of bulk spices for far less than what a small amount of the same thing would cost in the supermarket. I checked a bunch of curry recipes (the number of kinds out there is mind-blowing) then headed over to pick up some cumin, turmeric, coriander, cinnamon, and garam masala to have a go with. There are dozens of spices that you can use to make a curry, but these ones seemed like the main must-have ones, so I thought I'd start there.

From what I've read, there are a couple of things that are key to making a good curry. First is that the whole spices should be added to the oil first in order to release their flavors. So I began with 1 tbs each of coriander and cumin seeds. The second thing is that it should be cooked slow; You simply can't rush a curry. So I dropped the heat and added a finely diced onion. The goal is to cook the onion long enough for it to start to turn brown, but at a low enough heat that it doesn't burn. Once the onion had changed color, I added about a 3/4 cup of tomato puree. Once that had heated back up to a simmer I added the ground spices in the form of 1 tsp turmeric, 1 tsp of ground coriander, 1/2 tsp chili powder, 2 1/2 tsp garam masala (waaaaay too much. more on that later), 1/2 stick's worth of ground cinnamon, and 1/2 tsp of black pepper. From there I tossed in some roughly cut chunks of carrot and potatoes and let it simmer for the better part of 4 hrs, adding water whenever it started getting dry. One of the luxuries of living in the company dorm is that I don't have to pay utilities, so I can get away with stuff like this. I find my moral balance in the fact that I'm offsetting this by going all of July without using the air conditioner.

I took a bit into work to have the new Indian guy taste it and give me some feedback. He agreed with me that it was too much garam masala, but thought it was good otherwise. I think next time I will just double the quantity of all the other spices to balance it out better and give it a bolder flavor. It's a ridiculously time consuming dish to make but it stores well so you can get away with making far too much. I also don't have a ton of recipes that call for most of those spices, so I've gotta use them some time! Curry is probably one of the least attractive foods I can think of (I swear it's the food, not my photography), but it's full of stuff that's good for you and tastes delicious, and that's worth something in my books.

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