Easy recipes for the newbie cook, the beginner in the kitchen, the nervous novice: we all had to start somewhere, and you can start right here.

Monday, 16 May 2011

Curry Base Sauce or Curry Gravy: How to Make It

This is an authentic Curry Gravy or Curry Base; the starter sauce used in many Indian recipes both in the home and in restaurants. Note that I say “an” authentic, rather than “the” authentic; they vary from cook to cook, village to village, town to town and region to region, in much the same way as Italian cooks will never agree on the recipe for a ragu.

The idea of the Curry Gravy is that you make a big batch of it as a base, take some of it and then add further ingredients, flavourings and spices to create as many different dishes as you like – I’ll give a couple of simple examples at the end.

This was the recipe and method taught to me the other weekend by my new friend Sohan, while I assisted him in part of the catering for my brother’s recent birthday party. As a white guy brought up in east London, a very multi-cultural area, I have certainly eaten, and cooked, my fair share of “Indian” food over the years, but it was nice, and very instructive, to get “hands on” with an expert.

Quantities were very “by eye” rather than weighed, and are as flexible as you like, so are ideal for even the most inexperienced cook: you can’t really get it wrong (as long as you don’t burn it!) Do make notes, though, so you can adjust and juggle the recipe next time to get it more precisely to your own tastes.

Because we were cooking for 100+, we were out in the garden for most of the (thankfully fine) day, with a vast butane burner and a selection of huge pots, including Karahis, which are the Indian, heavy duty version of the wok (“Every Indian family has this stuff,” Sohan told me, “for weddings etc.”) I would guess that on your first attempt, at least, you will be cooking a more modest amount in a regular kitchen, so the quantities I suggest here will give you enough Curry Base for two or three family sized meals: freeze any that you don’t use right away for future use.


One large piece of fresh ginger, say 2-4oz/55-115g, peeled
One whole head of garlic, peeled
As many chillies as you like – to your own knowledge and tolerance, but say six or so medium hot chillies
2lb/1kilo of onions, peeled
One standard tin (1lb/440g) peeled tomatoes
Cumin seeds – approx 1 tablespoon
Salt, Garam Masala, Turmeric – 1 to 2 teaspoons/large pinches of each
Chilli powder/ground or flaked chilli/chilli sauce in reserve if you need to adjust the heat level towards the end of cooking

Plain oil – 1 to 2 tablespoons: add more during cooking if necessary
Water as required to achieve the consistency of the sauce you need – from fairly dry to quite soupy


Finely chop/dice the ginger, garlic and chillies – Sohan used a food processor. If you’re not used to handling chillies, and especially if you’re going to chop with a knife, wear gloves or hold them with a fork while chopping/handling.

Heat the oil in a large pot, wok or Karahi, then add the cumin seeds – let them cook for a minute or more, until they begin to colour and pop. Add the diced ginger, garlic and chilli. Stir well, and keep stirring – do not allow to burn. Once they have softened, tip in the onions, and again, stir well.

Now, the instruction here is to let the onions cook right down – they must not burn (so keep stirring from time to time) but we are trying to get rid of all the water content, and get a nice golden brown colour – very similar to the consistency of onion marmalade; almost a thick paste. Once you have achieved this (which can take 20mins+) tip in the spices (taste now to see if you need any more chilli) and the tomatoes. Once again, the tomatoes must cook down and into the sauce completely – there should be no discernable or identifiable lumps of tomato, onion or anything else.

If starts to dry out too much at any stage of the cooking, add some water to loosen it up, and prevent it from catching or burning.

Once everything has cooked out, and you have your thick paste, check for seasoning and spices, and add a little more if necessary. Your Curry Gravy, or Curry Base is now ready.

Simple Chicken Curry:

Take as much diced chicken as you want, and add as much as you need of the Curry Gravy to cover, with water if necessary to loosen it. Cook in a pan, stirring well, for fifteen to twenty minutes (less if the gravy is already hot) until the chicken is cooked through (cut a chunk in half, and make sure it is white all through). Sprinkle in some chopped coriander, and maybe a squeeze of lemon or lime juice.

Simple Spicy Chick Peas:

Open as many cans of cooked chick peas as you’ll eat, and heat through with as much Curry Base and water as you need. Add further spices, herbs or seasonings as you like, the whole thing will be ready in less than ten minutes.

Get the idea? Once you have the Curry Gravy, another meal is minutes away, to the limits of your imagination.

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