Some like it hot

Teena Burgess | VOLUME 21, ISSUE 5

Here we sample some traditional and modern dishes guaranteed to please everyone’s tastebuds. And for the very brave, we show you how to make yours even hotter.

It is debatable whether the word “curry” comes from kari – a Tamil word meaning sauce, or from kari leaves or even from the term ‘kadhai’, a wok-like cooking pot. But what is not debatable is that a curry is any dish cooked with a mixture of aromatic spices. It can be painfully hot, mild enough for a child, it can be dry, creamy or wet, and it can be pungent or gently aromatic. What it really isn’t, though, is a dish made with a packaged curry spice mix.

Curry powder was an attempt by the British to recreate the dishes they had enjoyed while living in India; dishes, however, which all had their own distinct and freshly ground spice mixes.

The secret of a good curry is the spice mix and the best spice mixes are from freshly ground whole spices. If you enjoy eating and cooking curries, then I strongly recommend you invest in an inexpensive coffee grinder to use to mix your own spices. Forget the mortar and pestle – a grinder will do in seconds what would otherwise be five or ten minutes of tedious elbow grease. If you do use pre-ground spices, make sure they are freshly purchased. Ground spices lose their freshness rapidly and should be used or discarded within 10 days.

The following recipes are a mix of the traditional and modern and come from both India and Asia. None of the recipes below make for very hot dishes, because it is easy to make a curry hotter by adding a few more chillies at any stage, but it is not so easy to dampen the heat afterward. Deseed the chillies if you prefer a mild heat; add more chillies or chilli powder if you prefer your curry hot. As to the spices, don’t be afraid to alter these to suit your taste – halve the amount of a particular one if you don’t like it and increase or add another that you do. Above all, don’t be afraid to experiment!

Chicken Kofta Curry

This tasty meatball curry has a rich sauce redolent with fragrant spices.

3 teaspoons coriander seeds

2 teaspoons cumin seeds

2 cinnamon sticks

1kg minced chicken

2 tablespoons garlic, minced

2 tablespoons fresh ginger, grated

½ teaspoon turmeric

½ teaspoon chilli powder

4 tablespoons plain flour

1 egg

1 teaspoon salt

4 tablespoons oil

2 onions, chopped

10 fresh curry leaves

½ cup of desiccated coconut

1x 400g canned tomatoes, chopped

400ml water

Grind the coriander, cumin and cinnamon separately in a spice grinder and set aside. Place the minced chicken, one tablespoon each of the garlic and ginger, the turmeric, chilli powder, flour, egg, salt and half of the ground coriander and cinnamon into a large bowl and mix well. Form into balls and brown in 2 tablespoons of the oil. Set aside.

Heat the remaining oil in a large saucepan and cook the onions gently for 5 minutes. Add the curry leaves and the remaining ground spices, garlic and ginger and cook for another two to three minutes. Add the coconut, tomato and water. Simmer for 10 minutes. Season to taste. Add the meatballs and cook gently for another 15 minutes. Serves 4.

Indonesian Spiced Trout

The robust flesh of the trout takes very well to being cooked in this aromatic spice paste. Traditionally cooked in a clay pot over coals, the trout can be simmered on the stove top, baked in the oven or even wrapped in foil and put on the barbecue.*

8 candlenuts or macadamia nuts

4 red chillies, chopped

8 spring onions, roughly sliced

2 teaspoons fresh ginger, roughly chopped

4 garlic cloves, peeled

1 teaspoon turmeric

1 cup coconut cream

4 rainbow trout


4 cups baby spinach leaves

1 red chilli, sliced

1 lime cut into wedges

2 bay leaves

Put the nuts, chillies, spring onions, ginger, garlic, turmeric, and coconut cream in a food processor and pulse until a smooth paste forms. Sprinkle the trout with salt. Line a baking dish with half the spinach leaves. Lay the trout on top and put a few slices of chilli and a lime wedge into each cavity. Pour over the spice mix. Top with the remaining spinach, chilli and bay leaves. Cover and cook either over a low heat for 30 minutes or in a 150ºC oven for the same time. Serves 4.

*If you are barbecuing, add only enough coconut cream to the spice mix to form a thick paste.

Pork Curry with Coriander

This curry is thickened with yoghurt rather than coconut milk, which blends well with the richness of the pork, lending a pleasant tang to this aromatic dish.

1 tablespoon coriander seeds

1 teaspoon fennel seeds

1 teaspoon black peppercorns

6 cloves garlic, peeled

2cm knob fresh ginger, peeled

1 onion, roughly chopped

1.5kg cubed lean pork

3 tablespoons of oil

200ml water


1 cup Greek-style yoghurt

1 cup fresh coriander, finely chopped

Make the spice paste by toasting the coriander and fennel seeds and peppercorns in a dry frypan over a medium heat until fragrant. Place in a spice grinder and pulse to form a powder. Put the garlic, ginger, onion and ground spices into a food processor and process until a paste is formed.

Add 2 tablespoons of oil to a frypan and brown the pork in batches. Heat the remaining oil in a large casserole dish and fry the spice paste for three to four minutes, stirring regularly, then add the pork and stir well. Add the water and bring to the boil. Season with salt to taste. Cover and simmer gently for 2 hours, stirring occasionally. Add a little more water if the sauce becomes too thick. Pour off any excess oil and stir through the yoghurt and coriander. Serves 6.

Sri Lankan Beef Curry

This robust curry has a thick, flavourful sauce developed over a long, slow cooking period.

1 tablespoon coriander seeds

2 teaspoons cumin seeds

1 tablespoon mustard seeds

2-3 tablespoons vegetable oil

1kg beef, cubed

2 onions, chopped

1 tablespoon ginger, grated

4 cloves garlic, chopped

1 red chilli, deseeded and chopped

10 curry leaves

1 stalk lemon grass, finely chopped

1 cup coconut cream

200ml water

juice of one lime

Place the coriander, cumin and mustard seeds in a frypan over a medium heat and roast for two or three minutes or until the mustard seeds start to pop. Cool slightly and grind in a spice grinder. Heat the oil in a heavy pan and brown the beef in batches. Remove and set aside. Add the onion, ginger, garlic, chilli, curry leaves and lemon grass to the pan and cook gently for 5 minutes. Add the ground spices and cook for another 3-4 minutes.

Return the beef to the pan, along with the coconut cream, water and lime juice. Stir well and simmer slowly for about 2 hours or until the beef is tender. Stir occasionally and add a little water if the sauce begins to stick. Serves 6.

Chickpea, Capsicum and Tomato Curry

This tasty vegetarian curry can be served as a side dish or as a light meal with some steamed basmati rice.

100g desiccated coconut

2 tablespoons coriander seeds

20 curry leaves

2 cloves garlic, minced

6 dried red chillies

1½ cups water

6 tablespoons vegetable oil

3 onions, cut lengthwise into wedges

1 cinnamon stick

1 teaspoon turmeric

1 teaspoon chilli powder

400g can chickpeas, drained and rinsed

1 red capsicum, cut into 2cm squares

4 tomatoes, quartered

200ml coconut milk

1 teaspoon mustard seeds

Toast the desiccated coconut, coriander seeds, 10 of the curry leaves, garlic and 3 of the dried red chillies in a dry frypan for about 3 minutes, stirring constantly. When the coconut starts to colour, remove the pan from the heat and cool. Place the mixture into a food processor, add the water and pulse to form a thin paste. Set aside.

Heat 3 tablespoons of the vegetable oil in a heavy pan, add the onions and cinnamon stick. Cook for 5 minutes. Add the turmeric, chilli powder, chickpeas, capsicum and tomatoes. Mix well. Add the coconut paste from the food processor and cook over a low heat for 10 minutes. Stir in the coconut milk.

Put the remaining oil in a small saucepan and heat for a minute. Add the mustard seeds, curry leaves and red chillies. Remove from the heat when the mustard seeds begin to pop. Pour the flavoured oil mixture over the curry and stir well. Serves 4.

Chicken Curry with Apricots

A traditional dish from north India for those who like a touch of sweetness in their curries.

1 cup dried apricots

6 tablespoons vegetable oil

2 onions, sliced

3 green cardoman pods

½ cinnamon stick

1 tablespoon fennel seeds

2 tablespoons garlic, minced

2 tablespoons fresh ginger, grated

3 green chillies

1kg chicken pieces

½ teaspoon turmeric

½ teaspoon grated nutmeg

1 cup water


Cover the apricots with warm water and soak. Heat 3 tablespoons of the oil in a large pan and cook the onions gently for 10 minutes or until golden. Put the cardoman pods, cinnamon and fennel seeds in a spice grinder and pulse to form a powder. Add the spices to the onions, along with the garlic and ginger. Split the green chillies lengthwise and add them to the pan.

In a separate pan, brown the chicken pieces in the remaining oil in batches and add to the onion and spices. Add the turmeric, nutmeg and water and cook for 30 minutes or until the chicken is tender. Add the drained apricots and cook for a further 5 minutes. Add salt to taste. Serves 4.


To mop up the delicious sauce, try steamed basmati or jasmine rice as an accompaniment. You can also try frying a little bit of onion, a teaspoon of turmeric and a few curry leaves together, then add the rice, stirring for a few minutes before adding the water. Simmer slowly until cooked.**

Indian breads, such as roti and naan, are all available in large supermarkets and make excellent accompaniments, as do pappadams, which can be quickly cooked in the microwave.

Raitas (from the word rai meaning mustard seeds) were traditionally made from vegetables such as cucumber, tomatoes etc, mixed with yoghurt and an oil mix spiced with mustard seed (such as the one in the chickpea curry) and are stirred through before serving. These days, the spices are more usually stirred through with the yoghurt.

Finally, try something piquant: chutneys and pickles made from all sorts of fruits and vegetables are available in most large supermarkets.

** Follow the instructions on the rice packet as to what proportion of water to add to the rice as this will vary according to the type of rice.