Hello everyone, and welcome to the latest in the Spice Mountain Library series. This time we’re looking through our range of curry blends, which includes spicy delights not just from India, but all over the world. One little word really does encompass a whole world of flavours, and any fan of a Ruby Murray will be sure to find something that’s right up their own personal street as well as discovering something new. I’ve chosen our Mauritian Masala blend as Spice of the Week as for me (being Mauritian!) it represents the true taste of home, the flavours I grew up surrounded by. If you haven’t tried it before, you’ve really got something to look forward to! Our recipes this time are Indian, but all vegetarian – our online recipe pages include plenty of meat and seafood curries, so I decided to stick with the veggies here. Indian vegetarian food is something I could happily live on, and often do actually.
I hope this series of more frequent newsletters is helping to keep you occupied during these times, both for something to read and some ideas to pass the time in the kitchen. And thanks to everyone who has kept me busy with online orders – it’s lovely to know that the Spice Mountain touch is being used by so many of you.
Until next time, stay safe!
Spice of the Week
This blend comes from the paradise island of Mauritius, and is one of our favourites for a very simple reason – to Spice Mountain, this is the true taste of home! It is carefully blended to reflect the diverse cultures which have influenced the cuisine of the island, uniting Creole, French and Indian notes to result in an exotic and tasty blend. Main components are curry leaf, mustard seed and fenugreek, and the blend is not too hot, meaning the individual flavours of the spices involved can all shine through. It is such a versatile curry blend, which can be used to cook your own favourite ingredient – it works equally well with meat, chicken, vegetables or seafood. Your curry will be aromatic, balanced and an authentic taste of Mauritius, the flavours we grew up surrounded by in the kitchen and which are the basic reason Spice Mountain started doing what we do.
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This Week's Recipes
This lovely veggie alternative for tandoori cooking is made with Paneer, Indian cheese. It is a firm, very mild cheese which will soften but not melt on cooking, and due to its fairly neutral flavour it takes on the smoky, spicy flavours of the marinade so well. The recipe calls for the Paneer Tikka to be cooked in the oven, but this is also a great dish for the barbecue, where it will become deliciously charred and even more smoky. If you are cooking it like this the time needed will be less due to the high heat of the barbecue, and be careful it does not burn. It makes a great starter for an Indian meal, and is also lovely used to make a wrap inside a naan bread or chapati.
This delicious dish is the Indian version of the Greek melitzanosalata or the Turkish Imam Bayaldi, roasted then mashed aubergine cooked up with aromatic spices to make a meltingly unctuous meal.
It features lots of ginger and garlic, and the spice is provided by our Pav Bhaji curry blend, which is specially designed to make authentic Indian vegetarian food. There is fresh chilli and coriander in the mix to give some freshness and zing, matching really well with the smoky depth of the mashed aubergine. This is lovely served with some stuffed paratha and an onion and tomato salad on the side, for a spicy lunchtime treat. Also it is good as part of a vegetarian thali, the Indian style of meal where five or six small portions are served together.
One of our favourite styles of Indian bread is paratha, cooked in a tava or frying pan till golden and crispy on the outside. And this is how to take it to a new level; stuffing the paratha with spiced potato to give it a spicy, smooth inside. These are the best accompaniment to an Indian vegetarian meal, especially one that includes things which can be dipped into such as dhal. They are best served piping hot, with a little butter melted over the top to make them even more delicious. They can be made in advance and will keep for a day or so covered in the fridge; just reheat them either in the oven, or in a frying pan.
Spice Mountain's Curry Library
The word ‘curry’ has come to describe a vast range of dishes nowadays, and these are found in countries all over the world. But the home of the curry is definitely India, and the curries found in other places are almost all the result of Indian emigration to the country in question. There are of course a few outliers, where the term has come to describe a local dish which is spicy in character – for example, there is nothing ‘Indian’ about a Thai Green curry – but these are the exception rather than the rule. The word itself is commonly thought to come from the Hindi ‘kari’, meaning gravy, a theory reinforced by the fact that Indians refer to any sauce on a dish as gravy. Most of the curries from outside the Subcontinent are however influenced by local tastes, using ingredients which are easily available and part of the local culture, giving many of them a distinct character of their own. Spice Mountain’s range of curry blends includes favourites from all of these spheres, and in this feature we will introduce you to them all. Some you will be familiar with, some not, but we can promise that on this journey you will find authentic flavours which you can easily recreate at home, meaning that you can travel the wide world of curry in your own kitchen. It makes sense to start the trip in the home of curry, India and the Subcontinent, after which we will follow in the steps of the people who left their country and led to curry becoming such a popular cooking style around the world.
India is a vast country, and so of course has widely differing styles of food depending on which part of it you are in. Food in the north of the country (and Pakistan) is much different to what is eaten in the south; as a basic example the north is more reliant on wheat, whereas in the south rice is the staple crop. But most Indian food tends to be heavily spiced (though not necessarily hot), as this is a good way to make basic foods a bit more interesting. Another thing to bear in mind is that in India many people are vegetarian – restaurants there specify whether they are ‘veg’ or ‘non-veg’, though many cater for both. So some of our curry blends are specifically tailored for vegetarian cooking, and we’ll start our look at Indian curries with them.
Pulses are a very basic staple in India, wherever in the country you happen to be. Dhal is the word used for these, and this word covers everything from lentils through to beans and chickpeas. Chana (Chickpea) Curry is our ideal blend for making any style of dhal, despite its name. It is perfect for making a chickpea curry of course but works just as well used in such favourites as Tarka Dhal and Sambhar, both lentil dishes. This blend is also a great way to perk up a Western lentil soup, giving you the best of both worlds. If your curry involves potatoes, our Bombay Potato blend is perfect. Based on turmeric, coriander and mustard seed it also includes curry leaves for aroma and flavour, and can be used in such favourites as Saag Aloo (spinach and potato) as well as the popular dish from which it takes its name. Pav Bhaji is another potato-centric blend, although it can be used in any veggie curry to good effect. The dish is a thick and rich curry, which should involve plenty of butter if made authentically. Interestingly, in India it is usually served with a bread roll as a sandwich, accompanied by a cup of Masala Chai (spicy, sweet and milky tea), for breakfast. The last of our specifically veggie blends is Chaat Masala, which is often used as a finishing spice as much as a cooking ingredient. It is salty, sweet and sour, starring Mango powder and Indian black salt alongside aromatic spices such as fennel seed.
So, on to meatier delights. We’ll split these into typically northern or southern dishes, starting with the north. Karachi blend is Pakistani in origin, but suitable for many northern Indian dishes too. It is a lovely brick red colour, and pretty hot too, both of these elements coming from its base of Kashmiri red chilli. The chilli is tempered with the use of mustard oil and methi (fenugreek leaf), and it is particularly good used to make slow-cooked beef or lamb dishes. Karachi blend, incidentally, is excellent added to baked beans if you like them spicy! It can also be used as a hotter way of making tandoori-style dishes, such as the grilled lamb chops which are popular in the north. Which leads us on to tandoori itself, a very northern cooking style which all of you will be familiar with. We offer two tandoori blends; the first is for a classic tandoori marinade, where you mix the blend with yoghurt and lemon juice to marinate meat or chicken before cooking in the oven (or to be precise in the tandoor, a clay oven which reaches very high temperatures so the food cooks quickly). This is one of the most popular dishes in Indian restaurants everywhere, so appealing because of its spicy, smoky flavour and attractive red colour. Our second tandoori blend is designed to make a curry with the same characteristics, and is very good used with meat, chicken, fish and vegetables alike. An interesting veggie tandoori dish uses paneer (Indian cheese), which doesn’t melt like regular cheese and so keeps its shape and texture after cooking. And we should also mention here our Tikka Masala blend, which is less ferocious in colour and flavour and used to make the perennial restaurant favourite (not strictly speaking an Indian dish, but a descendant of Butter Chicken, which is very popular in India).
Balti curry is another northern Indian favourite, although many people maintain it was invented in Birmingham! This is a mild, tomato based dish using plenty of aromatic spices, and it always has plenty of gravy. It is another slow cooked dish, therefore it works perfectly with meat or chicken.
For veggies, it works very well with chickpeas too. Korma is even milder, with virtually no chilli at all, and is usually cooked with cream or yoghurt, often including cashew nuts and sometimes fruit. This one is perfect for people who aren’t fans of hot-spiced food, and a great starting point for someone just beginning to explore Indian food.
Rogan Josh and Jalfrezi are two other typically northern dishes. Literally translated, rogan josh means ‘red meat’, but it isn’t a hot curry – the red colour comes from lots of paprika rather than chilli, although there is chilli involved. It is usually made with lamb, and always features lots and lots of tomato, which deepens the flavour and of course contributes greatly to the ‘red’ element. This is another blend best used in slow cooked dishes. Jalfrezi on the other hand is almost a stir-fry. It is a hot one (which is why we call it Spicy Jalfrezi), with plenty of chilli, but this is balanced by the use of sweet and sour ingredients such as mango and plenty of aromatics, giving a well rounded flavour. It is quickly cooked with plenty of onion, green pepper and tomato, plus garlic and ginger, giving it a nice fresh flavour as well as being spicy. We love to use this blend with fat king prawns, which marry with it perfectly. Finally from the north, and also great with fish or prawns, is Panch Puran (Bengali 5 spice), as the name suggests a blend of five whole spices which are used as a finishing spice rather than a curry powder. The seeds are fried in a little hot oil to bring out the flavour, and then added to the dish. They are used to flavour seafood and veggie dishes, including dhals, and never used with meat.
Heading south, then, and a quick stop somewhere which is a little world of its own in India, Goa. Goa was run by the Portuguese until fairly recently, and its food culture reflects this with a distinct style all of its own. Most representative of this is the Vindaloo, but the dish you find in Goa bears little resemblance to the restaurant favourite most people are familiar with. In restaurants the name usually just signifies a particularly hot curry, but the real thing is much more interesting. It is hot, with plenty of chilli, but it also includes lots of black pepper and typically uses lots of garlic and vinegar (this is where the name comes from, the Portuguese words for these two). A proper Goan vindaloo will be made with pork, which is very rare in India for religious reasons, and it will also always include potatoes. Our vindaloo blend can be used to make this of course, but it is also a nice blend to use for people who like a hotter curry and something just that little bit different. If you like the sound of this but don’t like too much chilli, try our Goan curry blend which has similar characteristics but less heat.
Black pepper features in lots of south Indian food, and this is no surprise as it is native to the area. One could say the entire history of spice trading began with the pepper grown on the Malabar coast, and the best pepper comes from here to this day. A great example of how pepper features in the cooking of the south is the Sambhar we mentioned earlier, a lentil soup which as well as pepper also always includes curry leaf and tamarind, two other southern staples. Our Kerala curry blend is good for making this, and will give any curry a typically southern flavour. More well known from the south is the Madras style, from the other side of the peninsula, and this also usually features pepper. In restaurants Madras is another name that usually signifies a hot curry, but we offer you a choice of hot Madras or mild. Both feature aromatic spices such as allspice and cloves, and it is great used to cook chicken or meat – in fact in Tamil Nadu (the state of which Madras, now known as Chennai, is the capital) rabbit is a commonly used meat.
Biryani is a rice dish popular throughout India, but the star of the show here comes from Andhra Pradesh, the state next door to Tamil Nadu. An Andhra biriani is often a complex and luxurious affair, but there is nothing wrong with the basic one you find everywhere in southern India, always accompanied by sambhar and a yoghurt raitha on the side. Our Biriani blend is ideal for recreating this one at home.
Spice Mountain also offers an interesting twist on a typical southern blend, with our Coconut and Beetroot curry. This is one we invented ourselves, and it is excellent – the colour, flavour and sweetness of beetroot really combines well with the creamy coconut, and there are plenty of aromatics such as curry leaf in there too to create a well-balanced dish. This blend can be used with anything, but we have found it is really effective in a veggie curry. It also makes an interesting alternative to tandoori, used in the same way as a marinade, and this is especially true when you do this with fish.
Our last stop is Sri Lanka, the paradise island off the southern tip of India. The food here is very similar to that in southern India, featuring plenty of pepper and curry leaf. And there are few Sri Lankan dishes that don’t involve plenty of chilli, the food of the island can be seriously hot stuff! Our Sri Lankan curry blend tones the chilli down a little, so is suitable for everyone, but of course you can add a bit if you like it hot.
Finally in the Subcontinent, a few things which are not really from any particular area. Our Everyday curry blend does exactly what it says on the tub, a great blend to have in the cupboard for making a basic, mild-to-medium heat curry out of whatever you have to hand, or to add a touch of curry to pretty much anything. Our Naga curry stars the chilli of the same name, which if you don’t know is very, very, very hot! This one is aimed at those curry fiends who say ‘the hotter the better’, but of course it has a nice balanced flavour as well as the fire. And we have to mention a blend which is not a curry powder, but a finishing spice, used all over India and in the majority of dishes. This is garam masala, a mix of lots of aromatic spices added shortly before cooking is complete to balance and deepen the flavour of the dish. We offer garam masala as a mix of whole spices, or roasted and ground.
One last thing – we have a handy set of Indian curry blends, our Flavours of India gift box. This includes six of our most popular curry blends, and is a great place to start one your curry cookery adventure.
The Caribbean is one of the places which welcomed a big Indian diaspora fairly early on in its history, and so the food of the islands has a well-rooted Indian influence which has been made unique by using ingredients native to the area. The obvious example is the Curry Goat which is ubiquitous throughout the islands, each island having its own distinct style of preparing the dish. It is usually made with a spice blend known as Poudre de Colombo, which is basically a curry powder made a bit different by being based on toasted rice. This gives it a particular flavour, and also is a thickener, and it also features plenty of mustard and cloves for aromatic notes. There is no chilli in the blend, but a Caribbean curry will usually feature plenty of the local chilli Scotch Bonnet, one of the hotter chillies around. It is also common to use coconut milk or coconut block to give that typically tropical flavour, and ground mixed spice and allspice are also frequently used alongside curry powder; a great example of this style is the famous Brown Stew Chicken, a dish which again is popular throughout the region, each island having its own way of doing it.
Curries in Africa tend again to be the product of Indian immigration to the continent, and this was centred on two regions in particular. The first was South Africa, where curry is extremely popular and has evolved into something a bit different to what you would find in India. A typical all-purpose blend used in the country is Cape Malay curry, which balances sweet and savoury flavours very well and is not very hot, using only a little chilli. This blend is also used in dishes which aren’t strictly speaking curries, such as one of the national dishes Bobotie (a savoury mince dish featuring Cape Malay blend and fruit such as raisins or apricot.
The other Indian diaspora centred on East Africa, countries such as Uganda and Kenya, and the curries from this area are more typically Indian in style. Many of the people who came here were from Gujarat, in India’s north west, and Gujarati food is for the most part vegetarian. A blend which gives an authentic flavour of the area is our Zanzibar curry, which features mustard and cinnamon and is a medium hot blend. This one, as well as being perfect for veggie curries, is also great with chicken, particularly when used as a spice rub rather than a curry powder. It works very well when made with coconut milk, but is equally good using tomato or yoghurt.
Not actually part of Africa, but in the Indian Ocean halfway between Africa and India, is Mauritius. This beautiful island is a fascinating mix of cultures which includes Creole, French and Indian, and its food reflects this. Our Mauritius Masala reflects all of these influences to make a blend which is both exotic and versatile, and works equally well with chicken, meat, seafood or veggies. It is not too hot, meaning the aromatic flavours of the spices used can stand out. It should also be pointed out perhaps that this blend is for Spice Mountain the true taste of home, as our dear leader Magali is Mauritian!
The Indian diaspora headed east as well as west, particularly to such countries as Malaysia, Singapore and to a lesser extent Indonesia and Thailand. In Malaysia and Singapore curry is an everyday food, available everywhere and enjoyed by everyone. Indeed Malaysia’s (and Indonesia’s) national dish Rendang is a curry, where beef or sometimes mutton is slow-cooked with aromatic spices that include local ones such as lemon grass. This is one of our favourite dishes of all, as regular readers will know, and one we turn to again and again. Rendang blend is also useful to give a Malaysia/Singapore flavour to other foods, such as in a simple chicken curry, and can also be used to make popular local favourites such as laksa.
Thai curries as we mentioned earlier are usually not Indian in character, rather they are local dishes like the famous Green Curry which have been put under the curry umbrella as they are spicy and cooked in a similar way. They rely on such ingredients as lemon grass, kaffir lime and galangal (a relative of ginger) for their unique flavour, and are always cooked with coconut milk to balance the hot chilli used. An exception to the rule is Panang curry, which is from the south of Thailand where the Indian influence is much more pronounced and the food is more Malaysian in character. However in common with many Thai dishes peanuts are much used, both for flavour and as a thickener.
Burmese curry is pretty much a marriage between Thai and Indian styles, taking the best of both worlds to create a rich and complex curry full of aromatic flavour.
Our last Far Eastern blend is a bit of an outlier, and this is the Japanese Katsu curry. The katsu in the name actually refers to the breaded deep-fried cutlet, usually of chicken but sometimes pork, which is served with a unique curry sauce which combines regular curry flavours with those of the Orient such as star anise, white pepper and fennel. The result is a smooth, luxurious sauce with distinctive fruity notes, which are only added to by the use of carrot powder in the blend. A close relative of this is the curry sauce you will get in the Chinese takeaway here in the UK, although this won’t be so complex – which may be the reason it is at its best smothering your chips!
So there you have it, a lengthy browse through Spice Mountain’s collection of curry delights, which we hope has included something for pretty much everyone. There are plenty of recipes on our website using our curry blends (some of which are linked in the article), so feel free to have a browse through them and find your favourite. For a quick and easy way in, look no further than our Flavours of India Curry Box which features six of our favourites; this also makes a great gift to set a beginner on the true path!
We also offer a selection of ‘kitchen toys’ which will be useful for the curry lover; we have Balti dishes in which to serve your curries, and also a Spice Tin (Masala Dabba), a large stainless steel tray with seven separate containers in which to store your spice.