In honor of Halloween, let me regale you with a tale of cooking horror: It was a (dark and stormy) Wednesday night, and after a long and stressful day at work, I was determined to make a Sri Lankan curry that night for dinner. I stopped by an Indian grocery store to pick up some curry leaves (an ingredient for which there is really no substitute – if you buy fresh leaves, any leftover leaves will freeze quite well), and by the time I made it back to my empty house (none of my roommates were home – and have I mentioned that my house is over 100 years old?), my stomach was already rumbling. The first step to a flavorful curry is fresh and flavorful curry powder, so I immediately set to roasting spices. I was finding grinding the spices in my mortar and pestle to be very therapeutic when I leaned down to get a good look at how close I was to being done – and was treated to a hefty portion of curry powder flying straight into my right eye (don’t try this at home, folks)!
After lots of cursing, running water, and wild thoughts of going blind, my eye slowly recovered as I set to finishing my curry. Despite the setback (after which I decided the curry powder was done, fully ground or not), this curry powder turned out to be the perfect start to a delicious lotus root curry (recipe coming Wednesday). The spices here are very similar to many Indian curries, but the curry leaves bring their own blend of sweet warmth to the picture, and the spices are roasted just a bit more than usual, flirting with the line between golden brown and burnt.
Sri Lankan Curry Powder (adapted from Home Cook’s Recipes)
Yield: 1/4 cup curry powder
- 1 Tbsp uncooked rice
- 10 curry leaves*
- 2 cardamom pods**
- 3-inch stick cinnamon, broken up
- 3 whole dry (or fresh) hot peppers
- 2 tsp coriander seeds***
- 1 tsp fennel seeds
- 1 tsp cumin seeds***
- 1 tsp fenugreek seeds
- 1/2 tsp whole cloves***
- 1/2 tsp black peppercorns
- 1/2 tsp mustard seeds***
- 1/2 tsp ground turmeric
*Curry leaves have an unusual flavor and there is really no substitute (curry powder is made of completely different spices and has a very different flavor – do not try to use it here); you should be able to find them at an Indian market. Any leftover leaves will freeze very well.
**You can use green or black cardamom – green will require more roasting.
***Although whole spices will give you the best flavor, you can substitute ground spices for these; omit the dry roasting and add at the same time as the ground turmeric.
- One at a time, dry roast 1 Tbsp uncooked rice, 10 curry leaves, 2 cardamom pods, 3 whole dry (or fresh) hot peppers, 2 tsp coriander seeds, 1 tsp fennel seeds, 1 tsp cumin seeds, 1 tsp fenugreek seeds, 1/2 tsp whole cloves, 1/2 tsp black peppercorns, 1/2 tsp mustard seeds (for my dry roasting technique, see my post on chaat masala). For this curry powder, you want a really roasted flavor so you should push these spices just a little past golden brown when roasting, but be careful not to burn them.
- In a mortar and pestle or spice grinder, thoroughly grind the roasted spices and 1/2 tsp ground turmeric. Store the resulting curry powder in a jar; it should keep for 6 months to a year but will decline in flavor.