My curries always end up tasting slightly Caribbean – this is definitely because the major types of food I had around me growing up were Caribbean, Mexican, German/50’s style all American. I grew up eating foods flavoured with sofrito, garlic -yes we added even more garlic than the sofrito already contained- cilantro, olive oil, and salt. To this day these flavour sneak their way into my dishes almost every time.
Not that these foods are unique to Puerto Rico and nowhere else…its just those are the memories they bring up for me. Puerto Rico. My abuelita. My cousin Coraly and her family. Time at the finca eating fresh mango and trying not to get eaten by ants. Summers on the beach gorging on frituras. Food. Food. Food…..always family & food.
I think one of the many reasons I fell in love with South Indian cooking was it had all the flavours I knew and loved plus the intensity and heat that Puerto Rican food lacks. I know sometimes Mexican and Puerto Rican food…or for that matter all Hispanic/Latino foods get lumped together as ‘the same thing.’ Well..its not. The biggest difference, in my mind, between Puerto Rican food and Mexican food for example is the use of corn & spicy. Mexican food uses a lot of corn products and there is a lot of heat from various chillies etc. Puerto Rican food uses a lot of root vegetables, and banana like fruits with savoury flavours to fill up that starchy component on your plate…at of course rice too. Can you ever have too much starch? Puerto Rican food also isn’t particularly hot. Sure there is lots of flavour in well prepared P.R. food…but your tongue won’t be on fire. Not to mention Mexico is HUUUUGGGEEE compared to Puerto Rico and there is an array of diverse cuisines depending on where you travel in Mexico.
So…getting back to curry. South Indian curry. Like Mexico India is a large country. You will find amazing food throughout – but each region/neighbourhood/culture has its own food. Food really does reflect the people around it. Some of my favourite flavours that you find in South Indian food are: tamarind, ginger, sesame seed or cashew butter, and coriander. I also love the array of starchy foods readily available to soak up all the amazing condiments and sauces that you find at each meal – dosa, appam, medu vada, uttapam, idli, and more.
The recipe I’m posting below is my take on South Indian curry. My technique is different than chefs you find in India or from India. The flavour too will be different. But this is a tribute to the amazing flavours that I fell in love with so long ago.
South Indian Style Curry
~1-2 tablespoons coconut oil
~1 large sweet onion, diced
~1 medium sized green bell pepper, diced
~4 cloves garlic, minced
~2 inches ginger, minced
~1 tablespoon ground coriander*
~2 teaspoons cumin
~1/8-1/4 teaspoon cardamom**
~1/2-1 teaspoon Thai chilli or hot pepper of choice***
~2 tablespoons tomato paste
~3 cups water
~1 tablespoon raw agave nectar or coconut sugar
~2 limes juiced
~2 kaffir lime leaves
~1 lb. yams, chopped into small bite sized pieces
~500 grams silken tofu
~1 can coconut milk
~3 cups carrots, diced
~2 tomatoes, diced
~6 oz spinach
~Cilantro for garnish
*Note: The spice not the green herb
**Note: Cardamom is a very strong flavour – test that you like it before adding it to any dish.
***Note I usually use 2 whole chillies for my curries, and then I top it off with hot sauce once I’m eating it with rice. Find what your spice level is. The amount I’ve listed above should be a good jumping off point for you to work with.
1) Place large pot, with top, on stove and turn heat up to medium or medium/low. Add onions, and a sprinkle of sea salt, mix well and place top on pot. Allow these onions to cook for 5-10 minutes – stirring regularly to keep them browning evenly. Then add your green bell pepper, a sprinkle of salt, and cook for another 10-15 minutes with the top on. Stir regularly to keep them browning evenly.
2) Remove the top from your pot and cook another 5 minutes to get rid of any excess moisture in the onions/peppers.
3) Add garlic, ginger, ground coriander, cumin, cardamom, and chillies to the pot. Turn heat up to medium or medium/high. Keep stirring everything together to keep the garlic from burning – cook another 2 minutes.
4) Add tomato paste, water, agave nectar, lime juice, kaffir leaves, and yams to the pot. Add a hearty pinch of sea salt and stir well. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer. Place the top on your pot slightly cracked to allow excess moisture to escape. Cook for 10-15 minutes. Note that while you are cooking there should always be a little broth -see photo above- if the curry ever gets too dry add more water to the mix just remember that fresh vegetables always add moisture to whatever you cook.
5) Add tofu, coconut milk, carrots, tomatoes, and spinach. Add another hearty pinch of sea salt. Stir everything together well. Allow to cook at a low simmer for another 10-15 minutes. Be sure to stir occasionally and gently so as not to break up the silken tofu into tiny curds.
6) Taste dish – add more salt or chilli or lime juice if desired. Serve fresh with rice and a sprinkle of cilantro for garnish. If you’ve never eaten Indian food before or South Indian food before google ‘South Indian Food recipes‘ and do a little research. You’ll find lots of simple and delicious recipes you can make to accompany your curry.
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