Heat in Curry without Chilli

By Sumayya Usmani •

National Curry Week is now celebrating its 15th year in the UK.  For all those people who love curry and embrace it as one of our national dishes, there are some who feel they can't eat curry because they don't like "hot food" or can't take the heat of chillies.  Sumayya Jamil is on hand to help and her delicious recipe for Almond Chicken Curry shows that heat in a curry isn't always about chilli.


It’s Curry Week in the UK, a nation that now boasts Curry as a national dish. I however grew up in a country where curry is part of our culture and very fabric of our cuisine. Our many curry recipes are diverse and the history behind every dish is unique. In my home many of the dishes were steeped in the history of my parents different culinary backgrounds, such as Northern Indian and Punjabi.

These always influenced my mother’s food but we were also quite heavily influenced by local regional cuisine of Pakistan. In my home my mother who taught me to cook and did most of the cooking when I was young; would find ways to always to make fast, fresh curries with not so much chilli but rather the enticing aromas and different kind of heat of spices such as cardamom, cinnamon, mace, nutmeg, cloves.

This is her recipe of a unique almond chicken curry which is fragranced only with cardamom and cinnamon but also with a hint of dry red chilli and fenugreek leaves, just enough to give it a kick.

It is quick and simple to prepare and beautifully elegant served with some Saffron Basmati rice - just soak basmati for 30 minutes in tap water, boil with a pod of two of cardamom until done and pour over a pinch of saffron that has been soaked in 1 tablespoon of hot milk for 15 minutes, stir in and you’ve got a perfect accompaniment to this Almond Chicken Curry.

This is a perfect winter weekend meal. You are certain to enjoy the essence of Pakistani food in this dish- simplicity of flavours, haunting aromas of spice rather than just the usual chilli heat that curries are associated with and  the rich creamy nuttiness of the ground almond makes it’s a meal to remember.

Almond Chicken Curry with a hint of Methi / fenugreek leaves:



1 kg) chicken breast, cup into small pieces for curry
2 medium onions, chopped finely
600 g  natural yoghurt
114 g ground almonds
1 tsp of ginger paste

1 tsp of garlic paste
Ghee and cooking oil (try not to use olive as it’s got a pretty distinct flavour which doesn’t go with this dish)
3-4 cardamoms
1 stick of cinnamon
1/2 tsp of dried Methi/fenugreek leaves
1-2 Dried long red chillies

salt to taste

Serves about 10 – 15 people and takes about 45 minutes to cook


1. In the mixture of hot ghee and cooking oil, temper the cardamoms (pound to open pods slightly) and cinnamon – until they splutter, then add the onions and sauté until soft. It is very important that the onions don’t change colour at all – only get translucent.

2. Now add the ginger / garlic paste and fry until the raw smell of garlic disappears – again do not let the mixture brown. Hence keep stirring it.

3. In another pan heat up some oil only and fry the chicken pieces until they are of a golden colour. Then add the chicken to the onion mixture and continue to cook. At this point add the yoghurt and fry while stirring for a bit. Add the red chillies but make sure that they down break up, as it is key that the korma does not get coloured by the chillies. Add salt to taste now.

4. Then add the almond paste and cover and let it cook in it’s own steam on medium low heat. Keep checking on the curry and the end result should be a thick gravy and should not be watery. If it is watery, remove the cover and cook on high heat until the curry gravy is thick

6. When the chicken is cooked and the gravy is ready, take the dried fenugreek and crush in between your hands and sprinkle on top.



Saffron basmati rice:


2.5 cups of basmati rice, washed and then soaked in tap water for a minimum of 30 minutes

1 tsp salt

1 ½ pinches of saffron

tap water

Serves about 5-10  people and takes about 15-20 minutes to prepare


1.Boil about half a medium saucepan with water and add salt as it starts to boil. Soak the saffron in a small bowl with about 2 tsp of hot water and allow to infuse.

2. Add the rice to the boiling water and allow to cook for about 6-7 minutes. Check if rice is done (but not over cooked) and then pour over the sink in a colander.

3. Once the rice is drained completely place it back in the saucepan and pour the saffron in a zig zag pattern in the pan over the rice.

4. Cover and allow the aroma to infuse in the rice for about 5-10 minutes. Stir the rice carefully and serve.


What types of curry would you recommend for those that don't like hot food or aren't keen on lots of chilli?  Let us know over on Great British Chefs Facebook page.


Sumayya Usmani

Sumayya Usmani is a London-based food writer and cookery teacher who specialises in Pakistani cuisine. She contributes to many UK-based food magazines and is currently writing a memoir-style cookbook on Pakistani cuisine, called Summers Under the Tamarind Tree, to be published in Spring 2016. Sumayya also hosts cookery classes at Sophie Grigsons’ Cook School, Oxford and Divertimenti Cookery School, London. Her website is www.mytamarindkitchen.com - @MyTamarindKtchn

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