Spice Cupboard of Mystery

By Food Urchin •

How many people make curry paste from scratch? With so many ready prepared pastes on the market it's pretty easy to rustle up a curry in a hurry. However, it's more fun and authentic to try making a curry paste with individual herbs & spices. Danny Kingston aka Food Urchin delved into his spice cupboard to set about this task. Did he have everything he needed? Discover in his entertaining post

In terms of organisation, the most chaotic part of my kitchen has to be the spice cupboard. No rows of alphabetically ordered glass jars for me; and no printed crib sheet, detailing dates of purchase and when I opened said jars either. No, my spice cupboard, I am ashamed to say, is a black hole of mystery and clutter. And even though I peer into the spice cupboard nearly every day, whenever I open that door, I never quite know what I am going to find. Sometimes, when rooting towards the back, I half expect to reach through to a different world altogether. And should I ever clasp a cold, snow covered tree branch instead of grabbing hold of a jar of marjoram, the fact that the land of Narnia lies beyond my spice cupboard wouldn’t faze me. It wouldn’t faze me one little bit.

I think the reason for this befuddled and somewhat indifferent state of affairs is largely due to the fact that when I go shopping for food, I buy spices and herbs compulsively; and often without thought.

Wow, I wonder what these Dried Romanian Pig Berries taste like? What the hell is Asafoetida? Coriander seeds! We’ve nearly run out of coriander seeds! And almost always in the negative, rather than the affirmative, my accompanying wife will respond with something like:  “I don’t care, they’re too expensive, it’s used in curry and Dan, and we have jars and jars and jars of coriander seeds at home.” Admittedly, it is a curse but in my own defence at least I can always turn to my fantastical spice cupboard whenever an obscure ingredient pops up in a recipe. It might take me an hour of rummaging and slinging to actually find it but it will be there. Or at least that’s what I thought when I decided to make Alfred Prasad’s Murgh Makhni in honour of National Curry Week.

As you might expect, the list of ingredients for making this curry is quite comprehensive, as is often the case when making a curry from scratch. Yet as I scanned down the list, I felt pretty confident that I had everything in stock. Bar the mystical sounding Kasoori methi,otherwise known as dried fenugreek leaves. Which I have to say, narked me a little bit.

So much so, that I decided to embark on an epic journey earlier this week to find some Kasoori methi and boy, the journey was fraught. I went to numerous supermarkets. I went to several  smaller, corner shops. I went to a ‘specialist’ Asian food shop in Romford. And drew a blank everywhere. Although I have to say, the shop in Romford did have plenty of jars of coriander seeds. At one point, I starting flying down the A13 in my car, intent on hitting Green Street in Forest Gate, East London; thinking, if I couldn’t find Kasoori methi down Green Street, then I may as well throw myself off a bridge somewhere. But alas, I got called back before I could get there; the kids needed picking up from school and I had been out for 3 hours already, apparently.

In the end, I had to make do with using ground fenugreek, which I had in the magic cupboard all along. According to folk on Twitter, it isn’t the same as using the leaves but it would be good enough substitute.  And you know what? I don’t think the curry suffered at all from this little tweak, it was pretty good in fact. I tell you, the smell was heavenly when I grilled the marinated pieces of chicken tikka and after a quick simmer in the accompanying, hot sweet and slightly sour tomato sauce; this curry sent an impressive punch to the taste buds. Having served the dish up with a side of Alfred’s Fine Bean and Potato Curry and some plain steamed basmati rice, I patted myself on the back (as I often do) for delivering against the odds. Who needs Kasoori methi anyway?

I think the point in principle, which this recipe illustrates, is that the key to creating a fragrant, aromatic curry lies within the early stages. By gently frying some of the more regular spices and flavourings right at the start, your cardamom, your cloves, your chopped ginger, your green chilli; this is where you form the backbone of a great curry. And it also helps if you throw a tiny bit of Asafoetida in for the sheer hell of it.

Especially when you’ve gone to the trouble of sneaking it into the shopping basket in the first place.

How often do you make a curry paste from scratch?  Which spices are your favourites to use?  Let us know over on Great British Chefs Facebook page.


Food Urchin

Danny is a food adventurer, enthusiastic allotmenteer, supper club host and writer of the entertaining and quirky epicurian blog, Food Urchin. When Danny is not busy digging holes to pit-roast lamb or hanging marrows in tights to make rum or foraging for snails in his garden to throw into paella, he is often left in charge of a pair of cheeky twins; with sometimes disastrous results in the kitchen. He is also listed on MSN as one of the ‘top twenty foodies to follow on Twitter’.

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