Chaukandar gosht – Beetroot and beef curry with cinnamon and black cardamom

Step away from the tikka masala . . . Alternatives to favourite curries

by Sumayya Usmani 12 October 2015

Inspired by national Curry Week, Sumayya tries to get us thinking outside the box, or tiffin tin, with regards to some of our favourite curries.

Sumayya Usmani is a cookbook author, writer and cookery teacher who specialises in Pakistani cuisine.

Sumayya Usmani is a cookbook author, 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 by Frances Lincoln. Sumayya also hosts cookery classes at Sophie Grigsons’ Cook School, Oxford and Divertimenti Cookery School, London.

Growing up in Pakistan, with curry-based dishes as staple sustenance, it took me time to understand Britain’s obsession with what to me was everyday fare. I never knew the name curry that referred to the food I grew up with, for me it took many names such as shorba, salan and bhuna gosht; but never curry. I never fully appreciated the individuality of the family of dishes we call curry, the captivation it conjures and how this spice craving leads to such satisfaction. However with nearly ten years of living here, I do now fully appreciate the place curry finds in British cuisine and with it I have broadened my curry repertoire to include those from different parts of the world, experimenting with new flavours but always adopting traditional techniques. Embracing global curries is a life changing experience and will lead to a lifetime of full of flavour.

Curry is a concept that has taken centuries to develop. A name that possibly developed during the spice trade in the mid-seventeenth century, with the adoption of the indigenous South Asian flavours by British traders, its history is deep rooted in the Indian subcontinent itself. The flavours and techniques that make this ubiquitous dish were a confluence of history, invasion and fluid borders as many ingredients, styles and techniques were learnt, adapted and exported throughout South and South East Asia. The curry style does however spread beyond the subcontinent and is found in far eastern countries and beyond, and though their flavour nuances maybe quite different, they are similar in that they carry punchy flavours, boast rich home cooking and deliver a satisfying comfort.

With many culturally different flavours of curries, there are some particular favourites that have found themselves intertwined with British taste buds, ranging from the fiery hot to mild, sweet and coconut driven, to dry and richly spiced. There is something for everyone and I have picked some recipes from around Asia that have much in common with British favourites. These will allow you to move past the usual, but not compromise the essential flavour you enjoy, they highlight how similar ingredients can create such subtly different dishes merely by altering the indigenous techniques and spice blends used.

Being Curry Week in the UK it is a perfect time to add a few new recipes to your curry repertoire, these will awaken familiar flavours but bring new exciting combinations to your kitchen.

Warming gentle spice: Kormas

Kormas were bought to the Indian subcontinent by the Central Asians, a creamy braised meat dish traditionally made with yoghurt, nuts, seeds, and later the addition of cream and nuts by the Mughals. The word korma means ‘to braise’ in Urdu, and this is a style of cooking found in many parts of the Indian subcontinent. They vary from creamy nutty sauces to rich aromatically spiced ones, using mutton, beef or chicken. In Pakistan the traditional korma is a festive dish found at weddings, it is rich brown and fragranced with kewra (screwpine water). Many North Indian recipes are creamier with cashew, almond and yoghurt bases. Kormas are not about chilli heat but more about haunting aromatics and gentle warming spice. Try this Bengali inspired Chicken Rezala, that is based on a recipe found in Kolkata and was passed on to me by my aunt’s family who are Bengali.

Bright hot: Madras-style

Madras curry by its name is not really found in the Indian subcontinent, it found its name in the UK, but the style of curry is said to originate from the South of India, and its main characteristics are a fiery hot, red chilli base, with the sweetness of coconut or the sourness of tamarind added to counter balance the intensity of the red chilli. Other spices and seasonings used are black cardamom, turmeric, paprika, curry leaves, lime, vinegar or lemon. The idea behind this style is the balance of the taste sensations of sweet, salty, sour and savoury. Made mainly with vegetables (as this is a Hindu style of cooking), it can also be translated into red meats and poultry.

If you like madras-style curries, here is an option to experiment with, a Rajasthani-style curry called laal maas, which translates as ‘red mutton’. Traditionally made with game meat, the intense heat was added to mask the strong gamey taste. This is a recipe that was popular in aristocratic kitchens, due to its rich ingredient list.

I have used Kashmiri chilli for colour and fragrance and red chilli powder for the heat, you can of course vary the amount to suit your personal taste.

Nowadays more popularly made with mutton rather than game, it is red, garlicky, with a thick sauce and definitely not one for the faint hearted!

Aromatic and dry: Bhuna

A commonplace dish on British menus is bhuna gosht, usually a dark brown mass of dryish cooked meat or vegetables. The real bhuna (which means ‘to fry’ in Urdu) is a cooking style found mainly in Pakistan, but it isn’t called bhuna gosht, you will normally find dishes resonant of this cooking style going by the name of handi or karhai. It is usually a thick tomato-based sauce, spicy, dry, and aromatic by cooking spices with garlic, ginger and sometimes onions, with the meat or vegetables cooked in their own juices resulting in deep strong flavours and little sauce. This is a recipe for an Afghani-style karhai found on the borders of Afghanistan and Pakistan, many of the migrants across the borders have contributed to making this style of cooking popular across the country. The key flavour comes from the unique freshly ground spices that go into this dish.

Fragrant and light: Coconut-based curries

An ingredient found in many South Asian and South East Asian curries and dishes, coconut milk adds a sweet milky taste, producing a thinner curry sauce. It has a tendency of curdling, so once added the dish must be gently simmered, the heavy fat content adding flavour and richness to curries as well. Most coconut milk based curries incorporate a bit of salt, sour and heat to balance the sweetness of the coconut. Many people are familiar with Keralan, Thai and South Indian curries that use this ingredient, here is a recipe that may possibly have links in Indian and Malay cooking but through time has found its place in Singaporean cuisine. The key in cooking fish molee is using fresh firm white fish and lovely fragrant red chillies.

Haunting and slow cooked: Meat and vegetable curries

A style I am most comfortable cooking, a meat and vegetable curry that allows flavours to develop over a long slow cook. The end result is a thick rich sauce where meat is infused with whole spice and allowed to reach melt in the mouth consistency. Many people are familiar with the rich slow cooked thick curries of South Asian cuisine, but this recipe is a particular favourite using seasonal beetroot with beef; the vibrant colour and haunting spice is wonderful of colder autumn and winter evenings.