This Curry Powder Business

I have to say this. I’ve said it before, and now I feel the need to say it again, in its own post.

Indian food (as cooked by Indians) doesn’t use “curry powder”. Curry powder is not an Indian spice. It’s probably something the Brits came up with to mimic the flavors of Indian food. But I’ve tried it, and it doesn’t. (So you can’t say I’m saying all this without even trying the darn thing). And no self-respecting Indian cook will use it either. Don’t believe me? Ask a chef. Suvir Saran was quite contemptuous of it on the Next Iron Chef.

So. If you want your food to taste ‘authentically’ Indian, or at least not taste like you’re trying to cook Indian food but you don’t really know what you’re doing, throw out the curry powder. Please. Here are two possible replacements, depending on what you’re trying to cook. For most North Indian dishes, garam masala is your basic masala. For South Indian dishes, you can use a variety of spices, but sambar masala (recipe forthcoming) or rasam podi are good bets. Unless you’re making kootu.

So yes, I’m snooty about this. So should you be. And if you use curry powder just because it’s easy to get, make your way to an India store and buy some garam masala. Or buy it online at

And make that solemn promise – no more will you desecrate your Indian food by adding curry powder.


Garam masala

From my sister – thanks again, K!

 You need: 2 bay leaves (tej patta), 1 black cardomam (badi elaichi), 2 sticks cinnamon (dalchini), 4-5 peppercorns (sabut kali mirch); 2 dried red chilies (lal mirch); 4-5 cloves (laung); 1 tsp cumin (jeera)

 How to: Dry-grind everything together into as fine a powder as you can. It’s best if made fresh each time you need to use it. 

Ammamma’s Pachai Rasam Podi

My grandmother was a truly incredible cook. She’s been gone nearly ten years, but my mother (finally!) gave me her rasam podi recipe yesterday. It’s “pachai” (green/fresh) because it’s not roasted before grinding. It makes about 4-5 tsps.

You need: 1 heaped tbsp of dhania dana (coriander seeds/kothamali verai), 3-4 dried red chilies (vatha molaga), 1 tsp peppercorns (molagu), 1.5 tsp arhar dal.

How to: Grind it all together into a fine powder. Add 1-1.5 tsp to 4-5 cups rasam.

Daily Masala

I have recently started grinding my own masalas and podis in a coffee grinder, and I find it works exceedingly well. Everything is much more flavorful than when I use pre-packaged masalas. I’m trying to collect recipes for masalas and podis, and will blog them as and when I get them.A simple one that I have taken to using in lieu of garam masala, though, is this:

You need: 1 tbsp jeera (cumin seed); 1 tbsp dhania dana (coriander seed); 2 dried red chilies.

How to: Put it all in a coffee grinder and grind to a fine powder.

You could roast all of them before grinding – briefly, in a hot pan with no oil. I can’t because grinding roasted jeera activates my migraines, and I have not quite found an extreme difference in flavor. I think heat certainly activates the flavor, but it’s not worth the headache to me, so I don’t bother.

When you use this, be sure to add some haldi to the mix. It’s not garam masala, which is actually much fancier, but it’s got a nice flavor and smell and is fresh.