My husband loves words. He’s spent the majority of his professional career as a journalist in Mississippi and Louisiana.
He also loves games.
So naturally, he enjoys a good crossword puzzle – which he was doing last week when he had a “tip of the tongue” moment.
“Babe, what’s that Indian bread called? Nam? Nan?” he asked, adding that it was a 3-letter word beginning with N.
Suddenly, I was transported to my first time in India, and I smelled the smells and tasted the flavors … it made me want to make curry.
My first trip to India was in 2010. I spent six weeks in Mumbai working in an orphanage and the eunuch community.
My first day in the country, I was served meat and curry with nan (or naan) bread. That bread was heavenly. My Mexican-Venezuelan heritage had me thinking the nan was a fluffy version of the tortilla. Watching the people spin the dough overhead like a pizza, and the way they manipulated the not-yet-baked bread … it was just so beautiful.
The curry was … not so beautiful. At first.
We ate curry every day. For every meal. And I wasn’t extremely fond of it from the start. It just wasn’t my taste. But I ate it and was grateful for those serving us. But to be candid, I dreaded meal-time because I knew it was just going to be another type of curry.
During this same trip to Mumbai, I had the opportunity to see the magnificence that is the Taj Majal. And I don’t regret much in my life, but one thing I regret still to this day is not going to see the Taj Majal when I had the chance.
The truth is, I wanted to go. But after I expressed interest in going to walk around the beautiful palace, my traveling partner at the time said, “ehh, it’s just a building. I don’t want to go.”
So we didn’t.
Then the six weeks ended and I left India and went back to Singapore, where I was living at the time.
One day while in Singapore, I was told that I could get a hold of plantains – a Mexican and Venezuelan food staple – at the Tekah Market in Little India, a well known area of Singapore.
Because I love cooking, especially cooking plantains, I boarded the MRT and headed to Little India one Saturday.
While I was there, the smells of Indian food permeated the food court area – the powerful flavors hit my nose and so many other senses and I not only remembered India and the food, I started missing it.
That’s when I fell in love with Indian food. Not while in India, but in Singapore.
So I rode to the market in Little India every Saturday, watching closely to what the chefs were putting in their curries. Every time I had an opportunity to try someone’s curry, I took advantage of the chance and tried to pinpoint the different flavor profiles.
I tried curry in Singapore. In Malaysia. In Thailand. And then I remembered something – I remember a moment when the woman who cooked at the orphanage while I was in India explained to me how to make curry!
I didn’t care at the time (though I listened with a big smile), because I didn’t really like it – I think my reason for not enjoying it at the time was because I was dealing with culture shock and the curry was a big part of it – but in this season, as I was falling in love with the flavors of Indian food, I cared. I cared a lot. And that’s when I started cooking curry.
“Oh, nevermind. I got it. It’s nan.” My husband said, referring to his crossword puzzle.
“Oh yeah! It’s nan!” I repeated.
So I decided to make curry and nan.
I’m usually terrible with presenting recipes, and rarely follow them anyway, but I’m going to do my best to give you my recipe for my curry, and also nan bread.
The beauty of curry – and one of the reasons this is my first blog post – is that there’s no strict recipe; there’s simply a guide.
The Southern region of India tends to be more aggressive and spicy with their seasonings. The coconut milk added in the recipe gives more balance and mellows out the dish – but if you want powerful flavors, add less Coconut milk, and add more spice.
So, here’s what’s in curry (and I’ll do my best to give portions of each ingredient), and my nan recipe is below that:
Chicken (or whatever meat you want, or make it vegan with potatoes and/or tofu)
2 tbsp Curry Powder
1 tbsn Cardamom (I substituted nutmeg, because we didn’t have Cardamom – which is a spice similar to a mix of nutmeg, cinnamon and ginger)
1 tbsn Nutmeg (which was my substitute)
1 tsp Cinnamon
1 tsp Corriander
dash of Turmeric – don’t add too much. It tends to make the curry bitter after a while cooking. The coriander I added was to balance this effect
2 Tomatoes, blended
3 Garlic cloves, minced
small piece of Ginger root, minced
½ white Onion, chopped well
1 Green Onion stalk, chopped well (Shallots can be used instead of Green Onion. I didn’t have Shallots, so I substituted that with the Green Onion)
¼ cup plain Yogurt (This is a substitution for Coconut Milk that I was told about in Malaysia. But be careful, if you cook the yogurt too long, it will have a reaction with the turmeric and make things bitter. To avoid this, use only Coconut Milk)
1/6 cup Coconut Milk. I didn’t have it when I started cooking, but my husband was gracious enough to go grab some from the store. Make sure it’s Coconut Milk, not Coconut milk drink or Coconut Water.
Salt, to taste
Pepper, to taste
Mix dry ingredients, making a powder and set aside.
Season chicken with salt and pepper and in coconut oil until it browns – don’t cook thoroughly – we will cook it further later in the recipe.
Leave oil in pan and sauté onion, ginger and garlic. Once they become golden brown, mix dry powder to create a paste-like substance, then add the blended tomatoes. Stir continuously as it cooks.
Stir in yogurt, then coconut milk and then add chicken and let simmer.
I also added potatoes.
Add salt and pepper, to taste and let simmer on medium/low heat, stirring occasionally.
Taste it! If the curry tastes bitter, add a little more coconut milk and a dollop of sour cream, or a bit of lime juice.
Spoon onto rice and enjoy!
1 tsp sugar
½ cup warm water
1 ½ tsp active dry yeast
2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
¼ cup plain yogurt
1 tbsp olive oil
dash of salt, to taste
Add sugar and water in bowl, and yeast – and let rest, covered, for 10 minutes.
Take flour and make volcano structure on counter surface, then pour water mixture slowly into the mouth of the “volcano.”
Mix with your hands until it is dough. Add flour if needed for desired doughy-ness.
Add yogurt, salt and oil and continue mixing until dough is no longer sticky.
Take the dough and cover it with a towel and let rest in a warm place for 45-60 minutes to allow yeast to work.
Knead dough further.
Tear dough into at least 12 balls of dough.
Flatten dough. Cook in pan with oil until desired browning is accomplished.