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Curry or Kari?

Mum loved a curry, so to did Dad, I was often appalled. Mum's curry was always bright yellow (Keens Curry Powder or Clive of India) with black bits of sultana, a banana chopped into it just before serving (she made a mistake here, it should have been a banana chopped, drizzled with lemon juice and dipped in coconut). I occasionally meet people who actually crave this dish. Amazing! The 'curry' was served with a tablespoon of rice (always have to keep some for Dad to have with some home made plum jam and cream). When I moved to Melbourne, ate curry cooked by people who knew how, I just could not go back to the Iris version, even the rice she cooked was not great... she simply did not know how, apart from what she was taught in cooking clases at her school.

Many of my friends ate Curried Sausages and Curried Eggs as part of their everyday food. These, mercifully were not in Iris's repetoire. But for anyone wanting to explore and try... simply google, there are a million recipes. 

We simply did not, until many many years later, understand what curry is all about 


It is a term that is from the Tamil language and it means sauce - KARI

India has not any such thing as 'curry' in its culinary lore, it is always referred to as a sauce.  India has a diverse culinary heritage that wavers according to who is running the country, what religion is in ascendance and the poverty level of the population. It should also be noted that in Indian religious lore, some are not permitted any meat, some a little, some various. It needs to be understood that 40% of Hindus do not eat meat or flesh of any kind, that Muslims regard beef, pork and crustaceans as impure.  Sikhs are not vegetarian, Buddhist vary, more about the region from whence it came... eg: Tibet is to high to easily grow vegetables. In this way, many combination of spices were blended, cross pollinated and used. Some Indian Hindu devotees pursue a diet that is free of onion and garlic, difficult when making a spicy sauce, but overcome a little with the use of Asafoetida, which is permitted.

(Asafoetida is a resin from a plant that grows in central and central tropical India, it is said to have the aroma and taste of onion, garlic and mushroom. It is called Hing in India and was referred to as 'Devil's Dung' by early explorers of culinary India. It can be purchased in the lump of resin form or more commonly as a powder. The powdered form is often found with Besam flour (chickpea) and Turmeric added.

The balance of South East Asia has a variety of what is loosely termed curries. They are meats, fowl, fish and vegetables cooked in a sauce that is usually made up of strong flavour bases, onion, garlic, ginger, chili, fermented fish (Belacan) and a variety of herbs and spices with the addition of a liquid such as coconut milk, this is cooked to a sauce and the main component added if it cooks quickly (eg: fish and vegetables) or often it would be precooked to either brown it or partially cook (Pork, Chicken or Beef). The reality is that this is not a curry but a kari. In various of the South East Asian countries it is called by a local term, in Thailand dishes are not referred to as curry, but 'kaeng' meaning a water dish.

The point is that we need to be more understanding of this genre of foods if we are to enjoy them in our ever growing repetoire of kitchen magic.

Beef has long been a favourite in Australian eating. It has in the past few years and indeed today continues to undergo a variety of changes. We have seen the introduction of the feed lot, we have seen the conversion of the public perception from red meat/yellow fat to pink meat/white fat (blame the industry and the major players) we have seen the introduction of many chemicals that have impacted in ways that we still do not completely understand (hormones causing some issues for young people). We have been pursuaded that beef is good for, bad for us and everything in between. We seem to be in a place where we feal we need to pay high prices for 'real' beef. In many ways this price/quality issue is dividing the community into haves and have nots. It seems that the spin doctors have succeeded in maintaining their customer base in the majors.

The beef industry is now telling us that consumption of beef is dropping away, and are trying to reverse this situation. May be a loosing battle, the public is now rapidly pursuaded this way and that, the clique of the celebrity chef is not helping since they rarely use any meat of the cheaper end, rare to see them cook with shin, stewing steak etc. it is mostly better cuts. Celebrity Chefs are indeed in my opinion doing a lot of damage, they cook food that is beyond the ability of most people and thus do not encourage people to cook. 

Food in its most elegant and pure form is simple, depending on the raw ingredients for taste and enjoyment. To pick a glorious piece of meat, know that it was grown and raised in the best possible way, free from the incursion of chemicals, on natural grass and had lived a life that was more than a few months old, to cook it in a way that is both simple and direct, to add enough spice, salt, pepper to it but not excessive, to serve it on a plate that enhances and even does honor to the animal, then to enjoy the food with respect, is an act of amazing humility and grace.

Not all of us can have the leisure, money, time or will to be able to enjoy food in this way, for many food is a simple means to an end, to keep surviving and to this end, the food is accepted in what ever condition it is found and cooked. Many people who eat like this are happy to use every bit of help they can to ring from the food its last drop of taste. Many cooks who live on very small budgets have learned over the years to do many things to help make tough meat more tender (slice it thinly) to make vegetables the centre of the table and add a variety of herbs and spices to foods to enhance.

Australia: The tradition here is based off what could be called stew, so essentially it depends on a Curry Powder, in the past Keens Curry Powder and Clive of India, now a variety, but always yellow and most Indians would say,a Madras style.

1.5 kilo beef (cheap cut such as shin, skirt, stewing steak ect) cut into a 2 cm dice. The better end cuts tend to 'dry out' as they cook.

1 large onion sliced

1 carrot diced

1 stalk of celery sliced

1 tblspoon of a yellow curry powder (PW Madras)

1 litre of liquid stock

1/2 cup plain flour

Fat, 125 mil/gr ... this can be oil, but would have traditionally been dripping.

Optional ...

2 diced tomatoes

2 cloves of garlic sliced

1 x 3 cm piece of garlic chopped fine.

Method... dredge the meat in flour. Put the dripping or oil on to heat and fry the sliced onion until lightly browned, remove and saute the meat in batches and put with the onions, saute the celery and carrot and add the curry powder to the pot and saute that a bit with the vegetables. Return the onions and the meat to the pot, add the stock (most would not have had stock and would have used water).. it will start to become yellow. Cook on a slow gas or in the oven for 2 to 3 hours. Optional extras can be added at the vegetable saute stage and proceed as before.

India: The subcontinent has many many different versions of curry (kari) it is hard to pick one that would be an example... in the North in Kashmir the curry is much browner and onion based, mostly cooked with lamb, in the west Beef is found, killed by the Muslim butchers and therefore able to be used by the Hindu's. In central India and to the north, beef can be found, it should be remembered that the cow is a sacred animal and thus not favoured by Hindus.

1 kilo beef (your choice of cut, but one of the working cuts) diced in 2 cm 

1 Onion sliced

3 cloves garlic sliced

4 cm piece of ginger sliced

2 tablespoons curry paste (Rogan Josh, Madras, Kashmiri or your personal favourite)

2 dspns of Garam Masala

2 Tomatoes diced

1 cup of water

1/2 tspn sugar

1/2 tspn salt

1/2tspn black pepper powder

In your mortar place the onion, garlic, ginger, curry paste, garam masala, sugar, salt, pepper and pound to a paste with the pestle. Add the diced tomato at the end and lightly pound it. Place the paste in your best caserole pot with a little ghee and fry until it is fragrant, add the meat and fry a little until well coated, cover with until just covered.

Cook over a slow flame (heat) until the meat is tender. Most Indian curries are not thickened beyond that which happens as it cooks. The curry is cooked when the meat is tender.

Serve with steamed rice and condiments... chutneys, pickles etc. It can also be eaten with Indian breads. The meal is usually accompanied by freshly prepared salad vegetables like cucumber, tomato, red onion. I also like some pounded mint with some yoghurt.

South East Asian: Curries are very very varied, ranging from Rendang to Green Curry and versions in every Asian country. It needs to be understood that wet cooked meats are a way of making the meat tender and also in the case of dishes like Rendang, preserving the meat. In my travels through Asia, most of the households did not have large refrigeration and in nearly all cases, the curries were left out overnight, with no apparent problems.

This is the recipe for Rendang, I like it a bit on the dry side, but it can be wet.


3 desert spoons of the Peter Watson Rendang Paste, fry in a splash of oil - gently, just until the aroma starts to rise.

1 kilo of beef, added to the now lightly fried paste and cover with water.

Bring back to the heat and cook gently until the liquid is all but evaporated and the meat (or vegetable) cooked, but staying in shape.

Add one can of coconut milk and continue cooking.

Add 1 cup of dessicated coconut that you have dry fried until it is golden brown.

Cook until the coconut milk is almost gone and oil or fat rises to the surface and the cooking changes from boil to fry, fry for 5 minutes until dry and well cooked.

Choices: Traditional Rendang is served dryish, but you may elect to leave it a bit wet, it is up to you.

Serve... with rice (plain rice is usual, but you can flavour the rice if liked).

For those inclined to further exploration