Curry Month: One Month of Curry Recipes from Around the Globe


What is Curry Month?

Curry Month is a stream of curry recipes that are going to span the month of September. We’ll be sharing curries that have originated in many different countries, including Thailand, Vietnam, Japan, England and more. Although, before we talk about specific types of curry, it’s important to ask one, very broad question:

What is Curry?

The modern definition of curry is: a sauce – typically cooked with meat and/or vegetables – made with a variety of spices.

Albeit, the original use of the word ‘curry’ can be traced back to the Tamil word ‘kari,’ which means a dish that is prepared via grilling over hot charcoals. [1] Of course, that meaning has long been abandoned, mutated, and twisted in every which way possible, to the point where most curries don’t involve the use of any direct dry heat.

You may also think that curry is an ancient food, eaten for thousands of years by the people of India, Thailand, and so on, however, that’s also far from the truth, which leads us to the next question…

Where Does Curry Come From?

Curry is a relatively new invention on the world stage; the story of curry began to develop in the 13th century, when Arab traders and Venetian merchants single handedly controlled the spice trade from Asia (including India) to Europe, as well as the price of such spices. At the time, black pepper costed more than its weight in gold. Knowing they were getting the short end of the deal, England, Portugal, Holland, and Spain set sail to India, in an attempt to establish their own spice routes. Out of the 4 countries that set sail, Portugal was the only country that made it to India, where they established deals with the rulers of Northeastern India.

Fast forward 400 years to the 1600s: England wasn’t happy with Portugal’s domination over the spice trade. Thus, they did what any powerful European country would do and sent a fleet of Navy ships to crush their asses, metaphorically speaking. By 1612, the British East India Company seized control of the trade of spices between India and Europe. During Britain’s control of India, every sailor, merchant, and businessman that visited India fell in love with the flavors of their cuisine, making the food of their native land unpalatable. [2]

Within a matter of time, the British concocted a powder they deemed “curry powder,” which they used to cook with saucy, meat-based dishes, in order to make them taste somewhat close to the flavor packed dishes they ate back in India. Thus, the first modern “curry” as we know it was invented in the UK, not India, or anywhere in Asia! Leave it to the Europeans to reduce the culinary traditions of a country into a bottled, sellable, mixture of spices. *plants face in palm*

Okay, but that doesn’t explain how curry spread to the rest of Asia, where popular dishes like Red & Green Thai Curry come from. Once again, the answer can be found in global trade, because the base of Thai curry pastes is hot chilis, which are a new world food. Chilis belonged solely to the Americas up until the beginning of the Columbian Exchange – the infamous exchange of vegetables, fruits, and livestock between the “Old World” and “New World” – which started in 1492. [3] Without global trade, Thai Curry, as well as every other curry for that matter, wouldn’t exist.

All facts considered, curry is a modern invention. Albeit, that doesn’t dilute its cultural significance, for curry is now sold on the streets, fed to kids, and crafted in the homes of millions in many different countries.

How Do Curries Differ From Culture to Culture?

“How does ketchup differ from Italian marinara sauce?” shares similar meaning to the one above.

If you were to taste ketchup and marinara side-by-side, you would immediately notice that each sauce is unique, hailing from a different culture. None the less, both are comprised primarily of tomatoes.

Curry behaves in a similar fashion. The spices that are used – cumin, peppercorns, coriander seeds, etc. – may be identical in curry dishes, however their flavors are 100% distinct from one another. This is due to how the spices are toasted (or not), what ingredients they’re paired with, what kind of vegetables they’re cooked alongside, what proteins they’re cooked with, and every other possible cooking factor you can include; the difference between Vietnamese Curry and Panang Curry from Thailand is literally everything, except a few shared spices.

“Why so Much Rice?”

Rice is to curry as spaghetti is to marinara: it’s a required ingredient. You would no less eat a bowl of curry without rice than you would a bowl of marinara without pasta, now would you!

The main exception is Vietnamese Curry, which is eaten with bread – for dipping – not rice.

If rice still remains a mystery to you, here are some quick tips that may comfort your consciousness next time you eat rice:

  • White rice contains no lectins
  • Asian breeds contain more resistant starch than American breeds
  • If you cook your rice with coconut oil and refrigerate it overnight, the resistant starch levels will increase tenfold (10x the normal amount) [4]
  • ^ Reheating the next day doesn’t affect those levels

For more info, check out our post on White VS Brown Rice. 

Still, if you cohere to a grain-free diet, there are some quality options out there. First, try out Miracle Rice – made from the fiber of the konjac root – which has essentially no carbs, fat, protein, or anything except for fiber. Konjac products have a chewy texture, which I quite enjoy, albeit, it’s not similar to that of rice.

Another option is cauliflower rice, which is made by cooking grated cauliflower florets over medium-high heat for about 4 minutes. To make matters simpler, stores like Whole Foods carry frozen, pre-riced organic cauliflower, which cuts down on the time, mess, and clean-up involved with making cauliflower rice. On a grain-free night, this is the option I would choose.

What About Lectins?

Was it you who asked that? I knew it had to be answered, because some of the ingredients we’ll be using are new world foods, which do contain lectins. However, we prepare any potentially harmful, lectin-containing food in a way that negates their negative effects. For example, the skin and seeds of chilis – a new world food – contain considerable lectins, which we negate by roasting the peppers, allowing us to easily remove the skin and seeds.

Another food containing lectins, eggplant, is used in this series as well. Botanically speaking, eggplant is part nightshade of the nightshade family – the biological family that includes peppers, tomatoes, potatoes, zucchini, etc. – all of which come from the new world, which is why their lectins are potent to humans. Old world foods – such as taro – on the other hand, contain lectins that all humans have built up a resistance to, meaning they don’t pose a threat to their consumer, because the microbiome of homo sapiens has had close to 200,000 years of evolution to mitigate their effects. However, most humans have only been eating new world foods for 500 years and closer to 16,000 years for Native Americans – both of which are a short amount time evolutionarily speaking – which is why people of Italy, France, and other European countries would always remove the skin and seeds of tomatoes before putting them in their mouths.

Eggplant is different than the rest of the nightshades, because eggplant is not a new world food. [5] Eggplant’s ancestry is traced back to China, not the Americas, with the first written evidence of Eggplant being noted in the Qímín Yàoshù – an ancient Chinese agricultural textin 544 C.E. [6] Albeit, the Chinese have been cultivating eggplant for thousands of years prior to this written document, which means humans have had sufficient time to build up a resistance to the lectins found in it, unlike other nightshades. 

“What Can I Expect During the Month of September?”

You can expect no less than 8 unique curry recipes, along with side recipes and how-tos on certain pastes, sauces, and spice blends.

Each curry is intended to reflect that of its country of origin as close as possible, which is why I’m constantly doing extensive research on the traditional methods used to make each curry, since they’re all so distinct from one another.

Over the coming month, you will come across some strange ingredients listed as well as some cooking methods you’ve never seen before, such as the toasting of spices, roasting of peppers, or use of a mortar and pestle. But don’t worry, we’re gonna walk you through it, show you where to find these strange ingredients, and how easy it is to nail down a few foreign cooking techniques.

I haven’t encountered a single scenario where I was unable to find a certain spice, fruit, or vegetable that’s used in one of these recipes (obviously). Health food stores carry most of the items used in these recipes. Although – when that fails you – it’s time to consult your local Asian market, where you’ll be able to find Thai chilis, galangal, lotus root, dried seaweed, and other cool stuff you probably haven’t heard of. 

The task of entering a store where most of the labels are in another language can be daunting, but thankfully, where they lack in English, they make up for in pictures – the universal language. As far as produce is concerned, the unique produce in these recipes all have particular shapes or colors, making them easy to identify.

We sincerely hope you enjoy this deep, one month investigation into curry, as it’s a food with rich history, flamboyant flavors, and a hell-of-a-lot of diversity.

Sources:

[1] http://arvindn.livejournal.com/27534.html
[2] “The Curious Case of Curry.” Good Eats. Food Network. Atlanta. 29 Mar. 2010. Television.
[3] http://public.gettysburg.edu/~tshannon/hist106web/site19/
[4] https://www.acs.org/content/acs/en/pressroom/newsreleases/2015/march/new-low-calorie-rice-could-help-cut-rising-obesity-rates.html
[5] https://cals.arizona.edu/maricopa/garden/html/pubs/0203/eggplant.html
[6] http://www.chinaknowledge.de/Literature/Science/qiminyaoshu.html

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