Spice up your Valentine’s: Vindaloo Curry Sauce

Vindaloo with lamb

I grew up eating curry on a regular basis. In truth, it was “Curry Rice” — a Japanese adaptation of a Western (I’m guessing British) version of Indian-style curries. I don’t think you could get more attenuated from the original source than this. If you’ve never had Japanese curry rice, it’s kind of hard to describe because it bears little resemblance to the august culinary heritage from which it was adopted. There is something distinctly Japanese about it, which I can’t quite put my finger on. You make curry rice by cooking together meat (if using) and vegetables in a broth or water, then adding this block of pre-mixed paste to season and create a thick gravy. But for the first 20-some odd years of my life, when I heard the word “curry,” this is what I saw in my head:

Japanese Curry RiceJapanese curry seasoning paste

It never occurred to me that curry rice was something one could make from scratch because the secret blend of spices in the commercial mix seemed too perfect and too obtuse to mess with. I’ve looked at websites with Japanese-style curry rice recipes, but none have quite fit the bill. I’m still looking.

On a trip back from college one year, the Guam Hilton sponsored a curry festival in one of their restaurants and brought in an Indian chef from Singapore to create a dozen different types of curries. The most revelatory aspect of this event was that each curry (lamb, fish, chicken, duck, vegetable) had a different sauce! I know that sounds absurd now, but at the time the only difference in curries I had known was mild, medium or hot spiciness in curry rice (you could add different ingredients, but the sauce itself was the same)! I can’t stress how much this first visit (we went back 3-4 more times while the event was going on) opened my eyes to the vast and varied world of Indian cuisine and started a continuing love-affair with all its many forms.

So I could not pass up the chance to share in zorra’s enthusiasm for spice and curries in her Curry Event at 1x umrühren bitte (click here or in the banner), by bringing one of our favorite curries, Vindaloo, out from the recipe pages into a post.

Vindaloo is itself a blend of cultures, the influence of Portuguese settlers on India’s west coast region of Goa. Vindaloo’s Portuguese heritage is betrayed in its inclusion of vinegar and its copious use of garlic in the sauce. This sauce is best with red meats and fowl (such as duck); we make it most often with lamb.

If 1lb. of meat seems like a small amount, that’s because a meat curry is usually only one of several dishes in a typical Indian dinner (the others are usually legume stews (dals), vegetables, pickles and salads). A very healthy way to dine!

(But I still love curry rice! And it’s a favored stand-by and comfort food in our home, gracing our table at least once a month. With the block-o-paste seasoning it’s a great weekday shortcut to a delicious hot meal in 30 minutes or less.)

Vindaloo with Lamb

(serving for 4 persons as part of a full Indian dinner)

1 lb. of boneless meat (pork, lamb, beef duck, or chicken) cut into large cubes
1 piece of tamarind pulp, about the size of a walnut soaked in 2 cups (500ml) warm water for 30 minutes
ghee or unsalted butter
1 small onion, thinly sliced
1 knob of ginger, peeled and julienned
5-7 cloves garlic, minced
4-10 dried red chillies
1 tsp cumin seeds 1 tsp black peppercorns 1½ tsp whole cloves 1 cinnamon stick 1 TBL. brown sugar ¼ cup (175ml) apple cider vinegar

Gently fry onions in a medium saute pan about 5 minutes over low heat. Turn heat up to medium, and add ginger, garlic, cumin seeds and peppers and continue cooking until onions are translucent, about another 5 minutes. Add cloves, peppercorns, cinnamon, brown sugar and cinnamon stick. Cook another 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, press tamarind mixture through sieve and extract as much liquid as possible. Add tamarind juice to sauce, and cook another 10 minutes. Taste — it should be tart and lightly sweet and hot (peppery). Can be cooled and stored in fridge until needed.

When ready to add meat, remove cinnamon stick and puree sauce in blender or with hand/stick blender.

Season meat with salt and pepper, and brown well in separate pan. Add ½ cup (125 ml) water to deglaze pan used to brown meat. Return meat and curry to pan, and cook 20-35 minutes uncovered, or until meat is tender.
Serve with basmati rice, dal and Indian vegetables. (See recipes for Tarka Dal, Brussels Sprouts or Cabbage with Coconut, Chaat Potatoes, Aloo Gobi)