How to Use Curry Powder in Cooking

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In India, curry spices are piled high at outdoor markets.
In India, curry spices are piled high at outdoor markets. (Image: Mariusz Prusaczyk/iStock/Getty Images)

If you like curry flavor, you can add it to any food you want, from scrambled eggs to tuna or chicken salad sandwiches to breading for fried fish. Curry powder is a blend of different herbs and spices, up to 20 different varieties in some cases. In India, where curry originated, home cooks and chefs grind their favorite spices and make blends daily. Commercial curry blends vary widely, so experiment to find the ones you like best.

Spices in Curry Powder

Spices and herbs are ground into a pulverized blend for curry. Traditional blends include chili powder, coriander, cumin, fenugreek and, for its distinctive yellow color, turmeric. Some blends also contain cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, mace and pepper. Commercial blends come in a mild variety, sometimes called sweet curry, and a spicy, hot variety with more chilies called "Madras." For the most flavorful curry powder, buy small quantities so the spice doesn't lose potency, and replenish your supply every two months.

Curry Around the World

Different countries around the world use various types of curry powder in their traditional cuisines. In India, the curry equivalent of a pre-ground, hot spice mix is called garam masala and comes in many varieties; it typically has more cinnamon and cardamom than standard curry powder. In Sri Lanka, curry powder spices are roasted, giving them a deep flavor and dark appearance. Thai curry typically comes as a paste and is made with fresh herbs, fresh chilies, lemon grass and ginger in addition to typical curry powder spices. Caribbean curry powder reflects island flavors; in addition to typical curry powder spices, it includes ginger, nutmeg and allspice.

Curry in Stir-Fries, Stews and Sauces

Curry powder is a potent spice, and a little goes a long way. Curry stir-fries and stews serving four to six people typically have 1 to 2 tablespoons of curry, while sauces, salads, salad dressings, rice dishes, soups, such as butternut squash or vegetable, and vegetable dishes, such as green beans or french fries, have about 1 teaspoon or just a pinch. With cooked dishes, the curry flavor becomes more intense the longer the dish sits.

Unusual Uses for Curry

Experiment with adding curry powder to baked goods, egg dishes, and appetizers. The website Serious Eats reports that Chef Jon Bignelli makes a savory-sweet curry cake that should be toasted and served like a cracker or bread. Madhur Jaffrey, the author of many cookbooks on Indian and East Asian cuisine, flavors popcorn and roasted chickpeas and nuts with curry spices. Add dash of curry powder to dishes as varied as custard and cornbread.

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