This catch-all term is used to describe the various (and numerous) hot and spicy, sauce-based dishes that originated in East India. Also popular in Thai and other mainstream Asian cuisines, these meat and/or vegetable "stews" are flavored with curry powder (see below) and usually served with rice.


Curry Powder
This pulverized blend of up to 20 spices, herbs and seeds varies greatly depending on the region and the cook. Some common ingredients include cayenne, cinnamon, coriander, cloves, cumin, fennel seeds, ground mustard, nutmeg and turmeric (which gives curry its distinctive yellow color).

While commercial prepared curry powders are widely available, authentic Indian cooks do not use them. Their curry mixtures are selected, toasted, ground and mixed fresh each day, depending on the particular palate or dish being prepared.

Curry Paste
This blend of ghee (clarified butter), curry powder, vinegar and seasonings is used in place of the powder in many dishes. It can be mixed from scratch with a mortar and pestle or purchased commercially prepared.

Curry Leaf
These small, shiny green leaves from the curry plant are essential in East Indian fare. They have a citrus scent similar to lemon grass, and a pungent, bittersweet aroma and flavor.

Buying and Storage Tips

Powder: Commercial curry powder comes in two styles: regular (more mild) and Madras (hotter). Different brands vary greatly in heat and flavor, so try several before settling on a favorite. Curry powder loses its pungency quickly–store airtight and use within two months.

Paste: Available at Indian and Asian markets, curry paste comes in red (the most common), green and yellow varieties (the colors vary depending on the type of chiles used to make it). Follow the storage instructions on the label and refrigerate after opening.

Leaf: Available at most Indian markets, curry leaves should be bright green with no signs of yellowing or wilting. They can be refrigerated in an airtight container up to two weeks. Packaged, dried curry leaves are also available, but they lack the zippy flavor of fresh.

Usage Tips

  • To improve the flavor of commercial curry powder, lightly sauté the spices in a dab of butter or oil before using.
  • When using curry powder or paste, be careful not to overpower your dish. Start with a small amount and give it a taste-test. You can always add more.
  • Add curry paste to marinades for meats