Playwrights are like men who have been dining for a month in an Indian restaurant. After eating curry night after night, they deny the existence of asparagus.

Peter Ustinov


The first curry powders were brought to England by army officers and civil servants serving in India during the British Raj, Those officers prided themselves on the special combination of spices they had invented. But by all indications, curry powder “production” was a small, cottage industry at that time in India

Tilly: They had invented?! I can think of millions of Indians who would challenge that … especially as the article below mentions curry being 4,000 years old.

So just how old is curry? Well, according to archeologist, curry is about 2,000 years old. Originating out of India, Due to the silk trade route facilitated curry powder travel to the rest of the Asian world. Just what is the oldest known recipe for this special blend? When you find out please let Tilly and Olive know so we can tell the archeologists.

Tilly: I found this article – – curries were around 4,000 years ago. Archaeologists Arunima Kashyap and Steve Webber of Vancouver’s Washington State University used the method of starch analysis to trace the world’s first-known or “oldest” proto-curry of aubergine, ginger and turmeric from the pot shard of a bulbous handi (pot).

The ‘original’ curry – serves 1-2:

While the proto-curry that was discovered in Farmana only had aubergine, turmeric, ginger and salt in it, we’ve taken the liberty to combine them with a few other ingredients that were available at the time. Cook it in earthenware, if you can.

6-7 small aubergines, washed and slit (Tilly: I assume these refer to baby aubergines or finger aubergines.)

1-inch piece of ginger, ground (Tilly: I grate on a flat grater – much quicker)

1 fresh turmeric, ground, or ¼ tsp turmeric powder


1tbsp raw mango cut into cubes

2-3tbsp sesame oil

¼ tsp cumin

Dehydrated sugarcane juice to taste

A few leaves of sweet basil (optional)


Wet grind the ginger, turmeric and cumin seeds. Heat sesame oil, add the paste and cook for a couple of minutes. Tip in the aubergines, add some salt and give it a good stir. Cover and cook until the aubergines are nearly cooked through; add some water, if need be. Now, stir in the mango and dehydrated cane juice. Simmer for a few minutes or until the mango is cooked. Check seasoning and serve with bajra roti (pearl millet flatbread).

The one thing you must not do is confuse Curry and Curry powder. One is a dish that has spices, meat and rice. The other is a combination of spices used to flavor food. Is there a basic formul? Yep, it is called “Garam masala”. Yet, even that recipe is regional and varies though out India. In some regions or households they even add rose petals to the mixture.

Tilly: Scattering rose petals on the dish when serving adds to eye-appeal.

According to “The Cooking of India”, Foods of the Word, Time Life. Spices are the key to Indian cooking. Garam Masala is just the basic recipe. Some spices added some spices taken away. A friend of mine whose family is from India says the recipe is handed down from Grandmother to daughter to granddaughter.

So now you are wondering just how many spices are in Curry powder? Some average day curry powders contain up to 16 different ground spices. Hindustan Curry powder developed by Chef Alexander Filippini and is mentioned in his book “The International Cook Book” “is an exception, there are 27 ingredients. Mind you he doesn’t ‘give the recipe in the book, he just mentions it. So if by chance you find that recipe, please let Tilly and me know.

So, is there a basic recipe for Curry powder? Nope, the making of curry and curry powder varies according to the cook’s taste buds, and the type of meat and vegetables being used.

So, what is the basic recipe for curry powder? Cumin seeds, turmeric powder, coriander powder, ginger powder or slices, fennel seeds, crushed black peppers, nigella seeds, mustard seeds and bay leaf, roasted and ground to a powder. Because of the ingredients many in the health field says that each ingredient has its health benefits.

Tilly: For heaven’s sake, Olive – you forgot garlic! (I do know garlic is not a constituent of garam masala!) Cumin seeds are a blast: they promote digestion, are a Rich Source of Iron, may help with diabetes, help improve blood cholesterol, may promote weight loss and fat reduction (as does fennel). Turmeric is known for its anti-inflammatory properties – the curcumin being the active element. Ginger has anti-inflammatory benefits as well as aiding the digestive tract. Research leans to fennel seeds offering antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-fungal, and antiviral effects. Black pepper also helps with weight loss, detoxifying the body, might be an anti-carcinogenic, cleanses the intestines and stomach and the potassium content help regulate the heart rate and blood pressure. It also helps in the production of red blood cells, is rich in Vitamin B and produces calcium – and prevents constipation. Nigella seeds possess therapeutic effects as an antioxidant, anti-cough, gastro protective, anti-anxiety, anti-ulcer, anti-asthmatic, anti-carcinogenic, anti-inflammatory and helps regulate the immune system. Mustard seeds can help reduce headaches, improve digestion, support heart health, strengthen bones and teeth, benefit the skin and hair, delay ageing, provide antioxidant protection, control blood sugar, and more.

Add fresh garlic when cooking the end curry – with chilies, naturally – and what a win!

Olive: Get over the garlic Tilly.

Today curry and curry powder are around the world. From India to China and Japan.

One of the shortest curry powder recipes is from THE KHAKI KOOK BOOK, 1917 $

Curry Powder.

10 ounces of coriander seed;

1 teaspoon of caraway seed;

1 teaspoon of black pepper;

1 teaspoon of red pepper;

6 teaspoons of turmeric;

4 tablespoons of flour;

1 teaspoon of cloves;

4 teaspoons of cinnamon;

Seeds of six cardamons.

The coriander and turmeric may have to be purchased at a drug store.

Buy as many of the spices ground as you can, and grind the others in a small hand-mill or coffee-mill.

Sift together three or four times and dry thoroughly in an expiring oven. Put in air-tight bottles.

A pound of meat will require about two teaspoons of this mixture. If not hot enough add more red pepper.

Tilly: The danger of making garam masala, or any other curry mix, in such large quantities is that it loses its colour and flavour. Better to make in smaller quantities, store in a light-free tin or container, in the fridge. I have found some small metal spice tins which are perfect.

A shorter offering makes about 3 tablespoonsful: 1 tbsp coriander seeds, 1 tbsp cumin, 1 tsp green cardamom, 1 tsp cloves, 1 tsp black peppercorns, 2 cinnamon sticks 2 inches/5cm long, 2 bay leaves, half a small nutmeg, 4 black cardomons. Grind together, Store in an airtight container, preferably light-free, in a cool, dark place or fridge.

This spice mix is one that warms the body rather than being hot, as with chillies.

And one of the longest for today’s modern world is from Japan.


Yield 7 Tbsp



2 tbsp turmeric powder

3 tsp ground coriander

2 tsp ground cumin

1 1/2 tsp ground fenugreek

1 tsp ground black pepper

1 tsp ground cinnamon

1 tsp ground ginger

1 tsp garlic powder

1 tsp ground nutmeg

1 tsp ground fennel

1 tsp ground star anise

1 tsp ground cardamom

1/2 tsp ground cloves

1/2 tsp ground bay leaf

1/2 tsp ground all spice

1/2 tsp ground thyme

1/2 tsp ground sage

1/2 tsp cayenne


Add all the spices to a cast iron skillet or pan over low heat. Stir frequently to prevent burning. Once fragrant, remove from the stove and out of the pan immediately.

Let the spices cool and then store in a spice jar.

Tilly: I like the sound of this! I shall give it a whirl, I may have to ‘adjust’ with a little crushed garlic …


Use on

Japanese curry, fried rice, noodles, soups, stews.

Oh and one last tidbit in India, turmeric is not used in Garam Marsala.

Olive and Tilly

I’m going to scream this from the mountain top, there’s no such thing as ‘a curry.’ There’s six kazillion different kinds of curry. When someone asks how to make chicken curry, I have to ask ‘Which one?’

–           Aarti Sequeira
















Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

error: Content is protected !!