Why do we need a base gravy for this dish?
It’s tough to pick the “biggest difference” between British Indian food and “real” Indian cooking – beyond the fact that one has come through the lens of the restaurant industry rather than the homes and street stalls of the subcontinent. At home, most curries are cooked low and slow – letting the flavors unlock and mix together gently, with the richness of the meat and fat. But in restaurants, we just don’t have time for that. Who’s gonna wait around an hour for a proper curry? This is where the base gravy comes in. It already has all those slow-cooked flavors and spices but in the handy form of a convenient pre-made base gravy that can be added as needed for short cooking.
No two curries are the same…
It can be a little odd talking about food in Malaysia – and Malaysians do love to talk about food. Dishes that are popular in China, such as Lazijiding (dry fried chicken with chili peppers) simply don’t exist here. The little bottles of black vinegar that are ubiquitous in Chinese restaurants on the mainland are replaced with soy sauce – something that would confuse the hell out of waiters if you ask for it North of the Yangtze. But the difference that confuses British ex-pats the most is the difference between British Indian cuisine and Malaysian Indian food (which is also different from Indian Indian food, FYI). Names that conjure Friday nights spent with friends in curry houses – Balti, Vindaloo, Rogan Josh, Chicken Tikka – are totally unknown, unless the person you are talking to has been to the UK. So what to do if you are craving one of those curries and nowhere near a decent curry house? Make it yourself but first, make the base gravy.
What is Balti?
The curry that is the quickest to cook is the Balti: it’s often likened to a stir-fry. A process of repeated reductions activates the Maillard reaction and produces a spicy, silky sauce. To achieve that though, you need a base gravy: a rich, spicy half vegetable stock, half soup mixture that gives your Balti a real British Indian flavor. This base gravy is spooned into the Balti pan and cooked down: one spoon before the meat goes in and two or three more afterward. Each time the base gravy is cooked down, the sauce gets that little bit silkier, richer and spicier. Doesn’t the sound of that make your mouth water?
This base gravy is a rich, spicy half vegetable stock, half soup mixture that gives your curry a real British Indian flavour. Perfect for use in a balti or any other curry. #Indian #British #curry #spicy
1.5 kg (3.3 lbs) yellow onions (peeled with stems removed and cut into halves or if especially large, cut into quarters)
2 large carrots (roughly chopped)
1 red bell pepper (roughly chopped)
3 inch/ 6.5 cm ginger (about a thumb’s size)
3 red finger chiles (stem and seeds removed, roughly chopped)
a small handful of curry leaves
large bunch of coriander (about 150 g/ 5 oz) (washed and roughly chopped)
1 head of garlic
2 tbsp tomato puree
2 cans of stewed tomatoes
3 tsp cumin seeds
3 tsp coriander seeds
6 green cardamom pods
1 tsp ground turmeric
1 tsp black peppercorn
1 tsp sea salt
2 tsp red chili flakes
1.5 L / 6 1/4 cups water (enough to cover the vegetables)
- Wash, peel and chop up vegetables. Since we are stewing this all together and pureeing it later, everything fibrous needs to be removed. So, remove stems, outer shells, and don’t forget to remove the seeds from the chiles otherwise you’ll risk a very spicy base.
- Make a ginger garlic paste. Peel ginger and remove garlic cloves from shells. Remove fibrous stem and puree together to form a paste using a food processor or mortar and pestle.
- Add halved onions, chopped carrots, chopped bell peppers, chopped red chiles and all of ginger garlic paste to a large stockpot. Add enough water to cover vegetables (this should be about 1.5 L) and bring it to a boil. Add chopped coriander and stir.
- Let boil for 2-3 minutes, then reduce heat, cover and simmer. Let cook for 45 min.
- After the veg mix has finished cooking, turn off the heat then puree it with a hand blender or transfer to a food processor or blender to puree. Once all nice and smooth, let cool and start working on the tomato mixture.
- In a medium pan, add curry leaves, turmeric, cumin seeds, coriander seeds, green cardamom (make sure to cut open those pods to release the flavor!), red chile flakes, salt and black pepper to the pan. Toast over medium heat for a minute or so or until fragrant then add stewed tomatoes, tomato puree and 1/2 cup water. Puree with a hand blender or transfer to a blender or food processor to puree. I recommend a blender for this as it works best in terms of pulverizing those spices.
- Return spiced tomato mixture to the stove and cook on medium/medium-high heat for 10 minutes. You want a good bubble to it but not a rolling boil so adjust heat accordingly.
- After 10 minutes of cooking, add tomato mixture to vegetable mixture and stir together. Let cook together for 10 minutes over medium-high heat or until it has a silky texture and the flavor you want. If it is too brothy, you’ll need to cook it further to reduce it.
- When cooled, divvy up the base gravy into 2-3 cup portions and freeze for later. We put them in ziplock bags and always have them on hand in case we have a craving for curry.
- Category: Indian
- Method: simmering
- Cuisine: Indian
Keywords: base gravy, gravy, Indian, tomato, vegetarian, spices, balti