Easy Peasy Weeknight Curry
A good basic curry recipe can be an excellent meal saver when you come screeching to the end of the day with no dinner plans. And you know takeout is not healthy for your body or your purse. It can go veg and non-veg and it can go “kitchen sink,” as in anything and everything can go in besides the kitchen sink. Have some leftover vegetables or meat that need a way to be used up? The answer is this curry. Make a big batch, freeze in flattened zip lock bags, and pop in the freezer for a time such as this.
If you cook Indian food often, this recipe will feel familiar. Splutter some cumin seeds in ghee, or oil of your choice, add finely chopped onions, the exact amount is not important. Add ginger garlic paste, (ideally your own), and curry leaves if you got ’em. Cook in some tomatoes, and cook down to a thickened paste. Add whatever you are in the mood for meat (cooked or uncooked), vegetables, or even some of both!
The ingredients I have used for this basic curry recipe swings towards the North Indian Punjabi style. But there are also ways I will suggest in the Notes to make this curry with regional twists. I’ve included a few ingredients that add a little more complexity and color to your curry, but if you don’t have them leave them out. You will still be left with an easy, well-loved, and comforting meal starter that can be tailored to you and your family’s tastes.
See the Notes below before you cook.
Basic Curry Recipe
- 1 pound chicken thighs ~ Or meat of your choice, OR 6 cups vegetables
- 1 1/2 tablespoons ghee, or oil of your choice ~ Buy ghee or make
- 1 teaspoons cumin seeds
- 1 pinch asafetida (hing) ~ Optional
- 1 1/2 cups onions ~ Finely minced
- 1 tablespoon ginger garlic paste ~ Buy or make (1/2 garlic & 1/2 ginger)
- 1 green chili ~ Finely minced, optional. More to taste
- 1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
- 2 teaspoon ground coriander
- 1/2 teaspoon Kashmiri ground red chili ~ Or 1/4 tsp cayenne or substitutions
- 1 cup tomato puree ~ Or 3 plum tomatoes, peeled, and diced. Substitutions
- 1 teaspoon fine sea or table salt
- 1/2 teaspoon garam masala ~ Buy or make
- 1 tablespoon cream or yogurt ~ Or more to taste, optional
- Gather all your ingredients.
- If using uncooked vegetables for this recipe, you can cook them in the following curry. Or roast in an oven at 425°F (220°C), on a lined baking sheet for 20 to 24 minutes until browned and almost cooked the way you like them, stirring halfway.
- If using uncooked meat, cut into 2-inch pieces, and sauté or broil until browned, then finish cooking in the following masala. Or you can cook the meat in this sauce from start to finish.
- Heat 1 tablespoon ghee or oil in a heavy-bottomed saucepan, or dutch oven, over medium heat and add the cumin seeds. When they crackle after a minute or two, add asafetida, if using, and stir for 30 seconds. Immediately add the onion and sauté until translucent; about 5 to 7 minutes.
- Add the ginger garlic paste and sauté for about 30 seconds to a minute, stirring constantly, or until the paste no longer smells raw. Immediately add turmeric, cumin, coriander, and ground chili and cook for 2 minutes.
- Add tomato puree, and cook for 6 minutes, until the mixture darkens slightly and becomes a thick paste. Add a tablespoon or more of water, if the masala is sticking to the bottom of the pan.
- Season with salt and garam masala and add water if your sauce is too thick. I often add 1/4 cup or more to have a good consistency.
- Add your vegetables or meat, and cook over medium heat until they are done. The time will vary depending on what vegetables or meat you are using, and if they have been precooked. If you have time, allow to sit over a very low flame for 5 minutes to allow the spices to flavor to mix and mingle.
- Taste for enough salt, garam masala, ground chili, or mellow it out with a tablespoon, or two of cream, or yogurt if you feel it is needed. Garnish with a generous sprinkling of coarsely chopped fresh cilantro, a swirl of yogurt, and serve with a simple rice and your favorite Indian bread.
- Keeping: the sauce will keep in your refrigerator for a week, or in the freezer for 6 months.
- This basic curry recipe is enough for 1 pound meat or 6 cups of vegetables.
- Vegetarian options:
- Chickpeas (chana dal)
- Kidney beans
- Corn or peas as an accent
- Meat: If you are using meat that has not been cooked, it is a good idea to brown the meat before adding to your curry. Any meat you want to use works. If you are in a rush, ideally some leftover rotisserie chicken, but if cooking the chicken yourself, boneless chicken thighs cut into 2-inch pieces would be my go-to choice.
- Garnishes are up to you and what can take the dish from good to great:
- Toasted cashews
- Chopped cilantro
- Sev: small crunchy noodles made from chickpea flour and spices. They have spicy and not very spicy sev. I like Haldiram's Bhujia sev, tastes good and not too spicy.
- A dollop of yogurt
- Mint or coconut chutney
- The step that takes the longest is cooking the onions. If you are one of those organized people and have cooked a big batch of browned onions and stored in the freezer, then you are special and I am jealous. Do not hurry the onions along because you are building flavor! A pinch of salt added in the beginning will hasten the cooking time.
- Do not use canned diced tomatoes; many brands add something to keep the cubes intact and that is not what you want in a curry. If you are going canned, and I do most often, use tomato puree (not tomato paste). It will cook faster, and most of the time, if you’ve finely minced your onions, you won’t feel the need to purée the sauce.
- Don’t forget you can freeze this sauce, so doubling or even tripling the ingredients will work beautifully.
- Make this curry vegan by using oil instead of ghee, and adding a splash of coconut milk, instead of cream or yogurt, if you feel it is needed.
- If you want a slightly more full-flavored curry consider adding:
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
- 1 teaspoon paprika, smoked or not
- 2 crushed green cardamon
- If you want this recipe to swing to South India:
- Replace the water and cream with coconut milk
- Add 10 coarsely chopped curry leaves with the tomatoes
- If you want to thicken this sauce without cream, soak 2 tablespoons of cashews in water for 15 minutes, add with the tomato, then puree before adding your meat or vegetables. Or, even quicker and simpler, at 1 1/2 tablespoons of tomato paste.