“Curry” — and I use the scare quotes for good reason — has long been a feature of Anglo-Australian cookery. My Nanna used to make something she called curry, and so did my parents. As far as I can tell, none of them bore much resemblance at all to what you might actually find in India.
The epitome of these curries are the ones you find in places like the Country Women’s Association cookbook. Here’s an example from their “Cooking for 50″ section:
Curry for 50
- 6 kg (12 lb) topside steak
- 1 kg (2 lb) brown onions
- 1 kg (2 lb) carrots
- 1 kg (2 lb) apples
- 1/2 tin plum jam
- 1 kg (2 lb) bananas (optional)
- small tin pineapple
- 250gr (1/2 lb) sultanas
- 250gr (1/2 lb) shelled almonds (optional)
- 1 small tin curry powder
- 500gr (1 lb) margarine
Dice onions and fry in margarine. Add curry powder, meat, vegetables, apple, pineapple, and jam, salt and pepper to taste. Cover with water, simmer gently, stirring frequently. Serve with rice, using 2kg (4lb) rice.
I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. It was all okay up until the plum jam and then it just went into a world of “ewww”.
My Nanna’s curries weren’t quite as ghastly as this — I don’t remember plum jam featuring in them — but they did contain things like sausages and sultanas. The classic Australian Nanna curry is semi-sweet, mildly spiced with a sort of nondescript curry powder, and made from very Anglo sorts of vegetables (and, on occasion, fruits).
Well, it might be 2012, but I still make what I call “Nanna curry”, and although I’ve adapted it for what’s in my own pantry it still follows the basic rule of using only ingredients available in the least ethnic of Australian supermarkets.
Here’s last night’s recipe. Of course I vary it every time, but this one’s quite typical, and came out very tasty.
- 1 brown onion, diced
- slosh of vegetable oil
- 2 spoonfuls curry powder
- 1 tin diced tomatoes
- 1 tin coconut milk
- a little water (enough to rinse the cans out then add to the pot)
- 1-2 cans chickpeas (or equivalent cooked from dry)
- 2 potatoes, in 1″ dice
- 2 carrots, cut into chunks
- 1/2 cauliflower, cut into small florets
- 1 cup frozen peas
- salt to taste
Saute the onions in the oil til translucent. Throw in a couple of spoonfuls of curry powder and stir until fragrant. How big a spoonful? I don’t know. Spoon sized. I used two extra-heaped teaspoonfuls — not a measuring teaspoon, but one I use to make a cup of tea — of this stuff:
The classic brand is Keen’s curry powder, but I bought these other ones just to try them out and they’re not bad. I tend to mix hot and mild together for my Nanna curry. The essential point of a Nanna curry powder is that it shouldn’t say what kind of curry powder it is. It’s just curry powder, okay? (Though if you had to, I think a mild Madras curry powder would be fairly close.)
Once the curry powder is doing that fragrant thing it does, I toss in a can of tomatoes and one of coconut milk, then slosh a bit of water in the cans to rinse them out and pour that in too.
To be honest it doesn’t much matter what liquid you use here — you just want about a litre of it. Could be plain water, stock, whatever. I’ve become a big fan of the creamy sweetness of the tomato+coconut blend, but that’s because I’m a modern Australian cook who has coconut milk in her pantry at all times and to me it counts as a no-brainer. If you’re not that person, then there are other options available to you. The point is that you need about a litre (4 cups) of liquid to cook in, and you’ll want something to creamify the sauce a bit. One classic Nanna option is a couple of spoonfuls of dessicated coconut, which I guess does the same thing as the coconut milk. Or if you want, you can stir in a little cream or yoghurt at the end of cooking, or some cornflour/cornstarch mixed with a little water to thicken it up. If you are using meat, you can flour the meat early on, and that’ll thicken the sauce as it goes.
Wait, meat? Let me explain. My ingredients list above uses chickpeas, but there are all kinds of other protein options. Staying on the vegetarian theme, you could use some diced firm tofu and add it at the same time as the vegetables. If you prefer meat lamb would be excellent, and very typical of a Nanna curry, but if lamb is a costly delicacy where you are, then don’t do that. Use whatever is a cheap staple. Chicken would be fine, beef would be fine, pork would be fine. Curried sausages are a Nanna tradition, and they could be pork or lamb or beef (or tofu for that matter). Just cut whatever meat you’re using into chunks and brown it before you add the onions (or, for sausages, brown first then cut into chunks, so it doesn’t disintegrate). If you want your meat to help thicken up the sauce, non-sausage meats can be tossed in flour before browning. For sausages, you can add a spoonful of flour when you add the curry powder. Then proceed as above.
Once you’ve got the liquid in the pot, go through your fridge and put in whatever vegies need using up. If they’re the sort of vegies that might be found in a 1950s meat-and-three-veg meal, so much the better. Potatoes, carrots, peas, of course. Cauliflower, as I used. Swede (rutabaga) is a classic. Parsnip or celeriac or kohlrabi. Broccoli or zucchini or green beans. Chopped kale or silverbeet/chard or any other leafy thing you happen to feel like. Tomatoes or peppers. Chokoes, also known as chayote in the Americas. Sweet corn kernels. An authentic Nanna would probably add apples and/or sultanas (raisins) at this point, and a bit of sweetness is definitely a nice touch, though I find that the coconut milk and frozen peas I use are enough for me. The less said about plum jam or tinned pineapples the better.
I put the chickpeas in at this point, too. If you’re using any protein that’s pre-cooked or ready-to-eat (including leftover meat from another meal, say, or cubed tofu, or whatever) then you can chuck it in at the same time as the vegies.
Cook until cooked. Your vegies should be however done you like them. For me that’s usually until the potatoes and carrots are fork-stick-able, which is conveniently about how long it takes to cook a batch of basmati. If some of your vegies will cook more quickly than others, put the slow ones in first and add the others a little later.
Right at the end, adjust the flavours by adding salt (it may need quite a bit if none of the ingredients was salted) and, if you didn’t add any earlier and want to, some kind of creaminess for the sauce. As I mentioned, you could swirl in some thick cream, yoghurt, or a spoonful of cornstarch whisked with a bit of water in a glass. If you’re doing the cornstarch, let it simmer a few minutes to thicken, but for dairy it’s better to wait til you’ve turned off the heat before you add it.
Looks alright, doesn’t it? We ended up eating this with a quite authentic Indian lemon pickle. The quantities I gave make a generous 6 serves, so there were enough leftovers for a few more meals. It tastes even better on the second day.
Incidentally, when I googled “Nanna curry” (as a phrase) before posting this, the only other recipe I found under that name was Beth’s Nanna’s curry, which you’ll see is very much along the same lines, and does actually include tinned pineapples. If anyone else has an authentic Nanna curry recipe, I’d love to hear it.