Food can be so confusing, or rather, food names can be so confusing. The moment people started shipping food around the world, this whole massive great mix-up started. People started misinterpreting names and everything went downhill from there.
Most recent confusion culprit: curry! What exactly is curry? Well, it all depends on whom you’re asking. Anyone from the UK will probably say it’s a dish consisting of a more or less spicy sauce with stuff in it. As for the cuisine of origin, the general consensus seems to be that curry is Indian, unless otherwise specified – Thai curry, Jamaican curry and Chinese curry are all valid dishes, but not the default options. Then there’s curry paste and curry powder, mixtures of spices that you can use to make your very own curry at home.
However, if you ask an Italian, they’ll tell you something entirely different. Here, curry is used to refer to a powder, one of the many spice mixtures used in Indian cuisine – not any one in particular, but rather all of them at once. It seems that curry is thought by many to be an actual spice, rather than a mixture of spices. My expectations of ‘pollo al curry’ and the dish that eventually showed up on the dinner table were, therefore, somewhat different. Also, imagine my confusion when I make a curry and my flatmates ask me if there’s curry in it. No, it is curry, what’s wrong with you?
So back to the question: what exactly is curry? It turns out the word ‘curry’ most likely comes from the Tamil word kari, meaning ‘sauce’. Any kind of sauce? It seems like it. Well, that doesn’t really help us. So let’s make something that isn’t really curry, but that requires curry. Not curry as a dish, only curry as an ingredient. If you still get what I’m on about.
Dal, or lentil soup! You can make the soup very thick and saucy so you can have it with chapati, bread, or even rice, or you can make it more liquid, to eat as a soup. I usually go for somewhere in between and dip my chapati or bread as I work my way through the bowl. You decide. Dal comes in many variations, this one’s my go-to recipe as it’s dead easy and delicious.
For a good pot full of soup, feeding 3 to four people, use:
- 300 gr red lentils
- about half a litre of water, then add more later if you need to
- 1 tin of coconut milk, so that’s 400 ml
- a couple of tomatoes, chopped
- some fresh chilies – obviously depending on the size and quality of the chilies and on your own taste, but don’t be stingy on the spicy, as the coconut milk balances out a lot
- 2 tsp of kurkuma
- 2 tsp of your favourite curry powder – I tend to use a Madras mixture for this one
- some oil for frying
- some onion for topping
- some fresh coriander
Put the spices, the chopped-up chilies, the lentils, the water, the coconut milk, the tomatoes and enough salt in a pot together, bring to a boil and leave to simmer for at least half an hour – the lentils need to be completely mushy and soft. Stir occasionally to make sure the lentils aren’t getting stuck to the bottom. Add water if you feel that the mixture is going too dry, and keep in mind that you decide on the consistency.
Meanwhile, chop up your onion. We’re going to deep-fry them, sort of! Heat about a centimetre and a half in a tiny wee saucepan, make sure it’s very hot, then chuck in the chopped onion. It’s OK if it goes a little brown. In fact, that’s what we’re aiming for. Once they’re looking decent and slightly crispy, fish them out and put them on a bit of paper towel to rid them of the worst of the oil.
Once your lentils are completely mushy, serve up the soup, topped with the fried onions and some fresh coriander.