• Easy British restaurant curry recipe

    April 23rd, 2008mr meanercurry, indian food, vegan stuff

    We British love our curry. For sure, a vindaloo is the British national dish over fish and chips – factually, more brits eat curry on a regular basis than any other cuisine. They say “you never miss what you never had”. Well, I’ve had it and I miss it, yearning frequently for a rainy evening where I can pop out of my local pub into the Bombay Palace restaurant across the road, and order an onion bhaji followed by vegetable vindaloo with pilau rice and a roti. Don’t get me wrong – there are Indian restaurants here in LA, but none of them come remotely close to the taste, texture and experience of a British curry.

    So, I set out to emulate the Great British Curry in my own kitchen, and I can tell you that I’ve come pretty close.

    Here’s a close-up of what you can expect:

    And here it is in a dish ready to be served:

    Within an hour of prep time I can make a curry dish that tastes so similar to a curry house back home that I can close my eyes after eating it and hear the patter of rain on the streets of London.

    The preparation isn’t easy and it did take me a couple of attempts to get it right, however, once you’ve experimented enough you can have an entirely authentic taste right in your own home. We’ve dedicated Sunday nights as “curry night”, when I prepare enough curry to fill us up on that occasion, take a little to work for lunch, and even freeze some for the next week.

    So, let’s get going. The ingredients are critically important to get right. Don’t substitute anything or else you’ll fuck the whole thing up and end up ordering pizza.

    INGREDIENTS (from left to right)

    • Sunflower oil
    • Dried curry leaves
    • Vegetable ghee
    • 2 tsp of mustard seeds, coriander seeds, 1/2 tsp of salt
    • Whole cardoman pods
    • Can of tomato paste
    • Ginger/garlic puree (or fresh, see later)
    • Red chili powder
    • Ground turmeric
    • Ground cumin seeds
    • Ground coriander seed
    • Whole cumin seed (also called jeera)
    • Fresh coriander (cilantro) [not pictured]
    • Two fresh tomatoes [not pictured]

    INGREDIENTS (vegetables)

    • Cauliflower
    • Two large onions
    • Four yellow potatoes
    • One large carrot
    • Ten green beans
    • 15 fresh Thai chiles (NOT Jalapenos)
    • Frozen peas (not pictured)

    Once you have everything together, the method below will virtually guarantee a good result. Read through it first, and check the notes at the end. There are a few caveats there that could save the day.


    Chop your onions as finely as you can. If possible, use a food processor to finely dice them.

    Put two cups of sunflower oil and 1/2 cup of vegetable ghee to a large, pot (or wok if you insist)

    Heat the oil until it’s as hot as you think it can go, then add two teaspoons of Cumin Seed (unground), then stir for a minute while they brown and toast

    Add the onions all in one go, and stir for 5 minutes with the heat on high. Getting the onion base right is critical for the end result. By this time you’ll have a greasy, oniony mess. That’s a good thing.

    Add ginger and garlic. You can chop it fresh if you like, but restaurants use it from a bottle so for the authentic taste, so should you. 2 tbsps of combined onion/garlic puree or one tbsp of each will be fine.

    Add at least eight finely chopped Thai chilies (for medium heat), or up to 20 chilies if you like your curry Phal hot.

    Add the seeds from three crushed cardamom pods

    Add a tablespoon of dried curry leaves, stir well in

    Reduce the heat slightly, and cook briskly for 15 minutes stirring like you’ve never stirred before until everything gets very mushy

    Prepare 2 tsp each of Mustard seeds, Turmeric, Cumin and Coriander powders

    Add the spice powders to the pot

    Stir the spices VERY WELL into the onions and oil. Ensure everything is well mixed in.

    Reduce the heat to a high simmer and keep stirring for a further 5 minutes

    By now, your kitchen should be smelling like an curry house back in Blighty, and when you look at the curry it should be starting to turn a yellowish brown. Be careful not to over cook the curry at this point. Certainly nothing should be getting brown or burning in the base of the pot.

    At this stage you can optionally add your favorite curry powder – maybe a tbsp or two. I recommend something like Cartwrights or Mangal. Dark curry powder (especially a unique one from India) can make a huge difference, but use a small amount to start with and build up over successive recipes if you like where the flavor is going.

    Add a small can of tomato puree, and three cups of water, four if you like your curry ‘saucy’, then bring the mixture back to the boil

    COVER your pot. Leave it covered from now on unless you’re stirring or adding shit

    Simmer lightly stirring once per minute for 20 minutes (never said this was a fast, easy recipe). By now the curry should look very tasty, and the smell should be much more like the real thing.

    The sauce is almost done! Simmer on low for a further five minutes, and the sauce itself will be ready to eat.

    Next, chop your vegetables.

    The order in which you put the vegetables in is critical, otherwise you’ll end up with dissolved cauliflower (it really does vaporize if you overcook it, trust me) and crunchy potatoes.

    Add chopped potatoes, bring back to the boil and simmer for 10 minutes stirring occasionally

    Add chopped cauliflower florets, chopped carrot and green beans, boil again and simmer for another 10 minutes with the occasional prod/stir

    Add a cup of some frozen peas (a cup, maybe)

    Add a teaspoon of red chili powder, and some extra finely chopped chilies if you like it HOT HOT HOT. This extra spice at the end is how they spice up curries in restaurants (they usually cook one sauce and add stuff in at the end to flavor or spice it). If you like spicy curries in Britain, you should add some extra heat at this stage.

    Add three quartered tomatoes

    Finally, reduce the heat to the lowest level, and simmer for a further five minutes

    You’ll know you’re almost done when your curry looks like the picture below. I recommend testing the vegetables with a fork and (better!) your mouth to ensure that they are all cooked properly.

    To serve, put on a bed of pilau rice, and garnish with fresh Coriander (finely chopped, can’t put too much on).


    • British curries are saucy and greasy (you remember the grease floating on the top, yes?). They have millions of calories when you eat them in a restaurant (that’s why they taste so good), and should have the same when you eat them at home. If you’re on a health streak, eat LESS good food, not more crappy diet food.
    • Don’t put in too many vegetables. The curry by volume should be between 40-60% sauce, and the rest vegetables
    • Make sure the vegetables are cut artistically – you need to cut along vein lines, and keep florets small and easily edible so they cook all the way through. The only exception is the carrot, which can be a little coarse
    • Make it spicy. Remember the Madras and Vindaloo from the streets of Britain? Well, America should be no different. Americans are notorious for not liking hot foods, which is a pity
    • Don’t burn the spices too early. When you start to smell the curry house smell, nurture it carefully. The aromas should be preserved by balancing the temperature, duration and frequency of stirring. I’ve found that the most important thing is to stir constantly and keep covered so your curry doesn’t dry out
    • Color is important. In Britain, curries are mid-brown to red in color. This is a combination of cumin as it cooks, turmeric and tomatoes. We have all the things in our recipe, but if you’re finding the color a little light add some more turmeric and cumin next time you prepare.
    • DO NOT be tempted and add spices toward the end, with the exception of Garam Masala and/or chili powder. Under-cooked cumin and coriander taste VILE, and should be avoided at all costs. You doubt me? Go ahead and taste some straight from the container they come in. YUK!
    • Talking of Garam Masala, it’s a GREAT addition toward the end of cooking, but use 1/2 a tsp at the very most as it’s pretty strong in taste

    Check out Quarrygirl.com over the coming days to see other recipes to complete your authentic Indian dish:

    1. Pilau Rice (exactly as you like it, complete with all the colors)
    2. Tofu Saag (Cal-Asian version of Paneer Saag)
    3. Popadum preparation (all those chutneys and cucumber/onion things you get before a meal)
    4. Cooking a roti (making your own roti!)

    Also, here’s an image gallery of additional pictures from the curry night involving some of the above dishes.

    HUGE thanks to Curry Recipes Online in the UK for inspiration and hints without which this recipe would not exist.

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10 responses to “Easy British restaurant curry recipe” RSS icon

  • Ok, couple of questions and statements:

    This curry took me two hours! I thought I read somewhere it takes you one hour. Anywho, can’t complain it was well worth it.

    Your list of ingredients includes: Mustard seeds, coriander seeds, & cumin seeds, then you state “Prepare 2 tsp each of Turmeric, Cumin and Coriander powders.” You grind your own? Aw shiz, I just bought the powders.

    Speaking of mustards seeds, it was listed in your ingredients but then no mention of how much or when to add.

    Speaking of tsp, I mistakenly added to 2 TABLESPOONS of turmeric, cumin and coriander powders instead of teaspoons. What can I say, I was drinking and the curry was still yum.

    Only other I changes I made were I used fresh curry leaves instead of dried and canola oil instead of sunflower.

    I loved the curry! It made a bunch so I’m going to freeze some of it. Thanks for the recipe.

  • Adriana – glad you liked the recipe. Yeah, can take between one and two hours, depending upon how long things take to cook, and how fast you are with the preparation. I’m like you — just pile in the powders as I’m too lazy to grind anything. The fresh leaves and canola are cool, but it was probably a little healthier than it should be 😛

    I will update the recipe about mustard seeds. Thanks for pointing it out.

  • Wow, that looks really good. I agree that a good spicy curry is hard to find in the states. I’ve found one good place in San Francisco where the curries are covered in pools of grease and they actually make them spicy enough, but it is an hour drive from where I live, so I don’t go unless I’m already in the area. This is a recipe I’ve wanted for a long time.

  • Oh I have to try this! I have never actually had a real British curry despite my partner of almost 3 years being from England.

    I really can not find vegetable ghee where I live though, can I use margarine or just more oil?

  • You know, sometimes I crave food that feels like a warm hug… Well, I defrosted a batch of this curry a couple of days ago and had it for dinner last night… WOW… Warm hug indeed. It wasn’t as thick as the first time around but I assume it was because of the defrosting process, but I have to tell you, it was p-h-e-n-o-m-e-n-a-l!

    Omni husband kept saying how awesome it was. =D

  • >>Americans are notorious for not liking hot foods, which is a pity.

    Excuse me but where did you get this bit of misinformation? Like most blanket statements, it’s way off base. Come to Texas and I’ll show you some gringos eating foood that will melt your fillings — Mexican, Thai, Indian, Ethiopian — we love it all. PS: your curry looks and sounds awesome.

  • hey

    nice recipe! i love the pictures and how it is detailed..

    one question though.. you say 2 CUPS of oil and then still some extra ghee?

    it doesn’t look like it in the pan that you use so much, or is it really 2 cups? that’s a lot of oil hehe



  • “Don’t substitute anything or else you’ll fuck the whole thing up and end up ordering pizza.”

    Well that’s ‘putting it in a nutshell’ 😉
    Lets us know where we stand right from the start! I like you no nonsense approach to cooking…

  • Thank you so much for this great recipe! I featured it on my blog as part of a post on BIR: http://www.picturebritain.com/2011/10/bir-secrets-of-british-indian.html

    Thank again!

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