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David Swan's Curry Recipes

David Swan made the curries and accompaniments for an unbelievably-good curry meal at our Kodai '55 reunion. Here are some of his Indian recipes. -Jo

The basis of all curries is the masala. This basic paste has all of the major spices for the curry, regardless of type. The mixtures used give the curries their individual character and in India vary from family to family. The preparation is not governed by any specific measure of the individual spices since they change with each use but rather the development of a taste that the cook learns to match each time they cook. The spices and quantities listed are only a starting point for the development of your individual curry.

Masala for a POT of curry (roughly 2 pounds of meat or chicken):

1 Large yellow (strong) onion
6-8 full cloves of garlic (The clove should be about 1/2 inch at the widest, more cloves if they are smaller. Easy peal - crush the clove with the flat of a knife and the husk will slip right off. Remove the nub.)

Place onions and garlic in a food processor and process on high until a smooth mush.

Ginger 2 "cubes." Keeping fresh ginger on hand is expensive and its shelf life is short. Obtain 2 pounds of fresh ginger. Scrape off all of the outer skin and cut off the dried open ends. Slice thinly across the grain of the fibers and place in a blender about a 1/3 cup at a time and pulse blend to a fine chop. Add a small amount of vegetable oil bit by bit until the ginger just smoothly rotates through the blades with the blender on high. When fully blended to a smooth paste, put in ice cube tray. When frozen transfer the cubes to a doubled-sealed plastic bag and keep in freezer until needed.

In a large skillet with a small amount of vegetable oil (I use PLAIN olive, not virgin) add onions, garlic and ginger and sauté until clear but not browned. Then add spices as a medium thick sauce in cold water. (Remember quantities are only a suggestion)

Madras Style Curry powder 1/3 to 1/2 cup
Garam masala - 1-3 tsp. depending on strength and intensity since each prep varies
Coriander - 1 tsp.
Ground cardamom - 1/2 tsp.
Fenugreek - 1/4- to 1/2 tsp,
Cumin varies but some curry powders re low in this spice to my taste - 0 -1 1/2 tsp.
Cinnamon - 2 tsp.
Ground Cloves - 1 tsp.

Stir with cooking and add water a little at a time until you have a thick paste. Cook for at least ten minutes with constant stirring. Taste to see if the spices are cooked and adjust the balance of the spices.

Add diced meat or chicken pieces and cook with almost constant stirring until the meat looks done on the outside (10 - 15 minutes). (Please see meat prep to follow.)

Add 1 to 2 cups of stock, 1 can (12+/- oz) of canned tomato sauce and one can (12+/- oz) of first pressing coconut milk. Or make you own coconut milk - 1/3 fresh coconut meat with brown layer removed in blender, chop. Add 1 1/2 cups of boiling water. Blend on high for 3 minutes, rest 2 and repeat. Transfer to large wire strainer with 6 layers of cheesecloth lining it. Allow to drain and then squeeze out all juice by twisting the cloth (wear gloves--it's HOT). The remaining ground-up coconut can be reprocessed in the same manner but a thinner milk results. It can be used where more liquid is wanted (i.e. in prawn curry). This can be saved frozen for many months.

Add 1 tsp. Tamarind concentrate.

Salt to taste (I generally use bulk bullion for this which adds more flavor, beef and chicken mixed for lamb)

Also note the tomato taste. It could be quite sharp and 1 Tbs. of sugar may be needed to correct.

Bring to a boil with stirring and then simmer 30 minutes with occasional stirring. (I usually put a cast iron griddle under my pot at this time to reduce the chance of sticking and burning).

Now the curry is ready for vegetables, none, or a mix, or one of the following go well.

Potatoes (tend to soak up the spices so if you are going to use them use more spices in your masala, al so can help if you overshot on your spices and you are afraid the fire department will be called).
Green beans (like the Italian style, milder flavor and quicker to cook),
Okra sliced,
Eggplant (ALWAYS PEEL since frequently the peals can be quite bitter).
Summer squash or Zucchini.
But any can be used. If using multiple, put the longest to cook in first. Despite its deceptive look eggplant takes quite a while to cook.

Simmer with periodic stirring until vegetables are done. Adjust salt and spices as needed. If more curry powder, coriander, cumin etc. are needed, cook them first in a small amount of water for 5-6 minutes before adding to the curry. Cinnamon and cloves don't generally need this unless a large amount is needed. Onion and garlic powder are a great way to correct inadequacy of these elements.

"Finishing" the curry.
For meat curries you need to purchase meat with a bone, 1/2 pound generally per person. Trim the fat and remove the bone then cube the meat and refrigerate. Crack the bone (if you can) then place it and all the trimmings in 2 cups of cold water with 4 bay leaves (neam if you can get them) and cook in a pressure cooker x 30 minutes of full pressure. Strain off the liquids into a tall container and refrigerate until the fat separates. For chicken you remove the skin and any fat, add to 2+ cups of water with the same amount of bay leaves and the simmer covered for a half hour. Separate and continue as with the meat stock. Use the stock as noted above. Preserve the fat to make a roux. The roux (a Cajun cooking invention) is made by heating the fat in a skillet and cooking off all water. Then add enough all purpose flour (the amount depends on how much fat you have) to make a medium sauce and cook with constant stirring for about 15 minutes until the flour just starts to brown. This is the roux.

Add the roux to the curry with constant stirring with the curry at a light boil. Add enough so that you have a smooth slightly thickened consistency. This adds lots of flavor and a lovely smooth constancy to the curry.

I donšt, but some people like to add a tsp. of cinnamon and 1/2 tsp. of cloves at this point and simmer for just a minute. This brings these spices right "up front".

Add 1/2 cup sour cream. Stir in well and you are ready to serve.

Baked Chicken Breasts:

Follow the basic recipe above with the following changes. Use whole chicken breasts (with bone). Skin and then put them into the masala as you would for a regular curry but only cook for about five minutes turning them frequently to fully coat them with the masala. Then transfer the breasts to a cookie sheet and cover with aluminum foil tightly. Place in a 350 degree oven and bake for 45 minutes or until done, the last 10 minutes uncovered to brown at the end.

In the meantime finish up your masala adding stock etc. as in a regular recipe. When it comes to adding the vegetables, reserve about 1/3 for a plain curry sauce to go over the chicken. The other 2 thirds get the veggies. One way is to use peas and when they are almost cooked add 1/2 inch squares of farmers cheese, (no sour cream needed), but do finish with the chicken roux to give a great flavor. Finish the sauce for the chicken as usual with roux and sour cream but adjusted amounts.


Generally done with a mild white fish. Caution - CURRY DOES NOT DISGUISE STRONG FISHY FLAVORS!! Salmon also can be done very well with the modification noted. Fish curries are not done with vegetables generally and are done more like a fish with sauce (i.e. smaller amounts of the curry sauce).

Start with you basic masala but about 1/2 the quantity. Cook as with a regular curry. When done, add one large can of tomato sauce (approx. 3 cups) and 1 can of first pressing coconut milk. 1 tsp. Tamarind concentrate. Simmer on very low heat.

Taste for salt, spice and tomato acidity and correct usually at least 1 tbs. sugar is needed.

Prepare a roux:
Gee - 4 oz (or using unsalted butter 5 oz and then cook off the water and then add to the frying pan).
All purpose flour - 1/4 cup
Cook over low heat with constant stirring until the flour just starts to brown.

Add enough of the roux to give a smooth moderately thick sauce. Simmer with stirring for several more minutes until the sauce is smooth and creamy.

Add fish as "two bite" sized pieces and simmer until just done, remove the fish, add 1/3 cup sour cream stir in, bring the heat back up, replace the fish, bring to a simmer and then serve.

Everything else for the meal should be prepared and ready to go before adding the fish since the curry should be served immediately when done, it does not hold well.


For salmon, wash, remove the skin, cut into "2 to 3 bite" sized pieces. Brush with the curry sauce and then place under the broiler for about 3 minutes, each side. Then place into the simmering sauce until just done (about 5 minutes) serve immediately. For those who can tolerate it add about 1 tsp. (or more if they are like me and like it hot) of chili powder to the masala.

Prawn curry:

1/2 a recipe of masala cooked with can of tomato sauce (12 +/- oz).
Correct for spice and for tomato acidity. Add salt to taste.
Add 1/2 tsp. Tamarind concentrate.

Clean and devein the prawns or shrimp. The large freshwater ones are lovely, but once down in Houston I went to the wharf and bought some very large shrimp just off the boat, Yumm. Usually 1/2 pound per person.

Prepare your roux as with a fish curry.

Bring to a simmer 1 can of first pressing coconut milk and one can of second pressing (commercially it will say only coconut milk, it's cheaper). Add the shrimp and simmer for a few minutes. Just as they start to turn pink.

Add the prawns with the milk to the masala mix and stir in and bring to a simmer.

Stir the roux in right after the prawns are added so that both can cook at the same time.

Add your sour cream (two large dollops) and stir in. Correct salt and serve.


Basic recipe makes six 7x7 inch chapattis.

Whisk together 2 cups of whole wheat graham flour, one cup all purpose flour (and frankly I have always had better results with Gold Medal) and two tsp. salt until fully mixed.

Make a well in the flour and add enough cold water to make a soft dough. Since I never measure the amount but add about a half cup and then more as needed, I canšt give you an exact amount but you want a soft and moderately sticky dough. Turn this out onto a heavily white floured surface, and kneed in until smooth, elastic and no longer sticky, adding about 1/2 cup more white flour.

Refrigerate in a plastic bag 30 minutes.

Remove the dough and again kneed until it regains its elasticity.

On a floured surface roll it out to about a 3/16 inch thickness in a oblong shape. Cut into 6 equal sized pieces.

Heat a quarter pound unsalted butter until all solids and water are removed (gee).

Each piece of rolled dough is treated in the same manner.

Using a brush, paint the entire surface with a thin layer of gee. Fold over 1/3 of the dough onto the remainder. Paint the fresh surface with gee, fold over the single 1/3 onto the previously folded 1/3. You now have the dough folded three layers high and only 1/3 the surface area. Paint the surface again and fold it 1/3 over lengthwise. Paint the unbuttered surface and fold the other end over it. This gives you a square (approx.) piece of dough 9 layers high. Do this to all of the pieces of rolled dough.

On a floured surface now roll out each square of dough to again about 3/16 inch thick square, turning and rotating it to achieve this effect.

When all are rolled heat your griddle to moderately hot, butter, and fry each until rich dark brown spots develop. The bread will puff up as the layers separate from the steam developing in the cooking dough.

Serve warm.


Fast method:

Place 1 cup of yellow split (chick) peas dry in a blender cover and blend on high until they are a powder. Remove from the blender and place in saucepan.

Add 1/2 medium onion and 3 cloves of garlic, 2 tsp. Curry powder, 1 tsp. turmeric. And blend till smooth. Add to sauce pan.

Stir in 4 cups canned unsalted chicken stock and 1 well rounded tsp. chicken bullion.

With constant stirring bring to a boil until it starts to thicken and stabilize then reduce to a simmer and cook for about 30 minutes with regular stirring on low until the peas are cooked and the moisture absorbed. Adjust spices and salt

Slow method:

Do not blend the peas but put all of the ingredients in a crock pot. Start on high until simmering, then reduce to low and cook 6-8 hours. Stir vigorously to mash up the peas. Adjust spices and salt. Serve


6 bananas pealed, cut up and blended with 1 can of first pressing coconut milk

1 pint 1/2 and 1/2, 2 1/2 cups fine semolina, 2 tsp. ground cardamom blended until smooth.

Place the above into a large skillet and stir in 1 1/2 cups sugar. Start at low heat and bring to a boil and keep cooking until it thickens and pulls away form the sides as a firm mass.

Add 4 oz salted butter cut into pieces with constant stirring over heat until all is full absorbed and integrated into the firm mass.

Turn out into an oblong glass baking dish and smooth out. Dress with crumbled cashew nuts and cool. Cut into squares for serving.

Short Bread.

Cream 5 oz. unsalted butter with 1/2 cup sugar.
Sift together 1 cup fine semolina, 1/2 cup all-purpose flour, and 1 tsp. Cardamom.

Add to creamed butter sugar and mix thoroughly.

Cover and let stand 30 minutes.

Form into a desired shape or press into a square to be later cut using a serrated knife like a bread knife when cooled,

Bake at 350 degrees for 30-35 minutes or until just beginning to brown


The only thing that I have to add here is that for the yogurt I use 1/3 sour cream since it is very difficult to get whole milk yogurt in a regular store.

For spicing of 1 cup of yogurt I use 1 tbs. of dry ranch dressing mix and 1/4 tsp. of finely grated ginger.

Onion tomato:

Finely chop up 1 medium onion, 1 large ripe tomato and 1 large clove of garlic very finely chopped. Mix and add 2 tsp. dried coriander leaves, 1 tsp. Tamarind concentrate, 2 tbs. sugar (to taste) and 1/2 tsp. chili powder. Let stand at least 1 hour before using.