Mamta's Kitchen

Forum Thread - Basic curry questions

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Ben, on 12/8/2017 07:28pm


I made the basic curry last night and it turned out great!

I have a few questions and comments:

1. I made the garam masala in a grinder according to Mamta's recipe. However, I didn't realize there are different types of bay leaves. I used the Mediterranean variety (Bay laurel / Laurus nobili) but today I found there is an Indian bay leaf (Cinnamomum tamala) which is from a different species of tree and apparently has a completely different aroma, more like cinnamon. Is this the type that should be used? It tasted fine with the bay laurel variety, but perhaps this isn't authentic. The photos on the garam masala recipe page appear to show Mediterranean bay leaves...

2. One trick I used to brown onions quicker is to add a pinch or two of baking soda as they are frying. This raises the pH of the onions speeds up the Maillard reaction - they brown much quicker.

3. If I use whole spices at the start (tempering), should I still use the garam masala at the end? Or is it better to just do one or the other.

4. When I ground up the garam masala, and used a sieve to remove the fibers, I ended up with quite a lot of fibrous material leftover in the sieve (about a third of what I started with) - just threw this out. Is that normal?



Mamta, on 14/8/2017 06:58am

Hello Ben

Here is a full answer to your question.

1. Yes, the Indian bay leaf is different that it has palmate veins on it. The recipe shows leaves dried from the bay laurel tree in my garden in the south og England. It may be stronger in flavour, but to be honest, I can’t smell the difference between dry Indian and Mediterranean Bay leaves. If you open a packet of Indian bay leaves and smell it, there isn’t much aroma there. I am told that it releases its flavour in hot oil, but I have never tried that on its own, always with rest of the GM whole spices. You can try to add a couple of bay leaves to hot oil and see and then come and tell us too.

2. Adding baking powder to frying onions seems like a good trick! Perhaps you should share it on

3. The whole spices have quite strong flavour, so you don't often need powder GM. But you can add ground GM at the end too, if you like its really intense and ‘raw’ flavour. I often do this to meat curries. The best thing is to try and see if you like it.

4. Grind the fibrous material a couple more times, sieving each time so more GM is extracted from it. In the end, only a small amount is left, good for only compost bin. I will add this note to the recipe, it is a good point.

Best wishes


Helen Bach, on 14/8/2017 03:33pm

in my opinion, as Mamta has said, the flavour of dried leaves is lacking. Ben, you are correct about Indian and Med bay leaves, totally different. Ironically, Indian bay (Tej patta) has a flavour of cassia, while Med bay has a flavour of green cardamom. As my own GM has both green cardamom and cassia in it (along with mace and cloves, only those four) I don't have any need for leaves.

My own thoughts about GM is to add the powder at the start of the cooking, after the onions/garlic/ginger/chillies have been added and their water driven off. The flavours from the GM spices have to be extracted into the oil/fat/ghee.

As regards the fibres left, I used to have the same problem, until I bought a new coffee/spice grinder. The new blades made short work of any fibrous material.

The browning of onions being faster with bicarb is a puzzle to me. We fry the onions to drive off the water in them, so, when adding spices, we cook in oil and not a water based liquid. Bicarb would only make the liquid more alkaline if water were present, as any carbon dioxide liberated by heat would not enter into the Maillard reaction.

Ben, on 15/8/2017 04:19am

Thanks Mamta for the detailed response. I'm glad to know that using regular bay leaves is still authentic. Next time I'm at the local Indian market I'll see if they have the other variety to try.

I've made the curry twice now - once with tempering the whole spices in oil and once without. I definitely noticed a much stronger flavor when I used the whole spices plus garam masala at the end - tasted fantastic. I also tried making chapatis, but will need practice since they didn't puff up much.

Thanks again for sharing the great recipes!


Mamta, on 15/8/2017 07:01am

Hello Helen

The way people use GM is so different, but I tend to stick to the traditional, north Indian way, that is to add it at the end. In curries with gravy, oil floats to the top at the end. GM is added to it at the end, so mixes with this hot oil.

My view about these things is that people should experiment and do whatever works for them. There are so many roads to Rome :)!

You are right, there is not much fibre left with a strong grinder and I don’t mind throwing away a tiny amount of fibre/husk left at the end.

No comments about bicarb from me. Not being a chemist, I don’t understand this ;)

Hello Helen

The way people use GM is so different in different parts of India and different families. I tend to stick to the traditional, north Indian way, that is to add it at the ground GM at then end and whole one at the beginning. In curries with gravy, oil floats to the top at the end. So GM is added to it at the end, mixes with this hot oil. Old generations didn't know the chemistry, but had learnt this by trial and error I guess!

My view about these things, and many other practices in cooking, is that people should experiment and do whatever works for them. There are so many roads to Rome :)!

You are right, there is not much fiber left when grinding GM with a strong grinder and I don’t mind throwing away a tiny amount of fiber/husk left at the end.

No comments about bicarb from me, because not being a chemist, I don’t understand this ;)

Hello Ben

I often use whole GM spices plus garam masala at the end when making rich curries, for that extra burst of flavour. Adding a little GM to dals after the ‘tarka’, so it falls into hot ghee/oil on top, also gives a nice flavour to the dals.

Chapatties need to be rolled out from center out, so the center is slightly thicker than the periphery. If the center is too thin, they will not balloon up or if they begin to, they will burst. So hold the rolling pin handles in a loose grip and roll it from center out. The other thing is cooking correctly. Place on the griddle and wait for it to change to slightly darker colour. Turn it over. This side should not have any brown spots or have very few spots. Let the other side cook until there are several brown spots on it.

Now cook it on a flame or a pan:

To cook on a pan, turn it over and after a few seconds, press it gently with a kitchen towel, from outside to center, gently pressing on any small ballooning you see. This way, the hot air will gradually fill the whole chapatti.

To cook on a flame, pick it with tongs and put it directly on a flame, with un-spotted side onto the flame. You have to move it around and from side to side quite swiftly. If you see any steam escaping, press over it with tongs to seal it. It is all about allowing the small air pockets to get hot, expand and balloon the rest of the chapatti.

Good luck!

Carol, on 31/10/2018 10:09pm

I’d be very grateful for any advice you can give.

I sadly had to toss most of my Indian recipes (sob) as my husband can no longer eat tomatoes so I was delighted to find your suggestion to use yoghurt and paprika (for colour) instead of tomatoes.

But, if doing this then:

1- when would I add the yoghurt? Is it added at the step I would normally add the tomatoes or only near the end of cooking?

2- If I added it at the end then should I add more than 2 teaspoons water at the tomato step?

3- if using yoghurt instead of the tomatoes can I still freeze the sauce?

Would you also mind telling me if the ‘chilli powder” you mention is the sort we have here in Australia (ie ground chillies) or the American type which seems to be just a mix of spices.

Helen Bach, on 31/10/2018 10:45pm

Hi Carol

chilli powder in an Indian context (and lets face, any cuisine outside of America) is just (hopefully) ground chilli fruit, whereas 'chilli' in America means a spice mix used in making chilli con carne.

I don't use chilli powder, I use either fresh raw chillies, or a chilli paste, often called sambal olek, which is Indonesian. I have made my own paste with chillies, salt and vinegar, then liquidized.

I have come to the conclusion that tomatoes in Indian food is a relatively recent thing, but now seems to be ubiquitous. Another souring agent you may find useful is tamarind paste. Should be available in Oz, but get the paste (in a bottle) not raw, which needs far more preparation. It's also the base of brown sauce, like HP.

Mamta, on 1/11/2018 07:31am

Carol, I have seen your question and will write a reply later. I am rather rushed at the moment. So please check later today or in a day or two.

Mamta, on 2/11/2018 05:06pm

Hello Carol

I am sorry that your husband can not eat tomatoes any longer, but that is not the end of Indian cooking :).

By ‘Curry’ you mean dishes with a sauce? Because most stir-fried type of vegetable dishes are called Bhaji on my website and Bhaji or sabji or tarkari in northern India, where I come from. Bhajies are almost always made without tomatoes in my house. The curries, or dishes with a sauce are the things where use of tomatoes has exploded in recent years. They are tasty and colourful, but not essential.

Helen is absolutely right. Adding tomatoes to most curry sauce is a fairly late thing, only from my generation onwards. When I was a child, tomatoes in India were very seasonal, localised to various states of India only and quite expensive. The season was quite short too. We were lucky, because my father was fond of gardening and always grew them, plus tinned some, as well as bottled sauce. But even so, in summer, there were no tomatoes for everyday use. And, my mum, like most other people in northern India, cooked mostly without tomatoes. Many regional cuisines of India are still cooked without tomatoes.

You can make perfectly good curries without tomatoes, sometimes adding yoghurt/tamarind, if you need a little tartness. You can, but you don’t have to substitute it with yoghurt/tamarind. In some parts of India, like Goa, they have used vinegar and still do. Try making a curry as described and omit the tomtoes, and see what happens. You will find that it is still pretty tasty. If you need to thicken a particular curry sauce, add a mashed potato to the sauce.

You follow any curry recipe until adding tomatoes. Then do one of the following

1. Just don’t add tomatoes/yoghurt and carry on. Add spices to fried onions, stir a little and then quickly adding main ingredients, then water. Without tomatoes, spices may burn quickly in hot oil, if you are not careful.

2. If you like slight tartness in your curry, you can always add a little tamarind paste or a dash of lemon juice. I add lemon juice only at the end.

3. The sauce can be thickened a little chickpea flour (besan), just like you add plain flour in Western cooking.

I will see if I can remember/get around to mark my recipes without tomatoes as tomato free, so they come up on search.


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