Traditional curry recipes: Spice up your life

November 1, 2018

Traditional curry recipes: Spice up your life

Are you ready to go on a culinary journey of discovery? Noosa chef Peter Kuruvita takes us to the ‘lands of the curry leaf’ with traditional vegetarian and vegan recipes from Nepal to his home country of Sri Lanka, including dishes like flavourful ridged gourd curry and deliciously sweet gulab jamun on the menu.

Watakolu vanjanaya (Ridged gourd curry)

This is a beautiful and unique curry, using an equally unique vegetable that is surprisingly easy to grow. In Sri Lanka, this is one of the curries you would have in your rice and curry selection. On a recent trip there I tasted this curry after many years, and it took me straight back to my grandmother’s smoky black kitchen, where one of the house girls would meticulously clean the gourd, ensuring that the skin on the hard outer ridges was removed, but the skin within the concave dips retained.
If the gourd is in perfect condition, the seeds will still be white and edible; otherwise, it’s best to remove the seeds if the gourd is a bit old. There is no real replacement for ridged gourd in terms of flavour and texture, but any member of the gourd family will work in this curry.
Vegans and pure vegetarians can omit the Maldive fish.


2 ridged gourds
1 onion, diced
2 Indian green chillies, halved lengthways
½ teaspoon fenugreek seeds
1 fresh curry leaf sprig, leaves picked
1 teaspoon Maldive fish (optional), finely pounded using a mortar and pestle
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
2 teaspoons raw curry powder
½ teaspoon chilli powder
Salt, to taste
300ml coconut milk
200ml coconut cream
Juice of ½ lime
A pinch of dark roasted curry powder

Take the gourds and peel the skin from the ridges, leaving the skin on the concave inner dips of the gourds. Cut each gourd in half, and then on an angle into 4cm pieces.
Place all the ingredients, except the coconut cream, lime juice and roasted curry powder, in a heavy-based saucepan, stirring until well combined.
Bring to the boil over medium–high heat and cook for about 10 minutes, or until the skin of the gourd is tender.
Stir in the coconut cream and bring to the boil, then immediately turn off the heat.
Stir in the lime juice and serve garnished with a sprinkling of roasted curry powder.

Raw curry powder

This is great for vegetable curries, and is best cooked with the vegetables. Use it as you would a store-bought curry powder. It is perfect for curried egg sandwiches.

Makes 100g

6 tablespoons coriander seeds
2 tablespoons cumin seeds
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 teaspoon brown mustard seeds
1 5cm cinnamon stick, crumbled
4 cloves
4 green cardamom pods
5 dried curry leaves
1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns

Turn on your kitchen exhaust fan, so you don’t have a houseful of coughing people.
Heat all the spices in a dry heavy-based frying pan over medium heat for a few minutes, stirring often, until aromatic and golden brown. Tip into a small bowl to cool.
Grind to a fine powder, using a spice grinder, and store in an airtight container.

Dark roasted curry powder

This powder looks good and tastes amazing, and is wonderful sprinkled over your finished curry, or even a salad. When cooking a meat-style curry, this is the one to use.

Makes 250g

90g coriander seeds
3 fresh curry leaf sprigs, leaves picked
2 teaspoons cloves
2 teaspoons green cardamom pods
2 cinnamon sticks, crushed
2 teaspoons raw rice
2 teaspoons fenugreek seeds
2 teaspoons brown mustard seeds
2 teaspoons fennel seeds
50g cumin seeds
5 dried red chillies, crumbled (including
the seeds)

Toast the coriander seeds and curry leaves in a dry heavy-based frying pan over medium heat. After a couple of minutes, add the cloves, cardamom, cinnamon and rice and toast until golden brown.
Now add the fenugreek, mustard, fennel and cumin seeds and dry-roast for a few more minutes, or until fragrant, taking care not to burn them. Finally add the chilli pieces and toast for a minute or so.
Tip into a small bowl to cool. Grind to a powder, using a spice grinder or mortar and pestle, and store in an airtight container.

Gulab Jamin

Gulab jamun

Literally translating as ‘rose berry’ (‘gulab’ means ‘rose’, and ‘jamun’ is a dark purple berry native to the subcontinent), gulab jamun is of one of India’s most loved sweets. Traditionally the recipe calls for mawa, or milk that has been reduced down to a paste, but we’re simply using milk powder for these deliciously soft melt-in-the-mouth sweets.You can serve them warm, cold or chilled on their own, or garnished with pistachios, or stuffed with nuts or a piece of popcorn. I serve them warm, with a scoop of ice cream.


110g full-fat milk powder
35g plain flour
A pinch of salt (optional)
A pinch of bicarbonate of soda
1-2 tablespoons Greek-style yoghurt
½ teaspoon ghee
10-12 pieces of sweet makhana/elaichi dana (sugar-coated cardamom seeds)
500ml vegetable oil, for deep-frying
Blanched pistachio or almond slices,
to garnish

Orange blossom syrup

330g sugar
3-4 green cardamom pods, husked, seeds crushed or powdered
A pinch of saffron threads
1 teaspoon orange blossom water or rosewater


To make the syrup, put the sugar and 500ml water in a heavy-based saucepan and cook over medium heat for about 5 minutes, until the sugar has dissolved completely, stirring occasionally. Cook the syrup to the ‘soft ball’ stage, or 105-110°C on a sugar thermometer. You can test the syrup by drizzling 1-2 drops on a plate. It should be gooey in texture when rolled between your thumb and index finger, or form threads when drizzled from a small height.

Stir in the cardamom seeds and orange blossom water, then remove from the heat.

To make the gulab jamun, sift the milk powder, flour, salt and bicarbonate of soda into a mixing bowl. Add the yoghurt and ghee and lightly mix the ingredients to make a soft, sticky dough. Don’t add too much flour, as it can make the gulab jamun hard.

Now pinch off a small portion and put a piece of elaichi dana in the middle. Bring the sides up around it, rolling it into a smooth ball about the size of a large walnut. Make sure there are no cracks on the surface, or the ball will break during cooking. Repeat with the remaining dough.

Pour the vegetable oil into a deep heavy-based saucepan and heat to 160°C, or until a cube of bread dropped into the oil turns brown in 30-35 seconds.

Working in batches, gently slide the gulab jamun into the hot oil and cook for about 3-5 minutes, until golden, taking care not to overcrowd the pan, to keep the oil at the right temperature. The balls will sink to the bottom, then gently rise up. At frequent intervals, slowly turn each ball with a slotted spoon, to ensure they brown evenly.

Drain on paper towel, then soak the gulab jamun in the orange blossom syrup for at least 1 hour, so they absorb and soften in the syrup. If serving them cold, remove them from the syrup and store them in the fridge in an airtight container. Serve garnished with nuts.

Tip: Before shaping all the gulab jamun, test one by deep-frying it in the oil. If it splits, add a little more milk powder into the mixture; if it is getting hard, add 1-2 teaspoons milk.


Images and recipes from Lands of the Curry Leaf by Peter Kuruvita, RRP $49.99 (published by Murdoch Books)

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