Curry is not an Indian word; it has come from Europe to denote varied dishes that are stew or soup. The word curry was named by the English from Urdu word tari, which means juice of vegetables or meat cooked in water along with spices. One may call it as the Indian version of gravy. It might be also derived from the Tamil word kaikaari or kairee or its shortened version Kaari meaning vegetables cooked with spices and a dash of coconut and curry leaves. Some texts also described its origin with the arrival of East Indian company in 1608 and then in 1612, when a vegetable gravy dish was called Khadi. Alan Davidson noted in his excellent work Oxford Companion to Food, and supports it with reference to the accounts from a Dutch traveller in 1598 referring to a dish called carriel. He also refers to a Portuguese cookery book from the seventeenth century called Atre do Cozinha, with chilli-based curry powder called caril. Pat Chapman of Curry Club fame offers several possibilities: karahi or kadai (Hindi) from the wok-shaped cooking dish, kari from the Tamil or turkuri a seasonal sauce or stew. The one thing all the experts seem to agree on is that the word originated from India around 5000 years ago and was adapted by the British. Curry is now an international dish recognised by the world over and is becoming the principle gourmet of the western world. It is somewhat a greyish or reddish coloured dish (or is a stew-like dish) and has many spices and seasoning and is flavoured with hot and sour tastes. 'Curry' has not looked back since and was recently named the British National dish after a major opinion poll by Gallup (an association of market research and management consulting firm in U.K.).
Some curry powder ingredients are: black pepper, bay leaf, red chilli, cloves, coriander, fenugreek, cinnamon, cardamom, cumin, ginger, turmeric, mace and nutmeg. It may have become the symbolic British word for Indian dishes that could be eaten with rice. In India curry means gravy. Many believe curry to be an Indian spice, which is actually a blend of spices (mainly garam masala) mixed with coriander powder, chili powder and turmeric. These dishes are cooked in steps with the following seasonings which are called masalas:
- A base of spices sauteed in ghee or oil.
- Herbs and seasonings like bay leaves, Cumin, curry leaves or fenugreek may also be added.
- Secondary levels of seasonings are added and include all or some of the following-a mixture of onion, garlic, ginger and tomatoes.
- A third level may include coconut milk, poppy paste, almonds, cashews or cream (which are the thickening agents).
All curries have hot and sour taste which may be achieved by red or green chilli powder or paste, black pepper, lime juice, tamarind, mango powder, kokum, pomegranate seeds or yogurt.
There is a plant, however, that has leaves called curry leaves or in Hindi, meethi neem or kadhi leaves. They look like small lemon leaves and grow wild in most forest regions, and are grown in the kitchen gardens of India. It may also be used as a seasoning.