An entertaining, alternative-lifestyle cousin who enjoys off-the-beaten-track holidays assures me that during her travels around India - her favourite country - she has never once suffered from the dreaded "Delhi belly".
Why? She eats nothing but curries, "the perfect antidote to any intestinal upset".
Well, antidote or not, curries have become a hot favourite around the world.
Curry is a word adopted into the English language from the Tamil "kari", meaning a spiced sauce served with rice. In India, the home of curry, prepared powders are almost non-existent. Chefs and home cooks use pure, fresh ingredients.
A typical mixture would include kari patta (curry leaf), coriander, cumin, mustard seeds, red and black pepper, fenugreek, turmeric and sometimes cinnamon, cloves and cardamom. All these ingredients are roasted and ground to a powder.
During their colonial reign in India, the British developed a taste for curries and, wishing to enjoy them back in Britain, created the first commercial ready-mixed curry powder.
Curries are synonymous with Asia but variety is the spice of life, as different regions favour different blends of ingredients. Sri Lankan curry mixes are usually darker then the Indian varieties and emphasise cardamom. In Indonesia, soy sauce is sometimes added to the curry mixture and a side dish of sambal is served to add extra flavour and/or heat.
Aromatic Thai curry pastes are commonly prepared with either red or green chillies, garlic, galanga (ginger), lemongrass, coriander root and seeds, peppercorns, cumin seeds, grated lime rind and shrimp paste.
If you prefer to purchase commercially prepared curry powders, buy these in small amounts so the flavours do not diminish. Try to buy them from a store where the turnover of curry powders is fast.
Rice is the obvious partner for curries. However, if you like to experiment you could follow the lead of some Asian cooks and use pasta such as risone, spaghetti or penne. They make interesting accompaniments for curries.
Curries are great winter warmers but they need not be mouth-burners. The zing factor depends entirely on your taste.
To tame the heat in a curry add diced banana, stewed apple, coconut cream or yoghurt.
THAI-STYLE SEAFOOD CURRY
400g can coconut milk
1/2 cup coriander leaves
4 spring onions, chopped
4 cloves garlic
2 tsp each: ground chilli, cumin, coriander, brown sugar
1/2 tsp ground turmeric
1 tsp diced red chilli or chilli paste
2 tbsp fish sauce
2 kaffir lime leaves, optional
Fish and veges: 500g-600g skinned and boned firm fish fillets
8 raw prawns, shelled
1 red pepper, (capsicum), seeded and diced
1 medium tomato, cut into 8 wedges
1 handful each: basil leaves, coriander leaves limes or lemon to garnish
Place all sauce ingredients - except kaffir lime leaves - in a blender or food processor. Mix until well-blended and smooth. Pour into a wok and add lime leaves, if using. Bring to the boil.
Cut fish into 5cm to 6cm chunks. Add to pan together with prawns and red pepper. Cover and simmer for five minutes. Add tomato and simmer for another two to three minutes.
Taste. Add more fish sauce to increase salt level, if preferred. Add lime juice to increase acidity or brown sugar to sweeten - if required. Serve with lime wedges on the side. Serves 4.
SLOW COOKER WHOLE CURRIED CHICKEN
1 onion, diced
1 tbsp canola oil
2kg whole chicken, skin removed, if preferred
400g can coconut milk
1 tsp each: salt, chilli powder, ground cumin, ground ginger, fennel seeds
250g brown button mushrooms, halved
2 tbsp lemon juice
Saute onion in oil, until tender. Place in a slow cooker.
Tie or truss chicken and place on the onion.
Combine remaining ingredients and pour over chicken. Cook on high for five to six hours or low for eight hours.
Great served with naan bread or rice. Serves 6-8.
CREAMY VEGETARIAN CURRY
1-2 tbsp curry powder
1 tsp garam masala
2-3 tbsp canola oil
2 medium potatoes, peeled
1 large onion, diced
1 tsp each: crushed garlic, grated root ginger
1 tsp tomato paste
2 cups each: cauliflorets, frozen peas
400g can each: diced tomatoes, chick peas
1/2 cup cream
Place curry powder and garam masala in a heavy frying pan. Heat until slightly darkened.
Remove from pan. Heat two tablespoons of the oil in pan.
Cut potatoes into 2cm cubes. Add to pan with the onion. Cook, stirring occasionally, until golden. Push to one side.
Add remaining oil, garlic, ginger and tomato paste. Stir well. Add the curry mixture, stir, then add the cauliflower and peas.
Cook for two minutes then add the tomatoes and drained chick peas. Cover and simmer gently for 20 minutes.
Stir in the cream and heat through.
Serves 4-5 as a main.
KIWI CURRIED SAUSAGES
8 beef or pork sausages
2 tsp canola oil
1 each: medium onion, apple, peeled and diced
1-2 tbsp each: curry powder, brown sugar
400g can diced tomatoes
2 tamarillos, peeled and sliced, optional
1/2 cup sultanas
1 cup each: diced carrot, frozen peas
Pan-fry or grill the sausages until lightly browned. Meanwhile, heat oil in a large frying pan. Pan-fry onion until softened. Stir in apple and curry powder.
Add tomatoes, tamarillos, sultanas and carrots. Cover and cook for five minutes. Add peas and cook for a further five minutes.
The sauce can be thickened if preferred with one tablespoon of flour mixed to a paste with a little water.
Great served on rice, mashed potato or kumara, or with naan bread.