The Indian Takeaway style curries we ate in Edinburgh were always bite-sized pieces of meat or vegetables in a thick, saucy gravy. After a lot of trial and error, we came up with the technique of starting with a "ubiquitous base sauce" and then adding different meats, pulses and seasonings to create a number of different curries all with that characteristic sauciness (such as our Chicken Pathia and Lamb Rogan Josh). Making up a big batch and freezing the extra is a great way to have a quick Indian meal at a later date.
The sauce is basically an aromatic, spice-infused onion and tomato puree.
First the spices (coriander, paprika and turmeric) get toasted in some oil along with plenty of crushed or grated ginger and garlic. This base sauce is one of the few times where I will happily use good quality crushed ginger or garlic from a jar. A little more of each will be added at the time of actual curry preparation - I add just-grated, fresh versions there.
After a minute or so, several diced onions get added to the mix and cooked down to soften. The smells at this point are pure Indian, just like we remember wafting from the Indian Takeaway shops.
Add canned tomatoes and some water, then simmer for about an hour for the flavors to deepen.
We use an immersion hand-blender dunked right into the pot to achieve a smooth puree. These hand-blenders are terrific. We initially learned about them from friends in Edinburgh. It seems that everyone there owned one, but it was new to us. The key selling point over using a regular blender is that you don't have to worry about transferring hot liquids and carefully blending several small batches.
After a quick blitz with the hand blender, you are ready to make your curry now and still have plenty of extra sauce left to freeze for a couple more meals later.
For curry recipes using this base sauce, be sure to check out our Indian Takeaway Recipes.
This recipe makes enough for base sauce for three curries – make it ahead and freeze each portion in a ziptop bag for a quick, easy start to a great curry.
4 large onions, chopped
1/3 cup canola oil
4 tablespoons crushed garlic
4 tablespoons crushed fresh ginger
1 tablespoon ground coriander
2 tablespoons ground paprika
2 teaspoons turmeric
1 (28 ounce) can plum tomatoes (whole or diced)
3-4 cups water
2 teaspoons salt
In a large pot or dutch oven, heat oil, garlic and ginger to medium-high. Add spices (coriander, paprika, turmeric) and stir to make a paste. Cook about 30 seconds.
Add onions and salt. Cook 5-7 minutes to soften onions. Stir frequently. If spices stick, add a tablespoon of water.
Add tomatoes. If using whole tomatoes, break them up by giving each a quick squeeze in your hand while adding to the pot.
Fill the tomato can with water. Stir the water into the sauce and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer about an hour.
Remove from heat and allow to cool. Puree to a smooth sauce using a blender or immersion hand-blender (our favorite).
Divide into three equal sized portions. Use within 8-10 days, or freeze.