Curry recipes for all skill levels

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On a recent rainy day, my friend Sonoko Sakai warmed up a Japanese chicken curry casserole for our lunch. As the rain drizzled outside, the curry simmered in its clay pot. The spices, packed in her own homemade bricks, floated through her kitchen, and by the time the dish was ready, I could barely resist the smell. Spoon over hot rice, it was the perfect lunch to warm up our chilled, wet bones.

Sonoko sent me home with some of her curry powder that day, and I’ve been using it in all sorts of ways ever since to add her distinct flavor to my meals. As a placeless “curry powder” lover since I was a kid, I love cooking with it. Whether it’s the store bought powder or a real homemade spice blend, the spice blend adds the kind of warmth I want on those chilly winter nights.

If I’m dealing with the powder, I like to use it in this easy Lao fish curry made with coconut milk dyed orange from red tomato paste and yellow curry powder. Or, I’ll make a batch of this curried couscous and cauliflower salad that’s wonderful to keep in my fridge all week to eat with salmon, roast chicken, or on a bed of green salad.

Because when I have a little more time on the weekends, I turn to curries that use whole spices in the mix. Badmaash’s Goan Pork Curry Blend is packed with chilies, cumin, coriander and turmeric along with fragrant curry leaves and tangy tamarind in the stew. And this turmeric-coconut clam curry blends fresh turmeric, lemongrass, galangal and Thai chilies with roasted shrimp paste for a rich stew with multiple layers of vibrant spices.

And for those nights when I want to pull something cheesy and fizzy out of the oven for dinner, this curried cauliflower gratin fits the bill. The Cantal and Emmental cheeses that coat the potatoes and cauliflower are fortified with vadouvan, a French version of our curry powder that is very similar and often found in grocery stores (but if you don’t have than regular curry powder, that works too).

Cauliflower gratin with triple cheese curry

This dish is a riff de pomme dauphinois, a labor-intensive classic from the south of France consisting of thin slices of potatoes covered in Gruyere cheese, cream and garlic. To this base, add parmesan and cantal, if you can find it, and cauliflower, then prick it with curry leaves and vadouvan, a kind of French curry powder spice mix that you should definitely find for your closet.
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Cooking time: 4 hours.

Laotian catfish curry

As with most Southeast Asian cuisines, the aromatics in this curry are cooked into the fatty cream that rises to the surface as the fresh coconut milk is made. Using canned coconut milk is much simpler; remember to refrigerate the cans overnight (or chill in the freezer for 20 minutes) to firm up the fat on top so it’s easy to remove when you open the can.
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Cooking time: 40 minutes.

Badmaash Goan Pork Curry

Grilling and blending your own spice blend ensures a fresh flavor to the resulting curry. The flavors intensify when tossed with fresh chilies, garlic and ginger in a tangy marinade that soaks up fatty chunks of pork shoulder and belly for a day or two. After a long simmer in a tomato sauce and caramelized onions, the meat becomes tender enough to be cut with a fork. Serve it with plenty of basmati rice to soak up all the sauce.
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Cooking time: 4 hours.

(Mariah Tauger/Los Angeles Times)

Clam curry with turmeric and coconut

This flavorful and light curry is based on a Thai curry that chef Louis Tikaram once served at the EP&LP restaurant. Shallots, galangal, garlic, Thai green chilies, turmeric, shrimp paste, lemongrass, and dried red chili peppers are sliced, chopped, and roasted to create the complex flavor of the paste.
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Cooking time: 1h20.

Couscous with curry and roasted cauliflower

Curry powder seeps into the heart of a great Israeli couscous in this simple fridge salad tossed with roasted cauliflower. Serve it alone or as an accompaniment to pan-fried salmon or roast chicken.
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Cooking time: 50 minutes.

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