Saturday, July 22, 2006

Japanese curry

Many Asian cuisines include curries, and they're all different. In fact, the term curry is used for so many different dishes that it's hard to define; probably the best general definition is that it's a thick, spicy stew typically served with rice, noodles, or bread. Thai curries tend to be hot-spicy and include coconut milk, fish sauce, garlic, and ginger (see these two recipes). Indian curries are hard to generalize, but they can include yogurt and/or nuts, and are often heavily spiced with turmeric and/or the "C" spices (cardamom, coriander, cloves, cumin, and/or cinnamon; see these two recipes).

Japanese curries tend to be relatively mild, are roux-based (i.e., they're thickened with a mixture of flour and fat), and have a smoother flavor than most other curries we've tasted. We're a bit chagrined to admit it, but since we don't have a recipe for making the spice mix used in Japanese curries, we don't make our Japanese curry paste from scratch. Instead, we use a manufactured curry mix (much like the Thai curry pastes we buy) and add our own ingredients. It tastes marvelous, but we'd really like to learn how to make Japanese curry paste some day. Since we made this curry a few weeks ago, and have been wanting to post a Japanese curry recipe for months, this is this week's first end-of-the-week recipe blogging post.

Japanese curry over fried somen noodles
Japanese curry over pan-fried somen noodles.

1 4.2 oz packet of Japanese curry mix (see below for more information)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 medium onions, peeled and coarsely chopped
2 carrots, peeled and cut into bite-sized pieces
2 medium turnips, peeled and cut into bite-sized pieces
1/2 cup peas
1 tub (~16 oz) firm tofu, drained and cut into bite-sized pieces
3 cups water

0. Chop all the vegetables and get them ready to cook. Plan to have either rice or noodles ready by the time the curry is done.
1. Heat the oil in a large nonstick pot over medium-high heat.
2. Add the onions and cook, stirring, until they soften and begin to turn brown at the tips (about 5 minutes).
3. Add the carrots and turnips, and continue cooking for another 3-5 minutes.
4. Add the water and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, covered, for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
5. Add the peas, return to a simmer, and cook, covered, for another 5 minutes. Then test to make sure everything is cooked to your liking (e.g., make sure the carrots are soft by tasting one or poking it with a fork); otherwise continue simmering.
6. Break the curry paste into smaller pieces and add to the pot, stirring constantly until they're dissolved.
7. Add the tofu and simmer, uncovered, for 5 minutes. Stir constantly but gently.
8. Serve over rice or noodles (we love this curry over pan-fried somen noodles; our recipe for those is here).


This recipe is extremely flexible, so use whatever vegetables or meat you desire. This version of the curry is relatively ingredient-heavy; if you wanted more sauce and less stuff (e.g., if you were using the curry as a sauce for fried meat), just add less stuff. Here are a few ideas for variations:
  • Meat: Include 1 pound of chopped chicken, pork, or beef. Fry this in oil along with the onions.
  • Vegetables: Green beans, bell peppers, corn, sweet potatoes, jalapeño peppers, or waxy potatoes (baking potatoes tend to fall apart). Add frozen green beans and corn 10 minutes into the simmering; add fresh green beans, sweet potatoes, and potatoes about 5 minutes into the simmering; add bell peppers and jalapeños along with the onions.
  • Flavorings: Add a few cloves of minced garlic after the onions (e.g., along with the carrots and turnips), or use butter instead of the oil.
We use S&B's medium-hot Golden Curry sauce mix, and the recipe above is based on this brand of curry. We buy this curry mix in 8.4 oz packages, which contain two trays that each hold a little brick of thickened curry paste (each tray holds 4.2 oz of the curry paste). If you use another type of curry mix, modify the recipe above to fit the amounts and cooking time recommended by your curry mix.

Box of curry mix
Our curry mix

We make no claims as to the authenticity of this curry or its ingredients; this is just what we like to make.

[Updated Sept. 2007 to add sweet potatoes and jalapeños to the list of possible vegetables, thanks to a delicious turnip, sweet potato, carrot, green bean, jalapeño, garlic, and tofu curry we just made.]

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