I grew up with lots of curries. The thing is, I always thought that anything cooked with lots of spices, chilli powder and curry powder was called a curry. It didn’t matter if it was a dry curry or a wet curry. It was all curry to me.
In my later years, when I started to cook in University, my mates and I followed the same rule. Hot, Spicy, Delicous = Curry. No matter if it was wet or dry. It was all curry to us.
The problem with curry started when I got married. You see, to The Lovely Wife, a curry entails lots of gravy, or Kolumbu. So a chicken curry would mean that there would be a lot of curried gravy aka kolumbu. A drier curry with some gravy, but not enough to be considered a curry would be a Peratal. Then a really dry curry would be a Varuvel.
I began to realise though that The Lovely Wife was right – as she quite often is. You see, even the South Indian Restaurants that we have in Malaysia serve their curries this way – Curry, Peratal and Varuvel. And if you only wanted the curry without any meat then it would be Kolumbu. See? Who said Indian food was easy and simple. And that’s only South Indian food… I haven’t started on Northern Indian cuisine and the naming conventions yet!!
The Lovely Wife and I both cook mutton varuvel although our methods and ingredients differ. This dish was made by The Lovely Wife as my little princess has developed a taste for mutton curry - any version, wet, dryish or dry – it doesn’t matter as long as its mutton!
This is what The Lovely Wife did:
1.5 kg lean mutton or lamb
1 tsp turmeric powder
1 tbsp curry powder
1 tbsp chilli powder
2 green chillies cut into 3 pieces
1 large tomato - sliced
3 tbsp ground ginger and garlic
2-3 Tbsp Curry Powder
1 Tbsp Chilli Powder
2 stalks curry leaves
5 dried chillies
1 cinnamon stick
2 star anise
1/2 tsp fennel powder
1 Tbsp Dark Soya sauce
cube meat and put in a large pot. Cover meat with water with a little salt. Put in ingredients A and cook till meat is tender. Keep adding water if it dries up and meat is still not tender. Once meat is cooked, keep stirring till mixture is thick.
In a separate wok or large pot, heat a little oil and fry onions. Add in curry leaves, chillies, cinamoon, cloves and star anise. Fry till fragrant. Add in curry powder and chilli powder and cook well. Mix in meat and stir so that meat is well coated. Add in some water if too dry. Keep stirring until mixture is almost dry. Add in dark soya sauce and mix well. Season with salt to taste. Just before turning off the heat, sprinkle over the fennel powder and mix well. Garnish with coriander leaves.
My version would include some tomatoes and more curry powder and chilli powder but other than that there’s not too much difference although I think my version is tastier!
So after all those years of enjoying my mother’s dry mutton curry and proclaiming it to be the best in the world, I have finally realised that that it is actually a Mutton Varuvel! It doesn’t really matter though as the ‘song’ below explains. It is sung to Billy Joels “Always a woman” and is just a bit of fun to end this post…
A varuvel is dry
while a peratal is wetter
A Curry has gravy and can flood all the rice
They are all hot and spicy and can burn your mouth
Call it whatever you like
But its always a Curry to me……