Easy Indian Curry for Beginners
In this post we’re entering into the world of curry with a North Indian style of chicken curry made by Vahchef!
If you grew up on a diet of meat and potatoes like us, then you’re probably a little scared to try ethnic foods. Foreign ingredients, new tastes, and spice level, are often reasons why we choose to eat foods we know and love. But the world of food is vast — and we would all be idiots to stick with what we’re comfortable with. We’re here to help you take the leap into ethnic foods starting with one of our favorites — curry! (Don’t worry, you won’t need to buy stock in Pepto-Bismol.)
Before we go much further, it's worth noting that there are many different types of curries — Indian, Thai, Japanese, etc, with many regional variants. Making a post cataloging the different types of curries would be a massive undertaking. So we’re keeping things simple by replicating a North Indian chicken curry, which means that our curry sauce is going to be tomato based. For reasons that will become obvious later, this isn’t an authentic curry, but rather, a starting point for the beginner cook! Here is what you’ll need:
Easy Indian Curry Recipe
- 2 cups diced red onion
- 2 cups finely chopped tomato
- 3 tbsp curry powder
- ½ tbsp ginger paste
- ½ tbsp garlic paste
- ¼ cup vegetable oil (or enough to ensure onions are covered)
- ⅛ cup water
- 2 chicken breasts, cubed
½ tbsp chili powder
¼ tbsp red chili flakes
Before you get cooking, make sure that all of your ingredients are prepped and ready to go! This dish can cook quite quickly, so having all of the ingredients ready beforehand is going to help you out in the long run. Finely dicing the onion and tomato should be a straightforward task. (Unless you’re Trevor and you slice open your hand taking the knife out of the plastic cover.)
If you want to add in the optional chili powder and red chili flakes, make sure to combine them with the 3 tablespoons of curry powder in a separate bowl so everything is homogeneous.
For this recipe, we opted to use fresh ginger and garlic for the ginger-garlic paste. To prepare the ginger paste, peel and finely grate a knob of ginger until you have ½ a tablespoon of ginger paste. For the garlic paste, you can do the same, or, you can do that fancy thing with a chef knife.
🍛 Mediocre Tip: If you don’t want to use the fresh stuff, most grocery stores will sell ginger and garlic paste in a jar. These are perfectly fine substitutes and have the added bonus of keeping for a long time in the fridge.
Lastly, cut the chicken into 1 inch cubes. Don’t worry too much about getting the dimensions perfect. Just give them a rough chop into bite sized pieces.
🍛 Mediocre Tip: If you’re not confident with your meat-cutting knife skills, use scissors to easily cut your chicken into even sized pieces!
Now that you have all of the ingredients prepared, it’s time to cook. This recipe only uses one pot (or large pan) — make sure that you have a lid, as you’ll be covering it in a moment.
To start, pour in enough oil to cover your onions (¼ - ½ cup depending on how large your pot is) and turn the stove on to medium-high heat. Once the oil is hot, add the onions and cook them until they are soft and almost browned. This will take about 10-15 minutes.
🍛 Mediocre Tip: The onions will continue to cook during the next step, so you don’t want to overcook them now and risk them burning and ruining the dish. Once they look like they’re just about to turn brown, move on to the next step.
Add in your ginger paste and garlic paste and mix. Be careful! The oily onions and the pot are super hot right now and the ginger-garlic paste has a ton of water in it. Shit is going to start splashing and spraying everywhere. Let the ginger-garlic paste cook for a few minutes until it’s been absorbed into the oil-onion mixture.
Next, add in the tomatoes and mix everything together. This will stop the onions from cooking by bringing the temperature of the pot down. You’re going to want to turn the heat up a bit to bring everything back up to temperature. Continue cooking the curry paste for a few minutes to give the tomatoes a chance to start breaking down and releasing their liquid.
Once the tomatoes have begun to break down, add in your curry powder. Mix everything together and cook for no more than 1 minute to give the spices a chance to wake up and develop some flavour.
Finally, add in your chicken and mix together. Make sure that all the pieces of chicken are coated with your curry paste. When the curry begins to simmer again, reduce heat to medium-low, cover and cook for about 2 minutes — this gives the chicken a chance to start cooking through.
🍛 Mediocre Tip: We weren’t going for an overly fancy presentation here. If you were cooking this for a slightly more fancy affair, we suggest putting your curry paste into a blender prior to adding the chicken and blending it until everything is smooth, then returning it to the pot to finish. This will make the consistency of the curry gravy more uniform.
Remove the lid and add in ⅛ cup of water — this allows the curry gravy to thicken (as backwards as that might seem). Stir everything, cover, and let the curry simmer for around 10 minutes. This ensures that the chicken is cooked through completely, and allows the flavours to develop properly.
After your 10 minutes are up remove the lid, take a small bite to check for seasoning, and give yourself a pat on the back because you just made a chicken curry!
You may have noticed that unlike most curry recipes, we opted to not include any sort of cream, yogurt, or coconut milk as part of the recipe. As Vahchef says in his video, no one in India really does this. The whole point of adding these things in is to tame the spice level for someone not used to the spices (unless you’re doing it in a small amount to add flavour). We think that it’s better to cook the curry to your desired spice level — use less curry powder, don’t add in the chili powder, etc. That way it’s cooked to your liking and you’re not masking the flavours with cream.
To serve this curry, we recommend cooking up a batch of rice — basmati or jasmine work well, but any type of rice would do. Put some rice in a bowl, ladle the curry on top and go to town.
Our Mediocre Thoughts
👨🍳 Trevor: I love curry. I first stumbled on this recipe about two years ago, and have subsequently spent 2 years trying to perfect it. How much tomato and onion? How much curry powder? I’ve tinkered with it for two years now, and I’ve come up with what I think is the most optimized basic curry.
I’ll admit, that like Brittany, I was always a bit scared of trying Indian food. I can chalk that up to growing up in small towns with very little access to ethnic cuisine. Once I moved into the city and started being a bit adventurous, I found that I really enjoyed Indian cuisine. It’s fascinating how the flavour of their dishes are built layer by layer with different spices, herbs, and seasonings. Obviously curry powder isn’t a thing in India, but as Vahchef notes, it is a good way to get into Indian cooking. Especially for someone like me who hadn’t tried curry until he was in his twenties.
👩🍳 Brittany: I was always afraid of curry — I thought it’d be too spicy for my white taste buds so I never went to Indian restaurants. (Plus, what if they put cilantro in it? Ew.) I first had curry at a friend’s house, which he made by cooking chicken and pouring a jar of curry sauce on top. It wasn’t that spicy, but it had a nice kick to it. I thought “hey, this isn’t so bad” and started to buy the jarred stuff occasionally for $5 a pop. Then Trevor came along and had to make me feel bad that I was eating jarred curry. (It was for the best.)
Oftentimes we buy things because they’re convenient, but also because we don’t know how easy it is to make ourselves — this is the case with curry. I highly recommend trying to make curry from scratch at least once! Also think about what other dishes you eat that you can make from scratch (jarred pasta sauce is one that comes to mind). You’ll be rewarded with better tasting food, and you’ll also be able to better control the flavours and adjust to your tastes.
Our Final Review
Taste: 4 Bollywood dance moves out of 5 🍛🍛🍛🍛
Presentation: 2 pitiful attempts at plating out of 5 🍽️🍽️
Affordability: 4 Indian rupees out of 5 💱💱💱💱
Curry is savoury, heartwarming, and delicious. If you added extra spices, it’ll have a bit of a kick too! For a dish made with such simple ingredients, curry is so flavourful — even though we’re using a premade curry powder instead of the individual spices (turmeric, chilli powder, ground coriander, ground cumin, ground ginger and pepper).
🍛 Mediocre Tip: Accidentally make your curry too spicy? Add some plain yogurt to your curry sauce. Drinking milk also helps. Lots of milk.
Our curry doesn’t look amazing, but we’re also very bad at taking photos. Curry served at a restaurant can easily look like a 4/5. To make our curry go from a 2/5 to a 3/5, we could have added some freshly chopped cilantro on top. But it tastes like soap.
🍛 Mediocre Tip: Serve with naan bread, because naan bread is delicious. Bonus points if it’s garlic naan bread.
This basic Indian curry is super affordable, and you probably already have most of the ingredients in your pantry. The most expensive parts of this recipe are the chicken, and if you don’t already own curry powder, you’ll have to buy that too.
If you’ve never tried Indian food, but always wanted to, or if you’re scared to try something out of your comfort zone, give this recipe a try. Curry isn’t scary, we promise.
End Note: Vahchef’s recipe uses 2 medium chopped onions and 4 chopped tomatoes. However, due to variance in vegetable size, it can be tough to keep things consistent. Through experimentation we found that what is important is the ratio. A 1:1 ratio of tomato to onion by volume is what we found to taste the best. Similarly, we found that having a ratio of 1 tablespoon of curry powder to 1 ⅓ cups of vegetables results in a well balanced dish.