Not just another hot curry

In the time it takes to lick your lips at the dinner table–over corn on the cob, or chicken tikka masala, tacos or bratwurst–all sorts of boundaries are met, sometimes crossed, often shared. My interest in food writing stems from an abiding interest in where cultures meet. You don’t have to think too hard to understand that that happens often over the dinner table.

Because I am interested in this, and because I see food as a direct link to place, to land, to sustainable health, to the agricultural hands it takes to feed us, I find myself looking at the foods on a plate in a way that takes my mind to history.

So when my husband, Terry, decided to make pork vindaloo recently, I immediately began thinking about the root of the word. I know, this is strangely off the topic of eating, but aloo is a word for potato in India and potatoes are not traditionally a part of this dish. I could not let it rest. Turns out, the word vindaloo stems from Portuguese history in India (as I knew): its Portuguese vinho = wine-vinegar and alho = garlic (which I didn’t know) ingredients combine into a savory and tart dish.

But too often, vindaloo can be a tongue-scorching curry that has little left of its original unique tartness. Since diners are likely turning red and sweating and not noticing much but the piquant chiles, I am all forgiveness. But when vindaloo made its way to India in the 15th century along with Portuguese explorers and the chile peppers they carried from the Americas, the recipe was not that way. Local ingredients like tamarind, black pepper, cinnamon, and cardamom were incorporated, naturally since Indians know what tastes amazing. However, dark things then began: the dish was exported by the British and it became another hot curry. The tang of vinegar was quieted, and the balance of spices was lost under a searing excess of chiles.

Seems a shame. So, the one made in my kitchen is staging a revolt. We used simple spices this time. It has a touch of tang, a dollop of chile-heat, not a wallop.

Vindaloo
Serves 4-6

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 medium onions, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, crushed
1-2 fresh red chiles, to your taste
1-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and grated
1 small bunch of fresh cilantro, leaves picked and stems chopped
4 ripe tomatoes
1-3/4 pounds of diced pork shoulder
1/2 cup hot curry paste such as Patak’s
1-1/2 teaspoons salt and black pepper to taste
1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon honey
1-1/2 cups water

Heat the vegetable oil in a large pan and add the chopped onions, garlic, chile, ginger and cilantro stalks and cook for 10 minutes on medium high. When the onions are soften and golden, add the pork, curry paste and salt. Stir well. Add the tomatoes, balsamic vinegar, honey and water. Bring to a boil, turn the heat down and simmer for 45 minutes covered. Add black pepper and salt if needed. Garnish with the remaining chopped cilantro leaves and serve with rice or Indian breads.

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About ninafurstenau

Nina Mukerjee Furstenau teaches a Food and Wine Writing for the University of Missouri Science and Agriculture Journalism program and the MU School of Journalism School. Her book, Biting Through the Skin: An Indian Kitchen in America's Heartland was the winner of the MFK Fisher Book Award and Grand Prize Award for culinary/culture writing and designated as a Kansas Notable Book. She has also written Savor Missouri: River Hill Country Food and Wine, celebrating Missouri foodways. Her essay, "And Then There Was Rum Cake," appears in the 2017 anthology, Pie & Whiskey: Writer's Under the Influence of Butter and Booze. Ms. Furstenau was in the Peace Corps in Tunisia from 1984 to 1986 and then began working life as a journalist and publisher/editor of three construction magazines beginning in 1987. Ms. Furstenau and her husband launched and published these magazines and two others until 2001. She was a month-long resident at the Vermont Studio Center in Johnson, Vermont, in 2008.
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3 Responses to Not just another hot curry

  1. Hector Lahera says:

    Thanks for the recipe and for the history behind it. I read somewhere that Portuguese of the time were so fond of vinegar, that they carried vials of it hanging from their necklaces so they’d never had to do without. It is probable that both the vinegar vials and their fondness for vinegar and acidic foods may have resulted from the use of vinegar to prevent scurvy among their long distance sailors.

    One question, please, do you really mean it when you write 1/2 a cup of hot curry?

    Thanks again,

    H

  2. Hi H,
    That’s really interesting about the tie to health and scurvy and vinegar. These connections always intrigue me. Thanks for sharing! And, yes, 1/2 CUP hot curry paste (or you can use vindaloo paste). This paste will have other spices not in the recipe, likely fenugreek and cardamon and cinnamon, among others, and will make a wonderfully deep, rich flavor that should be apparent apart from the chile heat. Enjoy!
    Nina

  3. spmukerjee@aol.com says:

    Just loved your post and, of course, your vindaloo recipe. I’ll have to try it soon. Mom

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