May 8, 2019

The Secret To Make Indian Curry Sauce Without A Recipe

Post by Admin

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Indian home cooks don’t actually follow a recipe to cook an Indian curry, as the process of making a base curry sauce almost same.

This post shares the secrets of how to make an Indian Curry sauce without the need to follow any recipe. 

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How To Make Indian Curry Sauce Without A Recipe

The revelation of these well-guarded granny secrets on how to make an Indian curry, the homecooked way, will surely make even a nervy cook give it a go!!

There are many different curry recipes when you google it, but what they don’t really explain is the ‘HOW TO MAKE A CURRY’. It’s more like the ‘STEPS or INGREDIENTS’  needed to make a curry.

Basically a curry recipe.

Of course, we need a recipe to follow, but even if you do, there is no guarantee that the steps followed will produce an authentic-tasting curry.

This is because recipes tell us what to use; when to use, but do not tell us ‘HOW’ to use them, or the ‘RIGHT WAY’ to cook!

So I thought that instead of posting just another curry recipe let me reveal the secrets and top tips to cook an authentic great tasting curry at home each time.

What is the Meaning of Curry

It may surprise you when I say that the word ‘Curry’ is something that makes me silently cringe!

Its because people tend to generalise Indian food as Curry.

Curry is not specific to Indian food, it can be any food item or dish which has a sauce base made with spices regardless of the cuisine.

I was a bit disappointed to see that Merriam-Webster dictionary also implied the same.

‘Curry’ does not have any meaning as such.

It is a term that has been popularised to classify and simplify South- Asian dishes to non-natives.

Thai, Vietnamese, Indonesian, Sri Lankan and many other South Asian countries have their own variations of curries.

You will also find curries in the African continent as well.

In the Indian context, Curry comes from the Hindi word ‘ Kari’, which means gravy.

So the next time someone says ‘curry’ you will know that they are hopefully referring to a type of dish rather than any particular cuisine or ingredient aka Indian.

The Basic Must-Have Ingredients to Make an Indian Curry

You may have googled, read or made Indian curries before, there are few ingredients that are constant or part of almost all Indian curry recipes.

Instead of listing all the ingredients in a box, let me classify them into specific categories according to its usage.

This will make it easier for you to cook almost any Indian dish.

Cooking ingredients can be broadly divided into 7 categories. I will limit myself to ingredients used for Indian cooking as this post is about Indian curries.

In terms of usage of ingredients during the cooking process, some of the must-have or popular Indian ingredients used to make a curry can be classified as:

  1. Raw Ingredient –  This is your main chosen protein or veg for the dish that is chicken, meat, fish, egg, vegetables, pulses or legumes.

 2. Aromatics- This is what makes the curry base and gives it the required consistency. They are onions, ginger and garlic.

3. Spices – These are the flavour and taste enhancers. These ingredients are what makes each curry different from the other depending on the type of recipe you follow.

For a standard Indian curry, the must-have spices are –  Ground Cumin, ground coriander, turmeric powder, chilli powder and Garam Masala powder.

If your kitchen happens to be well-stocked and for a little more exotic addition you can also add a few whole spices such as; green cardamom, cloves, bay leaves and cinnamon.

These days you can buy spices online with ease, without the need to locate an ethnic grocery store.

4. Heat Supplement – Since Indian food is normally associated with being hot that is the use of chillies, I classify this as a separate element of the dish.

For me adding heat to a dish is a personal choice and not a must. You can either choose to add it or omit it.

If you do wish to add heat, then my personal preference is to use fresh green or bird eye chillies rather than chilli powder.

Fresh chillies are good both for health and flavour.

5. Sauce Base – Typically a curry sauce will be made of tomatoes.

However, you can also have different variants such as coconut milk, yogurt used either as the only ingredient to make a sauce base or you can also add half of each.

Water, of course, is must for cooking your chosen protein or veg.

6. Herbs – These are the ingredients that add freshness and amp the flavour of your curry.

Herbs like fresh coriander leaves and dried Kasuri methi  (fenugreek leaves) added at the end of cooking not only adds to the taste but also the look of your dish.

7. Fat – You may find it funny that I have added this to the list as oil is a known element for cooking.

Yes, of course, we need oil to cook, especially a curry, unless you are on an oil-free diet!!

But the type of oil and the amount has a direct impact on your dish.

The popular oils used in Indian cuisine are sunflower oil, mustard oil, coconut oil and ghee.

So here you have the popular ingredients that may be used to make an Indian curry.

Different ingredients to make Easy Indian Chicken curry
The Different Basic Ingredients Used To Make a Base Curry Sauce

You do not need all the ingredients listed above to cook a curry.

They are some of the typical ingredients used to make an Indian dish.

To simplify it further let me take a chicken curry recipe and break down the must-have ingredients for an example;

Raw Ingredient – Chicken

Aromatics – Onions, ginger and garlic

Spices – Ground cumin, ground coriander, turmeric powder, Garam masala powder, chilli powder (optional)

Sauce base – Tomatoes

Heat and Herbs are optional. You can add them if you like it and have them in stock.

With these ingredients in stock, you can make an authentic tasty Indian curry at home.

The complete recipe for making this chicken curry using the ingredients listed above in written below.

The Secret Tips to Make Great Tasting Indian Curry Sauce

When it comes to cooking curry at home, you may be tempted to buy the readymade pastes and sauces as its less complicated and easy to make.

These useful cooking tips will simplify a recipe and make you want to stir some delicious pots of warmth and flavour.

Making an Indian curry from scratch is not really that difficult if you know the basics.  

With these tips under your belt, you will surely be making curry like a pro ……. oooh ok maybe after few attempts, but it sure is a start!

The step wise process on how to make Indian chicken curry

Break a Basic Curry Sauce Into 3 Cooking Elements

In order to make cooking an Indian curry as easy for you, all you need to do is break up the cooking elements within a recipe into 3 parts. Which are:

  1. Aromatics – The holy trinity of most Indian dishes that is the use of onions, ginger and garlic.

2. Spices –  One of the main ingredients that differentiate Indian cuisine from most other cuisines is the addition of spices. A basic Indian curry will have a minimum of 2- 5 spices.

3. The Base Sauce – Since curry essentially means ‘Gravy’, having a sauce is almost a must for it to be an Indian curry.

You can choose any water-based ingredient to lend body to the curry. This could be tomatoes, coconut milk, yoghurt, water, cream etc.

These 3 cooking elements are integral to any basic curry recipe.

What we now need is to know how to bring these different elements together in a pot with a balance of flavour and taste.

Add the Right Amount of Oil 

By this, I am not saying that you need to add a cupful of oil to make your dish.

Cooking the different elements of a curry requires some time and a right starting point.

Just like a car needs gas to run properly while a certain level of oil is required to maintain its components.

In cooking too, the right amount of oil will go a long way to give it a good flavour and essentially assist you in cooking.

This is important if you are new or a beginner to curry cooking.

The one tip that I can share is to add a minimum of 3-5 tbsp of oil to start with when cooking for 4 – 6 persons.

Cooking in the right amount of oil will make it easier for you to follow the later steps to come.

Cook Each Element Well 

Now that you know that any Indian dish can be divided into 3 components, it’s time to start cooking them.

For an Indian dish to taste as authentic, it is essential that you cook the aromatics especially onions well until it loses the raw smell.

One of my best tricks, to get to the point, is to cook your onions until it reaches to a  beautiful golden brown in colour. This may take anything from 8- 10 minutes.

This goes back to the last tip where the right amount of oil will help to make cooking onions easier and faster.

Well cooked onions will not only impact the overall taste of the dish but also act as a thickening agent for your curry

Follow the Cooking Method

Cooking Indian food requires a certain technique that you need to follow.

Normally the techniques involve a sequential order of cooking. These are:

  1. Tempering
  2. Sauteing
  3. Simmering

Applying the right cooking technique for each step will ensure the authenticity of your dish.

Indian food is cooked in a stepwise, stage-wise process.

You cannot add vegetables, spices, salt and liquid all together in a pot and expect it to be called Indian food.

There is a specific time and manner in which each ingredient needs to be added during the cooking process.

If you are following a recipe and if it is well written then follow the instructions especially those on long to cook a particular ingredient before you go to the next step.

Make Cooking a Sensory Experience

Just like how you go shopping for cheese or wine tasting, that is, try a sample of each by smelling it, and tasting it, apply similar skills to cooking as well.

When moving from one cooking stage to the other, do take a whiff and taste your creation once in a while. ( avoid double-dipping though :-))

The food elements change in flavour and taste throughout the cooking process as it gets cooked.

Use your sense of smell and taste to make sure it is to your liking and make adjustments if needed.

These adjustments could be adding seasoning, sauteing for longer, add more base sauce etc.

Let your senses guide you to make a perfect balance of taste that you like.

If it tastes good to you, it is guaranteed to be liked by others.

Patience Pays

Put on some music, get a glass of wine or a drink, keep a bowl of nibbles and be ready to get stuck in for some time.

Cooking Indian food, if a newbie or for some variation does involve time investment.

It may not be as quick as cooking pasta.

It is a stage-wise cooking process, which helps to release the flavours of the components. You will need to wait for each stage to take its time to progress.

This in no way means that you will be stuck for hours in the kitchen.

The average time to cook an Indian curry is normally 40-50 minutes. Including the prep time.

But there are few tricks to reduce the cooking time by 20 minutes which I share in another post.

Similar to the time it takes to make a lasagne or even baking a cake.

Make the experience fun and enjoyable, maybe learn a few Bollywood steps while stirring, sort or clean those cupboards that you never got to !! 🙂

Let us now apply all the tips and tricks to make an Indian curry at home in this basic simple chicken curry recipe below.

how to make Indian curry at home Tips to cook Indian curry at home

Easy Indian Chicken Curry Recipe with Stepwise Images

Ingredients List Categorised  by Components 

Raw Ingredient:

Chicken – 1 kg , cut into bite-sized pieces


Onions – 2, chopped

Ginger – 1 inch, chopped or paste

Garlic – 6 pods – crushed or paste

Green Chillies – 1, chopped

Base sauce:

Tomatoes – 3, chopped or 150 gms of canned tomatoes

Water – 1 cup


Green Cardamom – 3 pods

Bay leaves – 1-2

Ground cumin – 2 Tsp

Ground Coriander – 2 Tsp

Garam Masala powder – 1 Tsp

Turmeric – 1 tsp

Chilli powder (optional)  – 1 tsp or to taste


Coriander leaves – A large handful, chopped


Sunflower oil or Mustard oil – 6 Tbsp

Stepwise Cooking Method

Step 1 

Heat oil in a deep bottomed pan. Keep the temp of the pan to medium heat.

Step 2 

Add whole spices, that is 3 cardamom pods and bay leaves to the warm oil. Let it splutter for 10 secs. ( Tempering method)


Step 3 

Now add the onions to the pan and saute until it turns light golden brown in colour. This can take about 8 – 10 minutes.

frying chopped onions

Step 4 

Add the crushed garlic, chopped ginger and chopped green chillies to the pan and continue to saute for another 4 minutes.

Frying-onion-ginger-garlic till done

Step 5 

Add the ground spices – 2 tsp of ground cumin, 2 tsp of ground coriander, 1 tsp of turmeric, red chilli powder to the pan.

Add about 2 tbsp of water to prevent the spices from sticking to the bottom of the pan.

Continue to saute the spices until you see oil release from the sides of the onions spice mixture and you do not get the raw smell of the spices.

frying ground spices on onions

Step 6 

Add the chicken to the mixture and coat the pieces well with the spices.

Saute for 5 – 8 minutes on medium to high heat stirring once in a while.

If needed add little water from time to time to prevent it from sticking to the bottom of the pan.


Step 7 

Now add chopped tomatoes to the chicken and saute for further 5 minutes.

The moisture from the tomatoes will evaporate and coat the chicken pieces well.


Step 8

Add warm water to the chicken, stir well and cover the pan and simmer for about 10 minutes or until the chicken is cooked.

Step 9 

Remove cover sprinkle 1 tsp of garam masala powder and a handful of freshly chopped coriander leaves.

Put the lid back on.

Remove from fire and let it stand for 5 minutes before serving hot with rice or any Indian bread.

Your authentic homemade Indian chicken curry is ready!!

To Wrap

When it comes to making a curry at home, just make sure that you are following the cooking process explained above.

But before you get on with cooking, it will become easier for you to divide each cooking component as per its usage and take time to ensure that each ingredient is added at the right time.

Always use your sense of smell and taste when it comes to cooking a good tasty curry and make adjustments to your dish as needed.

Even if you do not get it right the first time, simply following the tips above will guarantee that you will get it right eventually…. so just enjoy!!

Let me know if you found the tips and the easy Indian chicken recipe useful.




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