Background, Tips and Sambals

Back to Recipes Page


KwaZulu-Natal curries are very different to the mild Cape curries and have a unique taste. They can also pack a mean punch! But along with the heat there’s also plenty of flavour. What makes KZN’s curries so different? It’s the unique combination of mixed masalas, and fresh ginger, garlic and coriander as well as curry leaves that impart all the flavour. No fruit, cream or yoghurt is added to a true KZN curry, so they all have a wonderful deep-red colour.

Tip: Curries are flexible – you can adjust the quantities of the spices as you fancy.

Tip: Keep cooked curry in the fridge for up to 3 days – it improves with age.

Tip: Many curry dishes contain potato. Cut down cooking time by par-cooking the potatoes and adding them in the last 30 minutes of cooking.

Masala: Masala literally means spice mixture. There are numerous masala blends, but for a real KZN curry the mixture is very basic.

Garam Masala: Garam means strong, so garam masala literally means a strong curry mix.

Sweet and Spicy Curry: Mix your favourite masala with heated smooth apricot jam (experiment with quantities to get the flavour that suits you) OR add 45 ml brown sugar to 60 ml tomato paste and mix into your curry about 20-30 minutes before end of cooking time.

Garlic and Ginger Paste: Fresh garlic and ginger are indispensable ingredients in Indian cooking. Ready-made pastes are available at supermarkets and Indian food stores.

Coriander (dhania): Fresh coriander leaves (dhania) are the most important herb used in Indian cooking. Only the leaves are used as the stems are slightly bitter and therefore discarded. Coriander is added to hot, stimulating foods to impart a balanced coolness, so if fresh coriander is unavailable, use parsley and chives/spring onions plus a spoonful of grated cucumber instead. 

Bay Leaves: If bay leaves (fresh or dried) are unavailable, fresh citrus tree leaves (lemon, lime) make a good substitute.

Chillies: Chillies vary in size from small to large. The most fiery are the tiny Tabasco chillies. Fairly small fresh green or red chillies are used for curries.

Tamarind: Tamarind is frequently used in KZN curries for its souring effect. The seeds and pods are pressed into a brick which must be soaked in double the volume water before use. Extract the pulp the next day by squeezing the pods with your fingers or straining the liquid through a sieve. Discard the pods and seeds and use the brown pulp.
Tip: Use buttermilk mixed with a little vinegar instead of tamarind.

True Indian curries are dry when cooked; Malaysian and ‘Westernised’ curries are moist and stew-like.


250g cottage cheese and 30 ml toasted coconut mixed together.

Banana slices covered with milk or dipped in lemon juice and sautéed in butter.

Pineapple cubes marinated in coconut milk.

Onion rings sautéed in butter.

Chopped tomatoes, mixed with chopped fresh coriander leaves or parsley or chives and seasoned with salt and black pepper.

Cucumbers in Yoghurt
2 to 3 large cucumbers
3 cups plain yoghurt
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon cayenne
2/3 teaspoon ground cumin
2 chillies, seeded and chopped, or to taste
½ cup chopped fresh coriander or parsley (or ml fresh dried)
Peel and thinly slice cucumbers and place in a colander to drain. Add the drained cucumbers to the remaining ingredients and stir gently. Place in blender or food processor and blend till smooth.

Poppadums: These are among the most popular of the so-called Indian breads. They are usually served at a meal, as a starter or simply as a snack. They are extremely difficult to make in the West as the dough is made from lentils and chick peas ground together to form a very fine flour. They are rolled into ultra-thin wafers and left to dry, which is possible in the very dry weather of India but not in Western countries. So it is best to buy poppadums ready-made. They are widely available at all shops selling Indian spices. They may be deep-fried or have a little butter spread on them and grilled. Remember to fry poppadums two at a time to ensure that they do not curl up.

Rice: Rice is the staple food of more than one thousand million peoples of the East. Rice is not eaten as a grim duty, but because they like it! They eat it with curries as it tempers the acidity and pungency of the curries. It can be boiled, steamed, cooked with dhal (lentil kedgeree) or fried in butter or ghee with spices, raisins or nuts added (pilau). Rice combined with meat and lentils is known as breyani. The best type of rice for use with curries is Patna rice, which can be bought from speciality shops.

Basic Homemade Masala (Curry Powder) (1)
120g turmeric
100g cumin seed
60g fenugreek
120g coriander seed
15g mustard seed
30g chopped ginger root
5 whole black peppercorns
1 dried red chilli
Mix all the ingredients together and grind in a coffee grinder, liquidizer, or pestle and mortar. Place in an airtight container and keep in a cool, dry place.

Basic Homemade Masala (Curry Powder) (2) (Also known as red masala)
100g red chillies, stems removed
80g garlic and ginger paste
30ml herbal salt
45ml sunflower oil
2ml turmeric
45ml water
20ml extra sunflower oil
Place all ingredients except the extra sunflower oil in a blender and blend until smooth. Bottle, cover with the extra oil and keep chilled. Yields ±10 quantities.

Garam Masala (makes about 2 cups)
1 ¼ cups cumin seeds
¾ cups coriander seeds
2t green cardamom seeds
2t black cardamom seeds (if not available, use 4 green)
1T whole cloves
2 x 3cm pieces stick cinnamon
2T whole black peppercorns or to taste
4-5 bay leaves
1/8 nutmeg kernel
Grind all the spices to a fine powder. Store in an airtight jar and refrigerate. 
It stays fresh for months.

Tandoori Masala (makes about 1 ½ cups)
1 cup cumin seeds
½ cup coriander seeds
2t fenugreek seeds (optional)
½ t carum seeds (optional)
8 green cardamom seeds, removed from pods
10 whole cloves
2t whole black peppercorns
1t ground mace
1t fennel seeds
4 bay leaves
1 x 2cm piece stick cinnamon
Grind all the spices to a fine powder. Store in an airtight jar and refrigerate. 
It stays fresh for months.

Back to Recipes Page