If you’re like me, you’ve probably followed a curry recipe or two that has turned out disappointingly bland and lacking depth. This is often extra frustrating when you’ve spent a long time making it. I wanted to recreate more rich-tasting curries that you find in authentic restaurants, so went and found some key advice that I’ll share here.
Curries can be bland if you haven’t used enough of the base aromatics of garlic, ginger, and onion. The onion should be caramelized in oil until well browned and flavorful. Spices should not be old enough to lose potency and preferably should be toasted and ground yourself.
Curry also needs cooking methods that bring out the complexities of flavor in different ways. If you simply throw all your curry ingredients into the pot and let them simmer away, as you would a stew, you will end up with a bland and likely watery curry that no one wants to eat.
There are a few simple steps to elevate your curry from spicy stew to an authentic dish that is fragrant and delicious with a distinctive and lively flavor.
I can really recommend the cookbook “The Curry Guy Bible” from Amazon which focuses on building amazing flavor like in restaurant-style curries.
How To Fix Bland Curry
If you’ve been struggling with getting your curries to taste better you’ll love these straightforward and simple tips that will help you fix the basic mistakes novice home chefs make when preparing curry.
There are several reasons why your curries are lacking depth, and by correcting these issues, your curries will immediately taste better.
Cooking Your Aromatics To Fix A Bland Curry
Start by using enough ingredients: For two people, 1-2 onions, 1 inch of ginger, and 2-3 garlic cloves. Cook the chopped onion until golden brown before adding the ginger and garlic until fragrant.
Along with your spices, your aromatics form the base of your curry, and not using enough of them or not cooking them for long enough will result in a bland dish.
The most common aromatics in Indian cooking are onion, ginger, and garlic. They are the “holy trinity” of curries in the same way that onion, celery, and carrot are the holy trinity of Italian cooking.
One of the biggest mistakes when cooking aromatics is not cooking them long enough and in too little oil. Be generous with your cooking oil, and make sure to cook your onions over low heat long enough to brown them thoroughly and develop their flavor. This might take 20-30 minutes but by caramelizing the onions, you release natural sweetness, making your curry richer.
Once the onion is browned, add the minced ginger and garlic and cook until they smell great, they will burn if you cook them for too long but need to be cooked before moving to the next steps.
Use Fresh Spices To Fix A Bland Curry
You might be using spices that are too old and have lost their strength and flavor. If any of your spice jars are on the old side then it’s time to check them – they should smell aromatic and not muted. Preferably use ground spices that are less than six months old and whole spices less than 2 years – the fresher, the better.
Ground spices are OK but you don’t know how long ground spices have been on the shelf. Buy the whole spices and grind yourself instead. Toast them in a dry pan to release their aroma before grinding.
Rather than buying jars of ready-made curry paste or powder, make your own curry blends by purchasing the right spices and cooking them correctly. You’ll likely need to be more generous with the spices than you have been – spices are a huge factor in what gives curry its taste and texture.
Try 4 key spices to start with as you don’t need to have a whole cupboard full: ground cumin, coriander, turmeric, and chili powder. Use equal amounts of cumin and coriander and about a quarter the amount of turmeric and chili powder.
Many Indian or Oriental markets will sell bags of spices, often together in batches, for distinctive curry flavor profiles. You can grind these spices together to create a spice base that will be rich and intense.
Spices are usually cooked at the start of the recipe, which helps release the flavors and season the oil for further cooking. Follow your recipe accordingly, and don’t be stingy with your spices.
The spice blend garam masala is added at the end of the cooking for extra taste and aroma.
Make A Tasty Sauce To Avoid Bland Curry
The final main part of making curry is the liquid which turns the aromatics and spices in the pan into a sauce.
This can be made with tomatoes, yogurt, coconut milk, or a base sauce made from pureed onions, water, and spices. Different ingredients are characteristic of areas of India – in the south they use coconut milk as its tropical.
Some curries end up tasting predominately of tomatoes and little else. To avoid this, check out my post on how to reduce the tomato flavor in curry.
A lot of western restaurants will make a base sauce and use it in most of the curries on the menu. Instead of making 20 pots of different curries, they can use this sauce to kick start the individual curries with some specific spices when ordered.
The base sauce makes extremely tasty curries as the onion, tomatoes, and spices are reduced down and then blended smooth. It adds a real depth of flavor but it does take extra time. See a recipe for base sauce here.
Best Practices When Making Curry
By keeping in mind these tips and best practices when making curry, you can make simple dishes taste great. From here you can experiment with more spices and ingredients to suit your taste.
- Use fresh whole spices when making your spice mix rather than powdered spice mixes, per your recipe.
- Cook the spices and aromatics (ginger, garlic, onion) well in enough oil at low heat until they form a mushy base. Have patience and enjoy the process.
- Rather than using canned tomato, which can make your base watery, try using a few tablespoons of tomato puree instead. See my other post on curries that are too tomatoey.
- Simmer sauces to thicken them and intensify flavors. Tomato often needs simmering longer to mellow its tangy and sometimes overpowering taste. Try to avoid a curry that is too thin.
- Marinade your meats for extra flavor and tenderness – traditional Indian marinades often include yogurt, spices, and spice powder like garam masala.
- Slow cook the tasty, tougher, cheaper cuts of meat in your curry sauce for extra flavor
- Be careful when adding extra water – too much will make your curry watery.
- Add a little ground garam masala powder last to intensify the flavor and aroma of your curry.
It may look like a lot, but if you are using a good recipe to start with, these steps will all be part of the process and explained. As you become better at making curries, these practices will become second nature.
Can You Add Spices To Curry After Cooking?
You can add spices to curry at the end of cooking such as powdered garam masala. It is used as a final seasoning to not overcook its aromatics, as opposed to curry powder which is added near the start of cooking.
While you should always begin your curry by cooking your fresh whole or lightly ground spices, some spices are added at the end of the cooking process, which helps brighten your curry and add extra flavor depth.
Some traditional spices in Indian cooking are cumin, coriander, pepper, cloves, cassia, cardamom, star anise, curry leaves, and bay leaf. This mix is commonly known as garam masala.
You’ve most likely seen or have a premixed and powdered garam masala spice jar in your spice rack. Most often you don’t want to use this powder to start your curry, but rather to finish it. A little powdered garam masala is often added at the end of the curry cooking time to add an aromatic lift when it needs it.
So, you can definitely add a little garam masala powder when your curry is nearly done if you were wondering if it will work. But the original spice mix used at the start of the curry might not be suitable to add at the end as some spices are best cooked.
You can also add extra fresh, chopped chilies, coriander (cilantro), or ground pepper at the end if you feel you need to add more heat to taste.
Hopefully, now you know why your curry is bland and how you can improve it.
Make sure that your onions are well-browned and softened in your oil and that you make a good curry base with the addition of ginger and garlic. Your spices need to be relatively fresh to add the taste you were expecting.
The secret to a rich, flavorful curry is to allow the taste to develop over a long cooking time and to use fresh spices cooked well.