I grew up with Keens Madras Curry Powder, the Australian introduction to the flavours of India. It was used for all sorts of Western dishes that home cooks believed were enhanced by a bit of spice and heat. My own kitchen graduated from the generic curry powder base to curries, and most of the time we grind our spice blend to be specific for the dish. But we do keep a couple of spice mixes, which we call curry powder for convenience, for the days when time is short and life is busy. This one is similar to the Keens Curry Powder of old, and can be used in all sorts of dishes, Indian and non-Indian.
Actually, Madras curry powder is not a traditional Indian spice blend while it does use Indian ingredients. It was originally a selection of ingredients that were designed to suit English colonial tastes, and differs quite a bit from the spice blends used in Tamil Nadu and South India.
Madras Curry Powder gets its heat from Indian chillies and black pepper, and has a lot of turmeric which provides an intense yellow colour. Spices like fenugreek and cumin provide much of the flavour. Use in dals and vegetable dishes, as well as soups, dips, and slow cooked bean dishes. Add it to coconut milk, or tamarind water, to form a base for your curry.
There are many different blends for Madras Curry Powder. Here is one that I particularly like.
Madras Curry Powder
0.5 Tblspn brown mustard seeds
1.5 Tblspn coriander seeds
1 Tblspn cumin seeds
12 whole cardamom pods
2 tspn fenugreek seeds
2 tspn black pepper
12 curry leaves
5 – 6 Indian dried red chillies, or to taste
2 Tblspn turmeric powder
In a dry pan over a low heat, toast the spices separately (except the turmeric) until they begin to change colour. Roast the curry leaves until they dry and crackle.
When cool, grind to a fine powder, then mix with the turmeric. Store in an airtight container away from the light.
recipe notes and alternatives
The coriander, cumin and mustard seeds can be toasted together if you wish, to save time. Likewise, the cardamom, fenugreek and pepper can be roasted together.
Other spices that can be added: ajwain seeds, cloves, dried fenugreek leaves, cinnamon or cassia bark, fennel seeds and/or ginger powder.