When I was in my early 20’s I had one curry dish and hated it and was completely sure that I hated “curry”. And then real life happened. Friend Zam fed me these insanely delish Indian hand pies filled with curried beef after a drunken night out. Friend Babs from Jamaica made me her version of Curry Chicken. Of course, back then, I was not the cook that I am today and asked neither of them for the recipes. I honestly wish I could recreate those meat pies Zam fed me. They were like Jamaican Meat Pies in form and function but seasoned in a completely different way. Zam, if you are reading this, I need that recipe!
I honestly didn’t know that you could MAKE your own curry powder!
In culinary school I was taught that “curry” is nothing more than a mixture of spices and seasonings used to flavor a dish. Imagine my surprise when we were instructed to make Curried Butternut Squash Soup. After scouring the spice shelves and not finding curry powder, I was told I needed to make it. MAKE IT?! I honestly didn’t know that you could MAKE your own curry powder! I truthfully thought that it was like cinnamon. It sits there on the shelf and then you buy it. To be fair, even though I had to create curry powder in culinary school, and can do it if required, I usually just go to the Indian Market and buy it. Or I go to the Asian Market and buy the Thai Curry Paste that I like. If I was a true badass, I WOULD make my own, but alas I am not.
The flexibility of Curry is one of the best things about it
Curry is a vast, varied, and thoroughly tasty subject. One of the best things about it for me is the flexibility. It can be hot or mild. Nearly any protein can be added, or NOT if you are cooking for vegetarians. In many cases it is gluten free, so when my celiac suffering friends come to dinner, I can whip up something tasty to be served with rice. Several cultures have their own special blends and within a culture those blends can vary by region. Friend Natasha informed me that southern Indian is incredibly different from northern Indian. I am NOT an expert by any standard on curry (or anything else for that matter). I just know what I like.
Changing Minds with Gentle Introductions
Members of my family have insisted they do not like curry. A fact that I am happy to report I am correcting. Sister Nancy recently learned she loves Thai Red Curry when I sent her the shelf stable ingredients via Amazon to make her own and talked her through a simple process on the phone. My mom has said for years that she “hates curry”. I fixed that for her with my Curried Chicken Waldorf Salad. That recipe is below.
While variety may be the spice of life, curry is the queen of my spice world right now. I find myself slipping it in wherever I think a tried & true staple is boring. That’s how I came up with the recipe below. Curried Fried Rice? Sure, why the hell not? Curried Chicken Salad? Hell yes! As I type I am inspired to try a few other things that may or may not pan out. But experimentation is how all innovation starts.
Curried Waldorf Chicken Salad
Here is the low down on a true Waldorf Salad from the Waldorf Astoria Cookbook (copyright 1969 by Bramhall House Publishing). There are 4 ingredients in a TRUE Waldorf – apple, celery, walnuts, real mayo (not Miracle Whip – perish the thought), served on a piece of leaf lettuce. There are no proteins, no grapes, nothing else. Just those 4 things.
Obviously, we are deviating here. I cut my mayo with plain full fat Greek Yogurt. This does a couple of things. First it cuts the calories significantly. Second, the natural acids in the yogurt stop the apples from getting slimy and browning (something I discovered by accident when I was trying to reduce the calorie count), so you can store it for a few days in the fridge. Take note – the last 3 ingredients are to taste and desired texture. Start with the lower amounts and add more if you like a little more dressing or seasoning in your salad.
1 large or medium crisp red skinned apple, (Honey Crisp, Cosmic, etc.) cored, seeded, and diced in ½” pieces
1 rib of celery diced in ¼” pieces
¼ C coarsely chopped walnuts* (or more to taste)
3 oz cooked chicken breast (leftovers from a rotisserie chicken work well here), diced in ½” pieces
¼ – ½ C plain Greek yogurt
3 – 4 Tbsp real mayo (both Hellmann’s and Duke’s work well here)
¾ tsp store bought yellow curry powder – Madras curry is a good choice
A pinch of kosher salt
Put everything in a mixing bowl except the walnuts and stir gently to coat. Make sure you have enough dressing to cling to all the ingredients without it being soupy. Taste it. If you want a little more curry, add it ¼ tsp at a time until you get the desired flavor. Same goes for the salt. Keep in mind, you can always add more, but you can’t take it out. Fold in the walnuts last so you don’t further break them up into fine pieces.
*I find the best way to chop walnuts for this recipe is to lay them on the cutting board and using the flat part of a large knife, gently crush them. You’ll get nice nuggets of nut meat without pulverizing the entire nut.