How to make a simple curry base

and an easy curry paste to freeze

for Carnivores, vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, soy-free, nut-free people alike

I found this easy vegan tofu curry recipe on holycowvegan.net but it could easily be non-vegan too. Each time I made it,  I didn’t have all her ingredients, so used a mix of ingredients that I already had in the larder.  I’ll let you know the basics, the original recipe, how it can be varied depending on what you have in the larder, and how to make this a base for a quick curry anytime. Hope it helps you make some discoveries too.

Then I started to explore more recipes on her site, got over- confused and overwhelmed, so I set myself the task of simplifying it all for myself here. 

 

True to it´s word, it was easy, delicious, and perfectly spiced – even with the substitutions. If you don’t have all the ingredients yourself, it might be useful to see my thinking when replacing ingredients.  I’ll go through the substitutes I made so you can choose how to easily adjust it to your own taste…  e.g. I wanted it a bit more ‘coconutty’ so I used coconut milk in place of stock. 

Last updated Mar 18, 2022 at 10:48AM | Published on Oct 27, 2021

easy curry sauce (vegan optional)

The recipe Journey

How it started

I love both Indian, Thai, and Indonesian flavours and India is the only place I haven´t been to.  Paul has – yes he was madly looking at turning a palace into a boutique hotel at one point – some time before the Marigold Hotel film came out. So it´s on his bucket list to take me there too.

For now, I get to just eat the flavours of India, and I love to browse the local Asian supermarket for great ingredients. Sadly, since I wrote this post, both local Asian spice shops didn’t survive the covid pandemic. The Chinese run supermarket is still thriving tg. This week I wanted to eat less meat but fancied a ‘meaty’ dish for supper, so for the first time, I picked up some ready-made cooked fried puffed tofu cubes I spied in their vegetable fridge.

Now what, I thought!

When I got home I looked for a really easy Tofu curry recipe and when I read this one I was pretty sure I had all the simple ingredients and if not I had enough to improvise, so made a start.

I liked that it could also easily be made into a vegan, gluten-free, soy-free, nut-free recipe.

The prep.

It really didn´t take long at all to prep. About 10mins followed by about 20mins cooking time. 

I didn´t read that the recipe was for 4-6 servings ! Oops, we had half and that was a huge portion. Then I saved the sauce for later in the week and added some cooked tomato quarters and green lentils. 

I’ve made it again since, and it only takes me a few minutes to gather the ingredients now. Last time I did it I didn’t have tomatoes so I substituted with a tablespoon of tomato paste and a tablespoon of spicy tomatoey Sambal olek. So this second time, everything fitted neatly into the Bamix mini processor and I was able to turn it into a paste immediately. You still need to cook the paste though. At first you can smell the raw onions, but after cooking it down it tastes cooked. Without the tin of tomatoes,  I just needed to add water as I cooked for 10-15mins to get the right thickness. 

My first curry base

So that led me to think this is more than simply a marvellous curry, it’s a great saucy base for lots of suppers. Then I discovered that holycow also had a recipe for a curry paste – which is effectively what I felt this was. So what’s the difference? I started to get lost in the holycowvegan.net site then I was getting confused with so many curry sauce recipes, and the ingredients listed so many times, in different ways and sometimes things were left out, but then mentioned in the comments. It’s a great site but I was getting overwhelmed so I pulled together my favourites and studied the differences. I’ve put them at the end of the post. The journey has begun !

 

tools

Although you could easily call this a one-pot meal, you still need these a chopping board and sharp knife, and a heavy based medium size pan, plus, you´ll find that a hand blender is ESSENTIAL for this recipe! 

I couldn´t live without my hand blender  and processing/chopping bowl – it´s the cooking extension of my arm! I managed to fit my second version of the paste mix neatly into my Bamix mini processing bowl. If you don´t have a hand blender, then check out the TOP 15  and best bargains here.

jamie oliver tomato and red pepper soup recipe

If you don´t even know what a hand blender is, then  START HERE.

The original recipe

ingredients

(for 4-6 servings)

 

First… Blend these

1 medium onion, chopped roughly

3 tomatoes, chopped roughly

1 knob ginger ( 1-2 inches depending on taste)

4 cloves garlic

1 Tblsp coriander powder

1 Tblsp garam masala

1 Tbsp kasoori methi ( dry fenugreek leaves)

2 tspn paprika ( the hungarian variety, or pimento dulce is also good  – it’s mostly for the colour!)

0.5 – 1 tspn cayenne pepper ( optional )

2 Tblpsn raw cashews (or pumpkin seeds for nut free version)

1 teaspn sugar

what you need to cook it… takes about 15mins to get to a paste

1 tbsp veg oil

what you add after the base paste is made…

2-3 cups water or vegetable stock

14oz extra firm Tofu cubes

salt to taste

—-

Stir in 2 Tbsp vegan butter

Serve with 2 tbsp fresh coriander leaves

Method

Step 1

Blend the first section of ingredients.

Step 2

Heat the oil, add the blended ingredients, and cook down to a paste, over a medium to high heat. Stir… al lot ! Taste the paste – it should be cooked not raw now. It can even look sticky ( but mine didn´t).

Step 3

Add the liquid (water, stock, or coconut milk). Stir it in and add salt to your taste. Add the tofu or vegetables or cooked pieces of chicken or fish. Bring back to the boil and cook for 5mins.

Step 4

Stir in the butter. Take off the heat and serve hot (or you can even serve it warm holycowvegan says!)  Garnish with the coriander.

Substitutions

Our version, and other variations gleaned from other reader comments.

Here´s what I substituted with what I had in the larder… before I had studied all the other recipes to understand it more.  So you will get an idea of how flexible this recipe is! I´ve also read through the holycowvegan.net comments on her recipes and added any tips I found useful below for you.

Spices

I only had a half a tablespoon of garam masala to use, so I added half a tablespoon of curry powder to it. Not straight curry powder but a lovely blend I bought in the Netherlands ( Amsterdam) for Indonesian curries. Curry powder and Garam masala are definitely not the same thing. It made my curry more brown ( mixing red and yellow!) but it gave a lovely flavour  – I actually don’t like a really strong curry taste so it worked well to have a little here, especially as I made my more creamy.

CreamY or not?

I didn´t have cashews so I used a mix of brazil nuts and sunflower seeds. Almonds would have worked too, I imagine.   If you´re skipping the fenugreek leaves too then I imagine sesame seeds would be a good substitute to give a mix of  the creamy nut and bitter leaves flavour.

I learned later that pumpkins seeds are good, and actually that is also something I learned is good on a low carb diet. Second time I made this, I used pumpkin seeds instead of cashews and it was also really delicious.

Cashews are very creamy and so I also used a tin of coconut milk to put more creaminess back in instead of the vegetable stock. TIP: Someone had commented that theirs turned out too watery so if you are doing the veggie stock version make sure you do it at the end and not with the original blended mix. 

fenugreek

I didn´t have fenugreek leaves – was going to add bay leaves but forgot. So I have to get these for the next time I make this and see what difference it makes. Fenugreek is such a staple in Indian cooking and I recently threw out old fenugreek seeds as I hadn´t used them. I´m curious about the different flavours between the seeds and the leaves… I feel a wee journey starting here ! I read the seeds are much stronger and more bitter so only use a pinch, or skip it if you don´t have the leaves.

A reader commented on her recipe to say that fenugreek leaves are meant to taste like celery leaves or watercress ! Interesting, so celery leaves can be a tad bitter so I guess that works, and this is a great way to use them up ! That reader put rocket leaves in as a replacement and it worked well too. So that’s what I did too on my second time making this, and I loved it. When I was using up the leftover sauce, I just added it to some cooked broccoli and added fresh rocket leaves on top – tasted amazing ! 

I guess the more I make this, the more I will get to my favourite list of ingredients too.

Butter

I used dairy butter – didn´t have any vegan butter and am not vegan so was happy with that. It adds a final sheen to the curry when you add it at. the end 🙂 Next time I’d like to try browned butter ( no lactose) / ghee.

Tomatoes

You might think this is impossible to make without the tomatoes. Well I didn’t have any fresh ones in, nor did I have a tin of chopped tomatoes. THat’s unusual for this house but Paul is on a low carb diet and realised tomatoes were too high for him at the moment. So then I remembered that time I didn’t have tomato paste, but I had tinned tomatoes and I made one from the other in this unusual mushroom pasta recipe . So this time I switched it round and used a heaped tablespoon of tomato paste, and a tablespoon of sambal olek ( a spicy garlicky tomato sauce we adore and use on roast chicken etc too ) and omitted adding any cayenne into the curry.

Coriander

Had to go without coriander leaves as our plant seems to have disappeared when we went away for 6 months 🙁 I find currys are always better with coriander leaves but it´s not a necessity… which is great for those who can´t stand the taste of coriander. But the second time I had this I put rocket on top and loved it!

Tofu

See the tips at the end for different types of tofu and how it tastes. Instead of tofu you could use roasted veggies like courgette and aubergine, or cooked lentils, or a protein like chicken if you’re going for the meat!

Sugar

For sugar, I used palm sugar  for time round- much better for you and unctuous and brown. Second time round I a tablespoon of my own home made stevia water that I had made from steeping the leaves overnight. 

Ginger – dried vs. fresh

I used more than 1 inch of ginger as I had a big fat piece to use! I learned recently that only fresh ginger has anti-viral properties as well as anti-biotic! The dried powders apparently only have antibiotic powers. I keep ginger in 1-2 inch “knobs” in the freezer before I see it start to dry up. Second time round I used ground ginger as that was all I had 🙁 – nothing wrong with it, but I’d say fresh ginger was definitely better.

Not the prettiest but so tasty!

TIPS

Red onions or shallots are always best with Indian food, but any onion is fine.

Use pumpkin seeds instead of cashews for a nut-free version

Paprika adds a red colour. Tumeric adds yellow.

Add Sugar to balances out the flavours.

Use baked tofu to add a chewy texture to the curry

Use cubed super firm tofu for a softer and creamier curry

Use vegetable stock instead of water to give a deeper flavour

Add dried mushrooms (powdered) to add umami flavour

Add the dry fenugreek leaves later if you want a less bitter taste.

If you’re soaking dried mushrooms to add umumi flavour ( see the curry paste recipe below) , then reserve the soaking water after you’ve drained the mushrooms. It will be another great stock to add to any curry or other dish you are making!

Add the stock water later rather than earlier. Make sure you have reduced the mix to a thick paste first. Maybe add a half cup at a time.

 

Think of the recipe in sections

Sauce base

Tomatoes start it off at the beginning, in the curry paste.

Cashews ( or coconut cream /milk top) for creaminess.

Liquid Stock/water/nut milk in the middle to end to make it into a sauce

 

Add Aromatics

Onions, garlic, ginger

 

Extra flavour

something umami like mushrooms or stock

Add Spices

Bigger quantity spices- Coriander , garam masala

Medium quantity spices – paprika

Small quantity spices – cayenne, cumin, turmeric

 

ADD protein

e.g. for 4 servings, use 1x 8- oz block of baked tofu cut into ¼-inch cubes. 

 

Finisher

Mix a knob of butter in for shine, top with coriander leaves, rocket leaves, chopped nuts

 

serving suggestion

Simple – serve with naan or rice. I’m interested in finding out what holyvegan’s carrot rice is though! Will let you know when I try it.

 

Interesting discovery

I’m on this new regime where I’m fasting (check out the dopamine diet and net carbs journey that I just wrote about).

I’m also on. a mission to use up ingredients we have here before we pack up and move on the Spanish Balearic islands for spring-time. So I had the big pack of Spirulina I bought no a health craze day but never opened. I wanted to up my intake of iodine for my thyroid as I have a big goiter there. Anyway, I keep reading that it’s so hard to hide the taste in smoothies so I thought I would go savoury instead.

Green curry anyone!

I mixed a tablespoon into my curry sauce, and lo and behold , apart from changing the colour, I couldn’t taste it at all! I added a little creme fraîche too as it got very thick – and this gave it a really really rich taste. Perhaps too rich as I couldn’t finish it! I added some leftover cooked broccoli and fresh rocket on top. It was so filling and tasty!  I had some more sauce left over so I thinned it down with nut milk and added some pre-cooked broccoli and warmed it all up together. Then I topped with green rocket, green pumpkin seeds, and roasted walnuts ( I just had these ready – you could use pecans or almonds too.) 

 

In fact, I didn’t realise how colour coordinated I was! me, and my surroundings. Should have saved this for St.Patrick’s day!

Now, it’s ages since I had a green smoothie and one of the variations on the best green smoothie recipe I saved is to add a teaspoon of spirulina. So I’m going to test that out next.

Recipe comparison

one pot Curry recipe vs. Curry paste recipe

This is a bit of a living document in that I’m writing this as you read! So I’ve pulled the recipes in from the great author below (credit hoycowvegan.net ) bear with me as I make my conclusions here for you. I’ve started by highlighting the differences in bold.

The paste recipe seems to be for twice the quantity for a start, so take that into consideration.

Here’s the differences  

1. The curry paste is not cooked down until you want to make a curry. So you just make the paste  and freeze or refrigerate it till then.

2.  The main taste difference is in the spicing – the curry paste has an added cumin and turmeric combination.

3. Apart from that – the one pot curry has a little sugar added, but surely that can be down to taste – to add or not. Similarly, the curry past recipe has added umami taste with the mushrooms. Again, with adding umami, I do this in lots of dishes so I can’t see why you can’t do this to the one pot curry also if you want to. So the sugar and umami are optional extras that can only add depth and bring out flavour to both in my view. Play with it! 

one pot curry

I batch: 4servings

Ingredients

Base
3 medium tomatoes (roughly chopped)

Creaminess
2 tablespoon raw cashews (use pumpkin seeds for a nut-free version)

Aromatics

  • 1 medium onion (roughly chopped)
  • 1 inch knob ginger
  • 4 cloves garlic

Sugar and Spice

  • 1 tablespoon coriander powder
  • 1 tablespoon garam masala
  • 2 teaspoon paprika (Fruity, slightly sweet toasty flavor)
  • ½ to 1 teaspoon cayenne (optional)
  • 1 tablespoon kasoori methi (dry fenugreek leaves)
  • 1 teaspoon sugar


To cook

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

Liquid

2-3 cups of water or vegetable stock

To taste

Salt
2 tablespoon vegan butter

 

To garnish

2 tablespoon cilantro

Method

1. Place all the paste ingredients,(ie all except the vegetable oil, tofu, butter, cilantro and salt,) into a blender and blitz into a very smooth paste.

2. Heat the oil in a wide saucepan or wok. Add the tomato-onion paste and cook it, covered, over a medium-high flame, stirring frequently, until the moisture is mostly gone, the paste looks darker, and shimmers with oil droplets. The paste should look quite sticky at this point and should not taste raw. This step should take you anywhere from 10-15 minutes.

3. Add 2-3 cups of water or vegetable stock, depending on the thickness you want for your curry, along with the tofu cubes.

4. Add salt, stir to mix everything, bring back to a boil and cover and cook another five minutes.

5. Stir in the vegan butter.

6. Serve hot or warm, garnished with cilantro.

Curry paste curry

2 batches :2 x 4servings

Ingredients

Base
3 medium tomatoes (roughly chopped)

Creaminess
¼ cup ( i.e. 4 tablespoons) raw cashews (or pumpkin seeds if nut-free).

 

Aromatics

  • 2 medium onions (or four shallots, roughly chopped)
  • 2-inch knob ginger (roughly chopped)
  • 8 cloves garlic

Spices

  • 2 tablespoon ground coriander
  • 2 tablespoon garam masala
  • 1-2 teaspoon paprika (optional, for colour
  • 1-2 teaspoon cayenne (use less if sensitive to heat)
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon tumeric
  • 1 tablespoon Kasoori methi or dry fenugreek leaves. Adding it to the raw paste will make it a little more bitter. Add it later for a less bitter flavour, when you are making a curry with the curry paste. Crush it between your palms as you add it to the pot.

Umami depth
4 dry shiitake mushrooms (or any dry mushrooms. You can also use fresh crimini or button or any other mushrooms. For dry mushrooms, soak 15 minutes in hot water. Drain before using. Or, powder them up in the bamix and use dry!)

    Method for making the paste

    • Place the chopped tomatoes, onions, garlic, ginger at the bottom of the blender. Add the soaked mushrooms. Then add the cashews (or pumpkin seeds), ground coriander, ground cumin, turmeric, cayenne, paprika if using, garam masala to the blender. (Add the kasoori methi now for a stronger bitterness, or later when cooking, for a less bitter taste.
    • Blend all the ingredients into a smooth paste.

    • TIP: Do not add any water to the blender. The moisture from the onions and tomatoes is enough to blend this. This will make it much easier to cook the paste when you make the curry later.

    • Use or refrigerate/freeze.

    How to make a curry with the paste

    1. Heat 1 teaspoon of any vegetable oil (like avocado oil) in a saucepan. Add half the curry paste to it (don’t add any water). Saute the paste over low or medium-low heat, about 10 minutes, until most of the water has evaporated and it becomes quite glossy and a few shades darker (there’s little fat here so you won’t really see any fat express). If you taste the curry paste, it should not taste raw.

    2. Add any protein or quick-cooking vegetable, including tofu, vegan meat substitute, cooked lentils, boiled potatoes, zucchini or cauliflower to the saucepan with two cups water or vegetable stock.

    3. Add a tablespoon of kasoori methi if you didn’t add any to the curry paste originally ( just crumble the dried leaves in your hands and it will be less bitter added later ) and salt to taste.

    4. Cook 10 minutes or until the curry is quite thick. Add more water if needed. Finish with a tablespoon of vegan butter for a smooth mouth-feel.

    5. Finish off your curry,  with a tablespoon of butter for a smooth, creamy curry with extra flavour.

    6. Garnish with cilantro / coriander leaves.

    Tofu curry – Recipe no. 3!

    I’ve since seen yet another tofu curry recipe on that site. And this is why I was getting overwhelmed and confused. The main difference in the spicing on that one was with a half teaspoon each of cumin seed / mustard seed / fennel seed heated in oil to bring the flavour out. It had no tomatoes in the recipe, and  kept the half teaspoon of cayenne,  and and replaced the remaining spices with just 3 tablespoons of curry or sambar powder – so let’s try that too! It also used no garlic, and half the quantity of cashews. a teaspoon of coconut oil, juice of ½ lemon, 3 tablespoon chickpea flour besan.  That’s it – put it all in a blender and add a cup of water to it when cooking it up before adding your protein.

     

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