There is nothing more satisfying than sopping up the last drops of curry from the plate with a few grains of rice. The word "curry," a corruption of the Tamil word kari, is a generic name used for every Indian dish cooked in a spicy liquid. The western notion that curry derives its color from the sprinkling of a distinctly yellow curry powder is unfortunately a misconception. And as for curry powder, it does not come from one spice plant called "curry."
South Indian vegetable curries are dishes that contain a few or many ingredients, thoughtfully seasoned and cooked in a thick or thin sauce and served with plain boiled rice. There is a lot of room to be creative in the world of curries. The spectrum of vegetable curries varies greatly in terms of taste, texture, color and complexity. Our traditional food has a very simple cooking style. The spices used are comparatively limited, but they have the ability to bring out and highlight the taste of the ingredients used, particularly the original taste of the vegetables. Variety comes from innovative methods of preparing vegetables with different herbs and spices. Everyday home curries are robust and full flavored, yet mild enough to be enjoyed by children and adults alike.
South India is blessed with an overwhelming variety of vegetables and fruits. Legumes are plenty; there are over a dozen varieties of green, black, yellow, red, and white beans and peas in all sorts of shapes - small, large, round, and flat. Each legume is used in a particular way for individual curries that require the special characteristics of that one kind of legume above any other.
The spicy curry base, masala, is made with a blend of spices. Added to this masala is an array of herbs along with liquids like water, yogurt, coconut milk, or pureed lentils. The spice blend should be vivid enough to give sparkle to the vegetables, but not so strong that the character of the vegetable is obscured. As they cook in the sauce, the vegetables impart their flavors to one another, resulting in an outstanding dish. There are set rules dictating the use of specific spices for each curry. Our vegetable curries traditionally do not use any stocks or thickeners such as flour or cornstarch.
This chapter on curries is divided into three segments: popular curries, seasonal curries, and curries from the madapilli (royal kitchen).