currying flavour

The title of this post should really be, How to Make a Balls-Up of a Perfectly Good Recipe that Other People have been Following for Years with Total Success.


This recipe comes from the lovely book that Kathryn sent me from Colorado last year, when I acquired a slow cooker and tried to embrace a more domestic persona.


On the spice side, it calls for curry powder, paprika, cumin, coriander, salt and pepper. Oh yay I already had all those ingredients! And more – I also found tumeric, a packet of curry leaves and some chili flakes. May as well use them up, too, right?

Mistake #1: Don’t think you know better than the person who wrote the recipe. If you start chucking in any old thing that you come across in your spice rack, you will destroy the delicate balance of North African flavours that the dish is supposed to be about.

Mistake #2: Take the quantities seriously. If the recipe calls for 1 tablespoon of curry powder, do not simply open the jar and vigorously shake the powder all over the meat and onions. The same goes for the paprika and the cumin and the chili flakes. Once it’s in and cooking, it’s impossible to get it out later.

Mistake #3: When you buy your curry powder straight from Priscilla (the lovely Indian woman from Durban who makes her own and then travels round the country selling it directly from the back of her van because it’s so popular), you’d better know that it is The Real Thing, not some watered-down mild version from the supermarket. If you use too much and then eat the food, you will die. Okay, you won’t actually die but you will be wishing that death would come because the physical agony of consuming a massively over-curried mouthful of food is sheer torture.

I prepared this early on Friday. The aroma was so wonderful, I couldn’t wait to have a taste of my wonderful dish. By 7.00pm it was time. I spooned out some of the sauce and let it cool for a while in a cup before taking a hearty swig. By 7.06, my entire body had broken out in a very serious sweat and my mouth, nasal passages and throat had swollen up – I couldn’t even scream for help. I bounced off the walls for as long as it took for the nightmare to end (about 30 minutes!) and then managed to calm down enough to google How to Salvage your Fire Food.

One hack wasn’t enough. My food had to be rescued by using three of the remedies: 200ml of cream, 750ml plain yogurt, and a big slosh of balsamic vinegar. So, all was not lost in the end. But you know what they say – once burned, twice shy. I think I won’t try my hand at making curry again for a very long time…

21 thoughts on “currying flavour

  1. katechiconi

    So… you didn’t already know that you cannot quench curry with beer or water? It has to be a dairy product. As for the dish itself, I’ve been known to spoon out 80% of the sauce and replace it with cream/coconut cream. After which, I might add, the diners thought it was a nice, flavourful curry but it needed a bit more bite! I’m sorry for your pain, both physical and mental. But at least you’ve learned the Do Not Mess with Curry Ingredients lesson…

    1. Nice Piece of Work Post author

      Well, in retrospect it is funny. But at the time, if I hadn’t been leaking sweat, I would have been leaking tears because this was to be the main course for a group of friends the following evening. I didn’t want to put them through any agony either, or waste a few hundred rands’ worth of ingredients!!! :)

  2. insearchofitall

    Having no tolerance for spicy food to start with, I am so sorry for your extreme experience as I laugh hysterically at your expense. You will find none of those ingredients in my kitchen ever. Mom got a “hot” pizza once and was going nuts. The waitress came by and suggested sugar packets on the tongue which immediately stopped the burn. We can’t do dairy so the sugar was a good solution. Thanks for all the lessons here. :)

    1. Nice Piece of Work Post author

      I forgot to mention, when the all-over body fire had started to cool and I was beginning to feel human again, I opened a bottle of white wine, poured some into a large glass full of ice cubes and knocked it back. Definitely helped me over the hump….

  3. Lisa

    You made me laugh! And you obviously went to the same cooking school I did – my 12 year old runs and hides if I mention Thai curry after a similar incident. Poor kid is scarred for life.

  4. Rainbow Junkie

    A bit funny after the event eh? Telling you to add “curry powder” is making the recipe a bit imprecise, so the other things you added maybe didn’t matter too much but quantities yes, they do matter unfortunately. I always use about half the amount of chili specified when I make a curry. Didn’t know about dairy to quieten a curry down as mentioned in one comment. So I have learnt something too.

  5. coppicelearner

    I have not made that mistake but I have been fed curries hotter than I enjoy so understand the pain – mine ramped up a lot by the sound of it. I remember the one and only time I made steak and kidney pudding – for 2 when the recipe was for 4. Despite a maths degree (very different from arithmetic as I keep trying to explain to people) I halved some ingredients and doubled others – rib sticking is probably the kindest way to describe the result! And my husband never, ever, let me forget that one!

  6. Linne

    Nice of you to make us all laugh, Jill. Maybe next time just post the Dr. Seuss poetry (I, for one, would enjoy it; I do that, too a times). I tend to add a little of hot stuff, then more to taste, so I haven’t had that sort of experience yet, but you reminded me of a lunch I had with a friend at a small sushi cafe. I’d read about sushi and all that, but mis-identified the wasabi on the side as being avocado. Yep, I ate it all in one bite! And then sat in the middle of the cafe with tears running down my face as I drank several glasses of water. I do know now to drink milk . . . Too funny, and I found I loved wasabi and still do, just not in such large quantities. Glad you survived and thanks for the chuckles. ~ Linne

  7. The Little Room of Rachell

    I know it’s too late but milk is the answer…..drink some or yoghurt and it helps with the burn from the chilli oil. I rubbed my eye with chilli and googled what to do as luckily the other eye was unaffected! It said to put cotton wool in milk and hold to the eye, works a treat.


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