TAVA makes Indian curry from scratch

January 16, 2013 10:05:07 AM PST
Curry is barely understood in America. Some say it's a blend of spices, others say it's a leaf. It's both.

Despite what you may have seen in the spice aisle at the local supermarket, curry does not come in a jar, and Major Grey has nothing to do with it. But the British did bring the flavors from India. Problem was: it's not easy to make.

ABC7's Hungry Hound recently visited a family-run restaurant in the northwest suburbs where the Indian curry is made from scratch, nearly every day.

It's hard to fully appreciate a rich, complex Indian curry, unless you actually see it come together. At TAVA, a modern Indian restaurant in a Morton Grove strip mall, they have several curries on the menu and each of them is made from scratch.

"India is very diverse. Every 40 miles you travel, you find a different culture. Every single state makes the curry in a different way," said chef and co-owner Mahesh Sharma.

To better understand the complexity of their Northern-style curry chicken, consider the shopping list of 17 ingredients: black cardamom, ground cumin, cumin seed, green cardamom, clove, coriander seed, ground coriander, star anise, salt, mace, turmeric, cinnamon, black pepper, dried curry leaves, chili powder, fresh garlic and dried chili.

Sharma toasts and sautees the spices, adding onions to the pan, building layers of flavor. The last thing he adds are the ground spices, and then, in an effort to balance that heat, some fresh yogurt. He says the dairy that's added depends on the region the cook is from.

"Some could be milk-based, yogurt-based. In Southern part would be coconut-based," he said.

Tomatoes and a handful of fresh cilantro are the final two ingredients to go into the saute pan. Once they're cooked, it all goes into a blender, where the curry is pureed. Back on the stove, some dried fenugreek is added to boneless chicken that's been marinated in red pepper and cumin powder.

The thick, fragrant curry engulfs everything; a few dried curry leaves and a bit more fresh cilantro give the dish an added punch of flavor.

At the table, puffy, blistered flatbread, called naan is served, as is fluffy basmati rice. The combination of so many ingredients into such a compact dish results in a depth of flavor rarely found in other cuisines.

"When you combine all of these different spices together, all of them have their own, distinct flavor," said Sharma.

You can buy shortcuts at places like Trader Joe's, but if you want to do it yourself, best to visit a store like Patel Brothers in West Rogers Park or Schaumburg where they have everything you'll need.

TAVA 7172 Dempster St., Morton Grove 847-966-8282 http://www.tavadining.com/