The Real Thing; For Indian curry with finesse and fire, look no farther than L.A.
The Los Angeles Times; Los Angeles, Calif.; Sep 18, 2002; BARBARA HANSEN; (Copyright The Times Mirror Company; Los Angeles Times 2002. All rights reserved.)
Los Angeles is a city proud of its spectacular range of ethnic foods and proud, too, that so much of it is authentic. When it comes to authenticity, however, a glaring exception is Indian curry. Oh, there are many dishes that are described as curry. But, trust us, they're just impostors.

Yet the genuine article does in fact exist here. It's just that you have to know where to look and know what you're looking for. And if you find it--or if you prepare it at home--you're in for a culinary epiphany. A true curry is carefully cooked, with freshly ground spices balanced skillfully so that the flavor is alluringly spicy--not just fiery hot. Good curries are never drenched with oil or thickened with flour. And they never taste alike. Each has its own character, and each should be eaten thoughtfully. Those who understand curry know it is best appreciated when it is tempered with rice or bread, rather than being scooped up straight, as if it were a soup or a stew.

These are four of the best curries I've eaten in this city. Each is from a different region of India, and each is a stunning representation of that style of cooking. The chefs were willing to tell how they make them, even volunteering to demonstrate so we could see how they created these superb flavors. All of them are easy to reproduce at home, even if you've never cooked Indian food before. There are no secret techniques, only meticulous procedures and timing. Follow directions, work with patience and use the correct ingredients, and you will have an excellent curry, too.

Once you've experienced the real thing, you'll never settle for bogus cooking--the kormas made with canned white sauce, Punjabi seasonings from the north thrown into south Indian food, garam masala sprinkled on every dish. It's not always a matter of deception. Cooks may have no professional training, and may not have the time or resources to roast and grind spices and prepare sauces fresh each day. It's more convenient to use commercially ground spices and store batches of sauce in the refrigerator.

Here's just one example of what happens. Almost every restaurant slaps the word vindaloo onto a fiery dish that tastes nothing like it would in its place of origin, which is Goa, the former Portuguese enclave on the west coast of India.

Goan food is particularly difficult to find here, so we sought out one of the few Goan chefs in the city, Addi Decosta, to explain how vindaloo should be made. For years, Decosta cooked his vinegar- seasoned curry at Chicken Madras in Hawthorne. (He has sold that place and will open a new restaurant, Addi's Tandoor, in Redondo Beach next month.)

A Goan native, Decosta is scandalized by American vindaloos that reek of tomato sauce--a real no-no. Goan cooks of the past relied on vinegar as a preservative, because they didn't have refrigeration, he says. When tomato sauce is added, the vinegar has to be reduced to balance the acidity. This throws off the flavor.

"Vindaloo is like a pickle, almost," Decosta says. "The longer you keep it, the better it tastes." Goan cooks stored their vindaloo in clay pots, reheating it as needed. The standing time also tenderizes tough meat. Pork is traditional in vindaloo, but today more Goan cooks are opting for lighter foods and have switched to shrimp. The difference is seafood has to be cooked and served immediately.

It's not likely Goan food will become more common in Los Angeles, because Goan chefs are not immigrating here. "In Goa, they have many resorts, so they are all busy over there," Decosta says. "And they are very well paid."

Shrimp Vindaloo

Active Work Time: 20 minutes * Total Preparation Time: 45 minutes

From Addi Decosta, former owner of Chicken Madras in Hawthorne, now of Addi's Tandoor in Redondo Beach.

15 whole cloves, divided

1 teaspoon cumin seeds

2 (3-inch) cinnamon sticks, divided

6 cloves garlic, divided

10 small dried red chiles, or more to taste

3/4 teaspoon turmeric

24 whole black peppercorns, divided

3/4 cup white vinegar

2 cups water

1 (1-inch) piece ginger root

1 tablespoon oil

2 large red onions, minced

1 boiling potato, peeled and cut into 2-inch chunks

2 pounds large shrimp, peeled and deveined

2 teaspoons salt

2 teaspoons sugar

Place 9 cloves, the cumin seeds, 1 cinnamon stick, 3 garlic cloves, the chiles, turmeric, 18 peppercorns and the vinegar in a blender. Blend on high speed until as smooth as possible, about 4 to 5 minutes. Add the water and blend just to combine. Set aside.

Place the remaining garlic and the ginger in a small food processor along with about 1 tablespoon of water. Process until a paste is formed. Set aside.

Heat the oil in a large saucepan over high heat. Add the onions, remaining cloves, remaining cinnamon stick and remaining peppercorns. Cook, stirring often, until the onions have browned, about 15 minutes. Add the mixture from the blender, the ginger- garlic paste and the potato and continue to cook over high heat until the mixture thickens a bit and the potato is almost cooked through, 10 to 15 minutes. Add more water if the curry thickens too much. Add the shrimp, salt and sugar and cook another 5 minutes, stirring, until the shrimp are cooked through.

4 servings. Each serving: 256 calories; 1,510 mg sodium; 276 mg cholesterol; 6 grams fat; 1 gram saturated fat; 21 grams carbohydrates; 32 grams protein; 3.54 grams fiber.

Variation: Substitute 1 1/2 pounds boneless pork, cut into small cubes, for the shrimp. Prepare the sauce as for Shrimp Vindaloo, add the pork and cook over low heat 1 hour. Cool and refrigerate overnight. Reheat and serve. 4 servings.

*


Credit: TIMES STAFF WRITER

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Sub Title: [HOME EDITION]
Start Page: H.1
ISSN: 04583035
Subject Terms: Recipes
                          Ethnic foods
Geographic Names: India

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