This recipe for curry masala is adapted from a recipe shared by Jaz Kelsi (wife of Johnny Kelsi of Dohl Foundation fame) at WOMAD in the Taste the World tent in 2007. At the Taste the World stage, a handful of artists playing at the festival take part in cookery demonstrations, cooking dishes from their homeland whilst sharing with us an insight into their life, food, culture and music.

The masala should not be rushed, you need to take time over it and the results will be more than worth the wait. Add the ingredients one at a time as specified in the recipe to reach perfection. Once prepared, you can freeze the masala in batches and you have a quick and easy weeknight meal ahead of you.

Makes approx 6 portions


3-4 tbsp vegetable oil (not olive oil)

2 tbsp whole cumin seeds

1 tbsp brown or black mustard seeds

8-10 dried curry leaves (optional if you can’t find them)

3 medium onions, chopped

6 cloves garlic, crushed

2 inch piece of fresh ginger, grated

1-2 tbsp chillies, finely chopped (when cooking for adults I use 2 large chillies – red or green or both it’s up to you, for children I leave them out)

1 tsp ground cumin

1 tsp ground coriander

1 tsp chilli powder (use less depending on how hot you want your curry)

1 1/2 tsp ground turmeric

1/2 tsp salt

1 can chopped tomatoes (400g)

1 bunch of fresh coriander, chopped and with the stalks separated from the leaves (don’t chop the leaves until the last minute)


  1. Heat the oil in a large pan and when hot throw in the cumin seeds and mustard seeds. If you’re using curry leaves add them now too. Leave to sizzle for a minute before adding the onions. You know when it is time to add the onions because you start to smell the spices toasting and the mustard seeds will start to pop.
  2. Sweat the onions on a low heat and allow them to slowly turn golden brown. This usually takes about 10-15 minutes. You want the onions a nice brown colour as this is what gives the curry some colour and flavour.
  3. When the onion is brown, add the garlic and ginger and cook for about 1 minute. You know it is ready because there are no more harsh garlic and ginger fumes coming out of the pan.
  4. Add the chillies and chopped coriander stalks and again cook for a few minutes.
  5. Next add the cumin, coriander, chilli powder (if you are using it), turmeric and salt and stir in well for about 30 seconds. Be careful as this will burn easily and stick. Just cook out the spices for 30 seconds or so whilst stirring.
  6. Add the chopped tomatoes and stir. The mixture will probably look quite thick at this stage and that is ok. Half fill the can with cold water and add to the mixture. It cleans the can and saves using another vessel to add water to the pot!
  7. Reduce to a very low heat and allow the masala to cook gently, stirring occasionally. The mixture will thicken a little further and turn a darker colour. This can take up to 30 minutes to happen and needs to happen slowly.

Your curry masala is now made and ready to use as you wish. However you use it, finish your dish with the reserved fresh chopped coriander leaves.

Suggestions for using your masala

Add some pieces of chicken breast, chopped spinach, chunks of pepper, prawns, chopped turkey or whatever you fancy to the masala.

Chicken will take about 10-20 minutes to cook on a low heat in the masala with a lid on and will probably need a little water to help create a good sauce consistency.

Prawns would need 5-10 minutes. This leaves you with quite a dry curry but you can add a little water as you go if you think it is too dry or it is sticking.

You can freeze some of the masala in portions for use at a later date.