Curry can be used to make wonderfully flavorful dishes that aren’t that hard to make yourself. I almost always keep curry paste in my pantry for a quick meal. Curry refers to a variety of dishes made from a complex combination of spices. Variations of curry can be found in countries all over the world and often vary by region within each country. To provide a beginner’s guide to curry, I’ll give an overview of some of the more popular curries from India, Thailand, and Japan, and then provide the steps to make an easy Thai curry at home.


beginner guide to curry


What is Curry

Curries are a mix of spices that are often used as the base for a curry sauce. Most curry powders contain turmeric, cumin, and coriander, but can also include other spices such as mustard seed, cinnamon, fennel seed, black pepper, fenugreek, and cardamom just to name a few. Turmeric, which is most commonly used in Indian curry powders, is what gives some curry sauces a bright yellow color.

The spicy heat in curry comes from ground chili peppers. The type of chili pepper used will determine how mild or spicy the curry dish is.

A curry dish usually starts with frying aromatics such as onion, shallots, garlic, or ginger before adding the spice mixture.

To create a curry sauce, coconut milk, pureed tomatoes, cream, or water are added to the aromatics and spices.

The curry sauce can be served with lentils, fish, shrimp, chicken, beef, or vegetables. It’s also usually served with a carb such as rice, naan, or even noodles for some Japanese curries.   


Indian Curry

Indian curry refers to a wide array of dishes with varying spiciness and flavors. Most commonly, Indian curries contain ground turmeric, cumin, coriander, fenugreek, chili powder and a number of other spices that differ from region to region. Below are some of the more commonly known Indian curry powders.

Madras curry powder is a popular type of Indian curry that tends to be fairly hot and spicy. It contains coriander, cumin, fenugreek, cinnamon, cardamom, black pepper, turmeric, curry leaves, and kashmiri chili powder. It has a reddish color due to the large quantity of red chili powder in this spice blend. Coconut milk and tomatoes are added to make a sauce that can be served with meat or vegetables.   

Tikka masala is made with red chili powder, garam masala, cumin, coriander, and turmeric.  Onion, ginger, garlic, pureed tomatoes, and cream are added to make the sauce used in chicken or paneer tikka masala.

Vindaloo curry is very spicy but also has a bit of sweetness to it. This curry blend is made with fenugreek, cumin, coriander, turmeric, cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, black pepper, and hot red chili powder. A sauce is made by adding tomato paste, onion, garlic, ginger, and chopped fresh chilies for added heat. Vindaloo curry is usually served over meat that has been marinated in vinegar and garlic.


Thai green curry


Thai Curry

Thai curries are made with a paste rather than a powder. The paste often includes chili peppers, garlic, shallots, galangal (Thai ginger), lemongrass, and coriander. Coconut milk and lime juice are added to the paste to create a sauce. Palm sugar and fish sauce are often added to the sauce to enhance the flavor.

Thai curry sauce is typically served with meat, fish, shellfish, or vegetables and garnished with Thai basil or kaffir lime leaves. Thai eggplant, green beans, and various squashes are the vegetables commonly included in Thai curry dishes.

Thai green curry paste is the hottest type of Thai curry. It is made with hot green chilies which give it its green color.

Thai red curry paste is made with dried red chilies and is also spicy, though less spicy than green curry.

Panang curry paste is a type of red curry that’s spicy and a little sweet. It contains crushed peanuts which also gives it a slightly nutty flavor.

Thai yellow curry is milder and less spicy. It incorporates Indian spices such as turmeric (giving it the yellow color) and fennel seed.

Massaman Thai curry paste is also milder and less spicy. It has influences from Malaysian cuisine and often includes spices not commonly added to Thai curries such as cardamom, cinnamon, cumin, and nutmeg.


Japanese Curry

Curry is a popular dish in Japan. Japanese curry varies in spiciness and is made by frying together curry powder, flour, oil, and other flavorings to create a roux. The roux is then added to stewed meat (usually beef, pork, or chicken) and vegetables (onions, carrots, and potatoes) to create a sauce.

Japanese curry is usually served over rice to make curry rice. A popular variation of this is katsu kare, a dish in which a  fried pork cutlet is served over curry rice.

You can also eat Japanese curry as a soup consisting of a curry-based broth with udon (kare udon) or soba (kare nanban) noodles.

Finally, there is Japanese curry bread (kare pan) which is curry paste wrapped in dough that is covered in breadcrumbs and then deep fried.


Steps to Make Thai Curry at Home

Curry can be quick and easy to make at home. My favorite curry dish is Thai curry, which is one of my go-to quick meals. I always try to keep Thai curry paste and coconut milk in my pantry so that I can make this dish anytime.

Here are steps that I use to make a simple and quick Thai curry dish.

You will need the following ingredients:


  • 4-6 tablespoons of Thai curry paste (red or green).
  • Protein: 8 oz. of chicken thighs/breast or 8 oz. of tempeh
  • 1 can of coconut milk (I use full-fat, but you can use reduced fat)
  • 2-3 cups of chopped vegetables: you can you anything but I commonly use eggplant, carrots, or green beans
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 garlic clove minced (or use ½ teaspoon of garlic powder)
  • 1 tablespoon of grated fresh ginger (or ½ teaspoon of ginger powder)
  • 1-2 teaspoons of brown sugar
  • 1-2  tablespoons of fish sauce depending on how much saltiness you want to add (not required, but it really does enhance the flavor)
  • Juice from 1 lime
  • Cooked rice
  1. Heat 1 tablespoon of cooking oil in a skillet over medium-heat heat and cook your protein of choice. Once it’s cooked remove it from the skillet and set it aside.
  2. Add another tablespoon of oil to the skillet and add the onion, garlic, and ginger. Cook 3-4 minutes until the onion is cooked.
  3. Add the curry paste and brown sugar and mix to combine it with the vegetables. Use 4 tablespoons if you want it less spicy or use 5-6 tablespoons if you want it hotter.
  4. Next, add the coconut milk and vegetables and simmer for about 10 minutes, until the vegetables are cooked.
  5. Add the chicken back to the skillet, as well as the fish sauce if using, and simmer another 3-5 minutes.
  6. Add the fresh lime juice and then serve over rice. Enjoy!