I wasn't joking when I mentioned that I had become somewhat obsessed with vadouvan. It's an easy trap to fall into, so beguiling is the heady array of flavors and aromas running through the stuff. It's one of those flavors that are immediately arresting and gratifyingly delicious, but also has such a wealth of nuance as to make it eternally interesting.
|Photo by Nicholas L. Hall|
|Basic ingredients for vadouvan, minus about a million shallots.|
Based around deeply roasted members of the onion family, augmented with an array of warm, earthy and pungent spices, there's a lot going on in vadouvan. It manages to smell and taste both deeply exotic and utterly comforting. It's also relatively easy to make, though a significant time investment is involved. Here, in basic format, is how it's done.
The first step is to BUY ALL THE ALLIUMS. While that may be a slight exaggeration, you do need an awful lot of onions, shallots and garlic for your vadouvan. I usually just estimate, but I'd say I'm using about a 2-1 ratio of onions to shallots, with probably half as much garlic as shallot. Peel it, chop it, weep.
After you get all your onions chopped (doesn't have to be too fine, especially if you plan on grinding it down to a paste later), sweat them in a bit of olive oil until they just begin to brown. Next, you need to turn your attention to spices. A blend of cumin, cardamom, mustard seed, fenugreek, turmeric, nutmeg, crushed red pepper and cloves is a good starting point, with that order determining relative ratios, sort of. I don't measure anything, usually just eyeballing and guessing. It makes each batch come out a bit differently, but I'm okay with that. If you can find them (it's not that tough, really), vadouvan really ought to have sliced curry leaves in it as well.
Start with maybe a tablespoon or so of the first few ingredients, dwindling down to a spare pinch once you're to the cloves. It shouldn't taste like dessert, after all. If you find yourself in need of more specific measurements, there are plenty of those available, a couple of which I combined for my basic formula. I like using them as reference rather than rule, taking the liberty to alter ratios to suit my taste. For example, I love fenugreek, so I tend to up the ratio of that ingredient. My kids don't do very well with spicy foods, so I tend to downplay the crushed red pepper. I've thought about going off-formula, too, tinkering with additions of other spices. I think sumac, for example, might add an interesting element. More »