This spicy curry has a rich, red-coloured sauce
A hearty curry packs a lot of flavours but there are meat-free alternatives that are just as good.
More and more people are turning to plant-based diets for numerous reasons, whether it be for health purposes or ethical purposes.
While it does mean forfeiting foods which we are used to, thankfully there is a range of substitutes that have a convincingly similar texture to meat.
Ingredients such as tofu and seitan can be incorporated with flavours that are synonymous with curries.
The result is a convincing alternative to meat versions of your favourite curries.
We explore what ingredients are needed for a meat-free curry as well as how to make one.
Types of Curry
When it comes to different curries, each one offers its own unique taste and way of being cooked.
As a result, they are enjoyed by millions across the world.
Here are some popular choices that can be adapted to suit a meat-free diet.
Tikka Masala is one of the most well-known dishes in the world.
Typically, pieces of tandoor-cooked chicken tikka is added to a rich sauce that is creamy and full of flavour.
Meat substitutes can easily be added for a tasty meat-free alternative.
This stir-fried curry has a base made from onions, bell peppers and green chillies, producing a rich and hot sauce.
The green chillies give the Jalfrezi a fresh zingy taste.
This spicy curry has a rich, red-coloured sauce that comes from the liberal use of tomatoes and chilli powder.
It was originally invented by the British curry industry to be a hotter version of the standard curry.
Rogan Josh has a warming flavour that is perfect for the cold weather.
It is a medium-hot curry, with a rich sauce, which exudes a deep red colour and the long flavours of tomatoes, red peppers, and dried red chillies.
While it is typically made with lamb, a meat-free version will still taste great.
For Bhuna, spices are gently fried in oil to bring out the flavour.
The meat, or meat substitute, is then added to the spices and then cooked in its own juices.
The result is a medium-hot curry with deep strong flavours but very little sauce.
This is a good choice for somebody who wants an authentic taste of curry, without the excess thickness of sauce or cream.
Meat-free options for a Curry
Quorn is perhaps the most popular meat substitute to use in a curry.
It contains mycoprotein, which is derived from fungi.
In most Quorn products, the fungus culture is dried and mixed with egg albumen, which acts as a binder. It is then adjusted in texture and pressed into various forms.
Tofu is made from curdled soybeans and it is available in extra-firm, firm and soft.
Its neutral flavour means it can be paired with an array of spices as well as vegetables.
Because of its high water content, it is common practice to ‘press’ tofu before cooking it. This removes a lot of moisture and makes for extra crispy tofu.
Like tofu, tempeh is made from soybeans, but the soybeans in tempeh are fermented.
Various grains and beans are also incorporated for a heartier texture and flavour.
It has a more diverse flavour than tofu. The fermentation gives it a subtle tanginess. It also has a tougher texture and a nutty aftertaste.
Seitan is commonly known as ‘wheat meat’. It is made from wheat gluten that is very similar in texture to meat protein.
It can be bought in strips or in ground form, making it ideal for curries.
Seitan has an earthy flavour that is similar to mushrooms. But the addition of seasoning makes it a perfect replacement for chicken.
However, it is best to avoid if you have a gluten allergy.
Using a variety of vegetables in a curry is a great way to add body and texture to the dish.
Vegetables like peppers and mushrooms are viable meat substitutes.
Peppers add bite to the dish while mushrooms have a meaty texture.
Not only do they add texture, but vegetables can also impart their own flavour into a dish.
Ingredients used in a Curry
Onions, Ginger & Garlic
These three ingredients are a must include when making a curry, whether it is meat-free or not.
While garlic is not always used, for those who want a curry with layers of flavour, it is best to include it.
They act as the base for any Indian curry and can be used in a number of ways. Sliced, chopped or blended into a paste are suitable but the choice is yours.
Onions tend to be added first before the ginger and garlic.
How you cook all three will affect the type of curry you want to create.
When cooking the onions, soften them without colouring for a lighter curry or cook them for longer and let them caramelise for something darker and richer.
For both the garlic and ginger, cook them until the raw smell goes away but do not cook them for too long as they will start to burn, resulting in a bitter flavour which could ruin the whole dish.
Spices are essential when making a curry and there is an assortment that varies in flavour.
They can be interchanged based on your personal preference but certain spices work better for different curries.
Dishes like vindaloo use a lot of spices especially chilli powder for a hot curry while korma is made with little to no spice, making it one of the mildest curries around.
There are two kinds of cardamom used in Indian cooking: green and black. Green is the more common variety, used for everything from spice mixes to lassis to Indian desserts.
It has a light and sweet flavour. Green cardamom can be blended whole when making spice mixes, like garam masala.
On the other hand, black cardamom is more intense with a smoky flavour.
Normally only the seeds would be used, but if the whole pod is used, it’s best to discard it before serving the curry, as it can be very spicy to bite into.
Cloves are a common spice in Indian curries and its anise notes are easily recognisable.
The strong, almost medicinal flavour of cloves comes from the concentration of essential oils.
Cloves are technically flowers, and a lot of their oils are pressed out before they are dried and used in cooking.
Cloves can be used whole or blended into spice mixes. They do need to be used sparingly as they tend to overpower delicate spices.
Cumin is used frequently whole and in spice mixes to add a characteristic smoky note to Indian curries.
It can be identified by its distinct ridged brown seeds and intense fragrance.
Cumin is best used freshly ground for the most intense flavour. One thing to keep in mind while dry-roasting this spice is that it burns really easily and burnt cumin tastes very bitter and will be very noticeable in your dish.
Toast this spice until it becomes fragrant then let it cool before blending into mixes.
Mustard seeds can be yellow, black, or brown and are used interchangeably in Indian curries.
The flavour of mustard seeds is released when they are crushed or cooked in oil.
Their smoky, nutty flavour is a staple in curries and curry powders, and mustard oil is commonly used in the North of India.
Turmeric is another common ingredient that is used in a lot of spice mixes and curries.
The flavour of fresh turmeric is slightly stronger than dried, and it stains very easily, so make sure you are careful with your clothes and utensils while using it.
It has a pungent, earthy fragrance. Use it in small quantities to give your chosen curry a lovely golden colour.
Red Chilli Powder
Red chilli powder is probably the most well-known Indian spice when cooking a curry.
It is what gives the dish its heat. More spoonfuls of red chilli powder will result in a hotter curry.
Not only is known for its heat but it will also give the sauce a red colour, especially if Kashmiri red chilli is used.
Fenugreek is the spice that gives Madras curry its very characteristic, earthy, musky “curry” flavour and fragrance.
The seeds are yellowish and look like tiny wheat kernels. Fenugreek leaves are also dried and used as a spice and are what make butter chicken unique.
Fenugreek seeds are strongly fragranced and should be used with caution, just like cloves.
Tomatoes are used to create the curry sauce and also add a sweet, yet slightly acidic flavour to the dish.
While canned tomatoes are fine to use, fresh tomatoes will improve the overall quality.
Chopped tomatoes add more volume to the sauce and present a tangy flavour.
While tomatoes add body, they can also be pulped to make more of a sauce which will deepen in flavour when simmering. Cook until softened then mash with the back of a spoon.
Many tomato-based curries have a more intense flavour compared to cream and yoghurt-based curries.
Making a Meat-free Tikka Masala
Being a vegetarian or vegan does not mean you have to miss out on curry night.
Here is a delicious Quorn tikka masala that is quick and offers the same depth of flavour as the original.
- 300g Quorn pieces
- 1 tbsp vegetable oil
- 2 Onions, finely chopped
- 400ml hot vegetable stock
- 1 Red pepper, deseeded and diced
- 2 tbsp coriander leaves, chopped
For the Marinade
- 2 tbsp tikka masala paste
- 1 tbsp cumin powder
- 1 tbsp coriander powder
- ½ tbsp turmeric
- 1 tsp chilli powder
- 140ml Greek yoghurt
- 1 tbsp tomato puree
- 2 Garlic cloves, finely chopped
- In a bowl, mix together all the marinade ingredients.
- Add the Quorn pieces and stir until evenly coated. Leave to marinate for at least 30 minutes.
- Heat oil in a saucepan and fry the onions for five minutes until golden. Add the pepper and fry for a few more minutes.
- Stir in the marinated Quorn pieces and cook for five minutes.
- Gradually pour in the stock, stirring constantly. Bring to a boil.
- Once boiling, reduce the heat, cover and allow to simmer for at least 45 minutes. If the sauce becomes too thick for your liking, add a splash of water.
- Garnish with coriander and serve with rice and naan.
Hopefully, this proves that making a meat-free curry is not difficult at all.
There are a variety of meat substitutes to choose from, depending on your taste preferences.
Combining them with the other familiar ingredients result in a delicious curry.
Whether they are for vegetarians, vegans, or even for those wanting to try something new, meat-free currys are convincingly similar to their meat counterparts.
So, try them out and see the similarities!