Curried Potato Salad

If you like curry, thank the Portugese. While India has always had curry sauce-like preparations, they didn’t include chilies until around the end of the 17th century. (There’s some reason to think that the word curry itself was European, as it appears in 14th century writings as cury, sharing a root with cuisine.)

When Columbus encountered chiles in the West Indies, he called them peppers, for two reasons. One, because their pungency reminded him of peppercorns, and two, because peppercorns were comparatively valuable (remember, he was sent there to find spice, so calling something by a name for a spice was probably not a bad job decision). In 1493, the physician on his second voyage to the West Indies brought chile peppers back to Portugal. Monks cultivated them and eventually explored their culinary quirks.

In the early 16th century, the Portugese held parts of India as colonies, including Madras (now Chennai), which was considered important because it’s the site where the Apostle Thomas (“Doubting Thomas”) was supposed to have died. In 1522, the port of São Tomé was built, and it became a major trading center for Portugese goods, including exotic chilies from the West Indies.

Which, curiously enough, they came to discover grew very well in the East Indies as well. Apparently chilies aren’t any better at geography than Columbus was. And over time, they were adopted into local cuisine. Indian culture, as it always has, adopted and incorporated elements from the cultures that crossed through it. Vindaloo, for example, was a lost-in-translation attempt at making carne de vinha d’alhos, a Portugese dish meaning meat with wine and garlic.

So by somewhere around the middle of the 16th century, we have a Portugese port in India shipping dried spices long the trade routes. Exactly when the traders started combining them, rather than leaving that to the cooks, isn’t entirely clear, but it was before the 19th century (when curry was reaching ports in Singapore in pre-mixed boxes, leading to the menu entree Singapore noodles).

In 1639, the British East India Company came to the Madras region, and in 1640, set up Fort St. George. Apart from a brief interlude between 1746 and 1749, when it was held by the French, the British held Fort St. George until Indian independence in 1947. As exports of the now-combined curry powder came from what was, at the time, called Madras, the description of the import as “Madras curry powder” stuck, managing to outlive the name of the city itself.

ksu_folder A family recipe provided by Jennifer Kiel of Washington, DC, from her mother-in-law’s collection, started in Kent, Ohio.


Curried Potato Salad

3 cups water
1-1/2 tsp. curry powder
1 tsp. salt
4 cups diced raw potatoes
3 Tbsp. French dressing
2 tsp. lemon juice
2 Tbsp. grated onion
1-1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
1/4 tsp. garlic powder
1-1/2 cups diced celery
1/2 cup diced green pepper
3 hard cooked eggs, diced
3/4 cup mayonnaise

Combine water, curry powder and 1 tsp. salt. Add potatoes; cook, covered it’ll tender. Drain. Combine French dressing, lemon juice, onion, 1-1/2 tsp. salt, pepper and garlic powder. Mix lightly with potatoes; let stand 30 minutes. Add celery, green pepper and eggs. Mix. Blend in the mayonnaise. Chill well. Serve on crisp, young spinach leaves. Makes 6 servings.

One Comment

  1. Lisa

    I just discovered your website. A brilliant idea – Thank You!
    I’ve not seen a potato salad recipe like this – can’t wait to try it.

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