Oh, there you are! I’ve been meaning to ask – have you met Vadouvan? Come over here and have a seat and let me introduce you…
Vadouvan is dark and exotic, aromatic with herbs and spices. It can be sprinkled as a pungent final flourish to a dish, or used as the richly rounded main flavouring. Give your dishes some va-va-voom with a little Va-dou-van.
Originating in the French-influenced southern Indian state of Puducherry, Vadouvan is an onion-based spice mix used for flavouring a wide range of dishes. Also called French Masala and vadagam, it consists of a mixture of caramelised finely chopped shallots, onions and garlic, together with aromatic ground spices, slowly dried in the oven until it resembles a dark, moist crumble. I prefer to dry mine a little longer than most recipes recommend, because once cooled, I can then grind it to a moist powder in the spice grinder and then keep it handy in the spice drawer. The photograph shows Vadouvan as it ends up, and also after it has been ground. There was a flurry of excitement about Vadouvan a few years ago, as it was used by one of the contestants in the US series Top Chef to great effect, but that seems to have died down and I was reminded of it just the other day and thought it deserved some renewed interest.
So what can you do with Vadouvan? Quite simply, whatever you like.
I’m an enthusiastic lover of authentic curries and love exploring the differing cooking styles and cuisines that can be found. I like preparing and mixing the individual spices and sauces myself and relish their individuality. But aside from all this authentic seasonings, sometimes, I just have a hankering for a generic curry flavour, but don’t want to resort to chip-shop curry sauce. Don’t get me wrong, I love chip shop curry sauce! When Morrison’s opened their shiny new store in Kidderminster, they were selling chip shop curry sauce for just 15p a jar. FIFTEEN PEE! I bought eight.
But I digress – on those nights when something a little spicy is required and not wanting to go to the bother of mixing up a masala spice blend, this is where Vadouvan comes to the rescue. Stir-fried vegetables a bit ordinary? Add some Vadouvan. Vegetable rice seeming a little bland? Add some Vadouvan. Grilled chicken needing a little oomph? Vadouvan it! I’ve managed to successfully serve my family courgette rice with Vadouvan and had them wolf it down without complaint (a bigger deal than it sounds). Stir it though creme fraiche for an instant dip that will be a real crowd-pleaser.
I must admit I use Vadouvan as an instant fixer-upper of ordinary food, but there are a whole slew of recipes out there on the Web with ingenious ways to incorporate this gourmet blend into some outstanding dishes. If you’re concerned about not being able to use all of the batch quick enough, one solution is to pack it into ice-cube trays and freeze, then you’ll always have some to hand. As I mentioned above, I grind mine to a rough powder and keep it handy in a large jar and the last of previous batch I made months ago is just as aromatic as the one I made this week. I’ve omitted fresh curry leaves (couldn’t find ’em. To be honest, dint look) and hot pepper flakes from the original to make it child-friendly, but bung them in if you like it SPICY!
1 head of garlic
5tbs olive oil
1tsp ground fenugreek seeds
3/4tsp ground turmeric
1tsp coarse ground black pepper
1tsp ground cardamom
1tsp brown mustard seeds
1tbs ground cumin
1/2 nutmeg -grated
1/4tsp ground cloves
- Peel and thinly slice the onions, shallots and garlic cloves.
- Heat the oil in a large pan and add the onions, shallots and garlic.
- Cook over a low heat for about an hour, stirring frequently, until the mixture is softened and golden brown.
- Stir in the spices until thoroughly combined.
- Preheat the oven to 160°C, 140°C Fan.
- Line a rimmed baking sheet with baking parchment.
- Tip the caramelised onion mix onto the baking sheet and spread it out.
- Dry gently in the oven for about an hour, stirring every 15 minutes. It will reduce in volume greatly.
- Allow to cool.
- Store in an airtight box.