Updated: Mar 24, 2020
"[The Marathas put] hot chillies into everything they eat. That is why their nature has become dry and hot!"
Ghulan Ali Azad Bilgrami (1704-1786)
Vindaloo has nothing to do with potatoes. That’s not to say you can’t put a potato in your Vindaloo, but just because you don’t, it doesn’t mean you don’t have a Vindaloo. This is all made very clear in chapter 3 of Lizzie Collingham‘s book “Curry: A Tale of Cooks and Conquerors”. Vindaloo was born out of Portuguese heritage when, in the 15th century, Vasco de Gama and his crew of merchant sailors conquered Goa and introduced their native cuisine which, then, included a stew flavoured with wine vinegar and garlic. A dish that arrived in Goa as Carne de vinho e alhos became Vindaloo.
At the time chillies were not indigenous to India, but they were in the Americas and guess what - the Portuguese were having a jolly over there too! You can see what happened. It was pepper that was the spice arousing the interest in the Indian subcontinent of the seafaring merchants from the West and, having now done my research, I have satisfied my conjecture that the Adobo you find in Mexico and the Philippines, a stew based on vinegar, garlic and pepper, stems from very similar roots to Vindaloo. Because the Spanish were up to the same thing. And they lived next door to the Portuguese!
OK, yes Vindaloo has developed into something that is now definitively made with chillies. But in Goa it is not something that is so uncomfortably hot that you need 10 pints of lager beforehand to be able to tolerate it, nor is it only fit as the inspiration for a catchy line in a football anthem.
I'm quite sure there are excellent ready-made Vindaloo masalas available in the shops, it's just that I don't, at the moment, know which ones to suggest. This is something I intend to put some time into learning more about because being able to suggest a good piece of fish with a good ready-prepped sauce is the perfect way to encourage fellow seafoodies to get stuck in to our home-sourced, sustainable fish. A particular favourite producer seems to have gone offline to some extent, but I am intending to contact them. Watch this space.
The Vindaloo masala I make for myself these days evolved out of recipes from Madhur Jaffrey's Flavours of India, and Rick Stein's Seafood Odyssey. It's interesting to note that the same Goan chef, 'Rui', appeared in the TV programmes associated with both books. I have also been influenced by Maria Teresa Menezes's "The Essential Goa Cookbook", but quite what Keith Floyd was drinking/thinking when he wrote his recipe for Vindaloo in "Floyd's India" is beyond me. All I can say is that, in the manner somehow unique to the man who is one of my greatest culinary heroes, he inspired me to a point where I now make a dish that I thoroughly enjoy.
I'm afraid I can only recommend that you make this masala with Kashmiri chillies. I suppose you could try using more commonly available dried chillies and perhaps reduce the quantity, replacing the shortfall with some mild, unsmoked paprika (which is in the spirit of Madhur Jaffrey), but I just don't think you end up with the right result. The bright red colour of the paste comes purely from red chillies. Thankfully, Kashmiri chillies aren't overly difficult to source given the number of Asian grocers that are now around, but I have put a link below to SpicesOfIndia where they can be bought online.
This stuff keeps forever!
Ingredients (Makes about 12 servings)
1 red onion
20 dried Kashmiri chillies
1 tsp black peppercorns
6 cardamom pods
3” cinnamon stick or cassia bark
½ tsp cumin seeds
12 garlic cloves
¼ tsp turmeric
Vinegar, red wine or cider, about 3 tbsp.
Roast the red onion in the oven at 230°C for 1 hour.
Meanwhile, deseed the dried Kashmiri chillies and soak them in just enough hot water to cover for the same hour.
Grind the black peppercorns, cloves, cardamom pods, cinnamon (or cassia) and cumin seeds in a coffee or spice grinder.
When the onion is cool enough to handle, chop it coarsely and put in a blender. Sieve the soaked red chillies (save the soaking liquid) and add them to the blender along with the ground spices, the ginger, garlic and turmeric.
Start to whizz up the contents of the blender and add the vinegar and possibly a little of the chillies' soaking liquid to blitz to a smooth paste.
Store in a screw-top jar in the fridge for practically as long as you like.
"Curry: A Tale of Cooks and Conquerors", Lizzie Collingham (2006), chapter 3: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Curry-Cooks-Conquerors-Lizzie-Collingham/dp/0099437864
"Flavours of India", Madhur Jaffrey (1995), pp. 102: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Flavours-India-Madhur-Jaffrey/dp/0563370777
"Rick Stein's Seafood Odyssey", Rick Stein (1999), pp. 241: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Rick-Steins-Seafood-Odyssey-Stein/dp/0563551860
"The Essential Goa Cookbook", Maria Teresa Menezes (2000), pp 197: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Essential-Cookbook-Maria-Teresa-Menezes/dp/0141000872
"Floyd's India", Keith Floyd (2001), pp. 135: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Floyds-India-Keith-Floyd/dp/0007160054