You can curry horses, curry favor or curry dinner and last is best since the mixture of spices that make up curry add heat and flavor to ordinary dishes.
Tumeric, cumin, coriander, ginger, allspice, cardamom, nutmeg, chiles, mace, mustard, cloves, cinnamon, garlic, poppy seeds, asafoetida are only some of the spices that find their way into curry mixtures.
Which of these you use, and how much, determines whether you have a mildly flavorful dish, or one that sears the mouth. If the latter is what you're planning, warn your guests. Weak sisters may suddenly recall a previous engagement.
In one of his books, Gerald Durrell describes a curry dinner where the host seated himself at the head of the table, removed a handkerchief from his pocket and draped it over the top of his head to absorb the sweat. Fair warning, if late, that the menu was not going to be mild.
If the lady's not for burning, salvation may lie in the side dishes that accompany a curry: shredded coconut, toasted and plain; peanuts or slivered almonds; plain yogurt or raita , a yogurt-based salad often made with grated cucumbers and fresh mint; mashed bananas; chopped eggs (a good way to get rid of the Easter excess); chutneys and Indian pickles; Indian breads and the dried smoked fish called Bombay duck, whose flavor is similar to crisp, crumbly bacon.
With the exception of the pickles and chutneys, the side dishes are bland and, when mixed with, or eaten as accompaniment to a curry, they temper the heat of the main dish.
Curries also are a cheap way of entertaining large crowds since they can be made with less expensive ingredients like chicken or vegetables and are really much better when served with cold beer. Even if youprefer to serve wine, don't ante up for more than a good jug variety; no vintage wine could survive the competition of a hot curry.
The dessert should be cool and light: vanilla ice cream or a scoop each of pineapple and coconut sherbet; a dish of fresh pineapple mixed with small chunks of candied ginger or slices of ripe papaya.
Spices that go into a curry keep better if you buy them whole and grind just before using. Small automatic coffee grinders are ideal for this.
You also will pay less and find a greater variety of spices if you shop in places that deal in bulk. Health food stores are one good source, Indian stores another.
India Emporium, 6848 New Hampshire Ave., Takoma Park, 270-3322, has a wide selection of spices, pickles, chutneys as well as Indian bread, which can be deep-fried and drained to a flaky crispness. They also carry cloth for saris if you like to dress the way you eat. They are open daily from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Spices & Foods Unlimited, 2018 A Florida Ave. NW, 265-1909, is another source for Indian spices. It is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.