When your taste buds are catching fire, there are quicker ways to tone down your curry than cooking the dish all over again -- minus the chili or curry paste -- and mixing the bland and fiery versions into a hopefully palatable happy medium. Try adding dairy products, seasonings or vegetables to tame the bite, or serve the curry with cooling accompaniments.
Milk and Dairy Products
Dairy products help neutralize the heat in spicy dishes and their creaminess adds a luscious texture that further cools curries. Full-cream milk, cream, sour cream, yogurt and cream cheese can all be incorporated into curries to tone down the heat. Indeed, milk and yogurt are often already part of Indian curry recipes, and increasing their proportions results in a milder dish. An essential ingredient of Thai curries, light coconut milk or thick coconut cream, fulfills the same purpose.
Vinegar and Seasonings
Acid components also help cut through the bite. Try adding white vinegar, lemon juice or lime juice to hot curries. Natural sweeteners in the form of granulated sugar, palm sugar or honey balance the dish and bring it together. “Sugar may be used best in combination with acid,” according to Andrea Lynn, senior editor of “Chile Pepper Magazine,” who shares her tips from the fiery food world in “Serious Eats.” Oily condiments such as peanut butter or tahini sesame paste may also help alleviate the heat.
Potato and Vegetables
Potatoes and other starchy vegetables like corn and beans tend to absorb the heat, while vegetables like carrots, green beans, zucchini or eggplants add bulk and fibers that dilute the spices. A nifty trick consists of using a potato like a sponge to actually remove some of the heat. Peel and dice a raw potato, add it to the simmering dish, let it cook and cool down, and then remove the potato with a straining spoon. The remaining sauce should be milder in taste.
Raita and Accompaniments
In addition to toning down the curry itself -- or if you lack time or opportunity to do so -- you can also make a hot curry more palatable by serving it with cooling accompaniments. Raita is a classic refreshing dip made of yogurt and grated cucumber, while lassi is a popular yogurt-based beverage often flavored with mango. Serve spicy dishes with plenty of starches, including bread, plain or jasmine rice and boiled potatoes to diffuse the heat.
Chloe Hughes has been writing about world cuisine since 2006. Her articles on classic and exotic foods, cooking classes, wine tastings, local restaurants and high-end gastronomy have been featured in regional magazines and on lifestyle websites.