Like many people, I grew up believing that aromatic, amber-ocher-colored curry powder was a single spice. And the curry dish I first knew contained meat (usually leftovers) swimming in a white sauce (translation: butter, flour, milk) made exotically golden by a shot of the powder. Rice was the support vehicle. Onto this curry-blanketed rice, my brother, sister, and I daringly scattered toasted coconut, raisins, chopped peanuts, and Major Grey chutney. This simple combination still works lightning-quick wonders on yesterday's cooked chicken or roast.
The fact is, though, curry powder isn't a single spice, but a blend ― and there are many. My vision of curry expanded immensely when I visited Thailand. There, coconut isn't the topping; it's usually the milk of the sauce. Potatoes often cook in the sauce, supplanting the rice. And curry comes in many colors, depending on the seasoning blend used.
Another revelation: You can easily make your own blend, as in this one-bowl main-dish stew. Begin the meal with a salad, feast on the stew, then finish with simple mango sorbet or lime sherbet.