I've never had any patience with the sort of Commando eating that takes pride in tolerating incendiary curries. I don't see the point in eating something so spicy that you can't taste anything, and I don't really see that kind of machismo as something to be proud of. But at the same time, I've always been fascinated by vindaloo. The combination of garlic and vinegar in the sauce sounded delicious, if only you could get one mild enough to taste.
Eventually I discovered Curry Express in Willoughby. For not much money, they would bring me a moderately-spiced pork vindaloo (I understand that because it is Goan, and Portuguese influenced, the usual Muslim prohibitions against pork don't stand - haven't figured out why most of the Indian cooks in Australia are Muslim), a polythene pouch of cardamom spiked rice and some naan. Lovely. In the absence of Curry Express, I've had to learn to make my own. One of my aunts gave me Camellia Punjabi's 50 Great Curries of India, which contains a fabulous amount of information on the hows and whys of Indian cuisine, as well as recipes.
I've made Camellia Punjabi's vindaloo recipe a few times, and tonight I think I have finally cracked it. The first time I made it, it was way too spicy, and yet too watery, because I hadn't read the bit that said she was using 200ml cups - an Australian cup is 250ml, so over the course of 4 cups of water that is a lot of extra fluid! Plus I hadn't appreciated just how mild a Kashmiri chilli must be, if you can add 15-20 of them to a dish. You can't do that with Thai chillies. The second time I made it was better. Tonight, I think I have mastered it. Maybe not authentically, but to my taste.
I used 6 dried Thai chillies, with a heaped tablespoon of paprika to make up the colour and texture. And I didn't fry the onions until really brown, but added the meat (beef shin) when they were still pale golden. They give up so much moisture that the meat can braise in the onion juices without extra water. I think in the end I added less than 1/4 cup of water. Anyway, after 2 1/2 hours cooking (less than I would usually give it, but I was hungry) it was gorgeous. The gravy was thick and rich, the meat tender and succulent and, while it was certainly pungent, it wasn't unbearably hot. Served it with Sainsburys Peshwari naan (because I love them), a dry aubergine curry and some lovely chilled muscadet. Success! And no machismo...