Madras curry powder is not actually Indian in the sense that Indians did not come up with it. It’s a British blend of Indian spices, meant to appeal to British taste buds. It is notable for the fact that it touched off Britain’s love affair with Indian flavors, which continues to this day. If you want to enjoy these flavors, you should try to seek out a quality blend of Madras curry powder. If that is out of the question, you can try one of the Madras curry powder substitutes listed below.
Your best bet: Make your own
As with any spice blend, you can put your own version together if you can find the individual components. All or most of the spices in Madras curry powder can be found at an Indian market or even some stores that specialize in ingredients from all over Asia. If you are willing to invest some time and money into shopping for quality ingredients, you can create something that is almost as fragrant and flavorful as the best pre-made blends. By making your own blend, you get to tailor the ingredients to your preferences. You can even tone the heat down if you want a milder version.
A decent second choice: Curry powder and chili pepper
Regular curry powder has a lot in common with Madras curry powder. Both include many of the same spices and have a strong emphasis on the bright yellow color of turmeric. For example, fenugreek and cardamom typically make appearances alongside turmeric in almost all curry powder blends. Both have the same origin as well in that they are intended to replicate the flavor profiles of Indian cuisine for a western palate. The big difference is Madras curry’s emphasis on the heat of chili peppers, which you can replicate by adding cayenne pepper or crushed red pepper flakes.
Use the same amount of curry powder that your recipe requires for Madras curry powder and add chili pepper to taste.
In a pinch: Tandoori masala
Tandoori masala is best known for its use in tandoori chicken, a dish cooked in a special clay oven called a tandoor. This spice blend is commonly used in Pakistani and Punjabi cooking and includes many of the same spices that you would find in Madras curry powder, including the chili peppers. Tandoori masala is known for its heat just like Madras curry powder. Ingredients will vary as they do with most traditional spice blends; however, tandoori masala usually has many of the same ingredients as Madras curry powder and other curry powders. Food cooked with it will have a somewhat different appearance as most tandoori masala blends will give food a pink or red color.
Use tandoori masala as a 1:1 substitute for Madras curry powder but remember that the heat level can vary, so proceed with caution.
Unlike Madras curry powder, garam masala is a traditional spice blend that is used throughout Indian cooking. While ingredients differ according to region and household, most blends will have many of the same spices that would be used to make Madras curry powder with the exception of turmeric. You can either add turmeric yourself or cook without it.
Sambar powder is another traditional Indian spice blend, this time from the southern part of India. It includes many of the spices used to make Madras curry powder along with yellow chickpeas.