Vadouvan is a popular blend of Indian spices invented by French cooks. It can be used in any western-style curry dish. It is a way of simulating Indian food with a French aesthetic and was used in France’s Indian possession, Pondicherry. While trendy in some places, it may not be widely available everywhere. If you cannot find this blend, there are several others that you can use in its place. Consider the vadouvan alternatives below.
Your best bet: Curry powder
Just as vadouvan is the French interpretation of Indian cooking, curry powder is the British interpretation. Both are combinations of Indian spices through the lens of European tastes, which is what makes curry powder such a good substitute. Like vadouvan, quality curry powder will also be a premixed blend with its components carefully chosen to complement each other. It keeps you from having to find and mix spices yourself. It contains many of the same ingredients found in vadouvan, which gives it a similar overall flavor profile. The big difference is the bright yellow color of curry powder, which results from the presence of turmeric. Turmeric is not used in most vadouvan blends. It does not have a strong flavor, so your dish will look different but still have the desired flavor profile.
You can use curry powder as an effective 1:1 vadouvan substitute in most recipes.
A decent second choice: Make your own vadouvan blend
The ingredients of vadouvan blends can vary, but most will include certain staple spices. Examples of the spices that often show up in vadouvan include cardamom, cumin, and fenugreek. You will also see the French influence in the inclusion of shallots. Almost all of the spices typically used to make this blend will be available in most well-stocked grocery stores. The downside of making your own vadouvan is that you eliminate the main benefit of buying a pre-mixed vadouvan blend—its convenience. While the spices are widely available, you will have to track them down and blend them yourself. The upside is that a blend of fresh spices will better replicate the flavors of authentic vadouvan. By mixing your own blend, you have the option of omitting spices that you do not like or increasing the amount of those that you do.
You can use your homemade vadouvan in the same dishes and in the same amount as you would a premixed vadouvan blend.
In a pinch: Vindaloo curry powder
Vindaloo curry is often viewed as a spicier version of regular British-style curry powder. Aside from the spiciness, it has multiple ingredients in common with vadouvan. Vindaloo curry originated in the Goa region, which lies in western India. This region contains a sizable population of Roman Catholics. Unlike Hindus and Muslims, Roman Catholics have no religious prohibition on pork. The original vindaloo was a pork dish. Over the years, it has evolved to encompass the use of other meats like duck and lamb.
Use vindaloo curry powder in any dish that requires vadouvan. You can use it as a 1:1 substitute, but note that its spiciness may be off-putting to some people. It is a good idea to add it in small amounts and increase to taste.
Like vindaloo curry powder, tandoori masala is on the spicy side as chili pepper is always included among the basic ingredients. Aside from chili peppers, tandoori masala blends tend to have a lot in common with vadouvan. They will include many of the same ingredients including cumin, coriander, and fenugreek.