The weather has turned cold, and suddenly we’re craving spice and substance. All day yesterday I kept thinking about Indian food, and so I indulged this impulse through the creation of a beef curry. Last year I set about learning Indian cuisine and, while I’m no expert, I’ve become familiar enough with many of the spices and techniques to have the confidence to start developing my own recipes. Now I can satisfy the craving for the exotic without having to pore over cookbooks.
I wanted a dish with tender beef, mild spicy warmth, comforting potatoes and the richness of coconut milk contrasted by the acidity of tomatoes. I wanted colour, lots of colour, and it came through a deeply hued broth tinted by golden turmeric and deep red chile powder, with flashes of contrasting brightness from red peppers, green spinach and cilantro. I wanted to scratch that itch to create, to get out my Indian spice box and rummage through it, breathing in the heady scents and pondering which ingredients would work.
The result? A satisfying beef curry served with basmati rice enlivened with chopped cilantro, a meal that made us forget the cold rain slapping against the windows. How good was it? We normally go out for dinner Friday nights, but the Culinary Enthusiast suggested we stay in tonight and have the leftovers. I was happy to agree.
Beef Curry with Potatoes, Red Pepper and Spinach
A curry like this is versatile, lending itself to whatever combination of ingredients you have on hand. No red peppers? Use yellow or orange, if you have them. Prefer sweet potato instead of regular? Go ahead! The ingredient list may look long, but that’s because you won’t see “curry powder” there. This is your chance to break free of your packaged spice dependency and use seeds and ground spices in combinations that suit your palette. I kept this recipe on the mild side; there’s a lot of flavour complexity but not a lot of heat. If you prefer it hotter, you could add more of the red chile powder. NOTE: You can remove the cardamom pods before serving, if you can find them, or else just keep an eye out for them and don’t eat them. While they add good flavour to the curry, if you bite into one the flavour is quite strong and pungent.
When I was at the butcher counter I was overcome with the urge to splurge and went for beef tenderloin, but you can use less expensive tender cuts. Since the dish is braised, in the interest of frugality you could get away with tougher cuts as well.
You’ll need around 30 minutes to assemble and prep all the ingredients, and get everything going in a large braising pan. I recommend letting the curry simmer for about 2 hours to let the flavours develop. If you prep the rice ahead of time, you’ll just need to start it about 20 minutes before you plan to eat. The beauty of cooking like this is that there’s a lovely period of downtime for the cook, during which you can do … well, you can do whatever you like.
- 2 tbsp coconut oil
- 1 tbsp yellow mustard seed
- 1 tbsp black mustard seed
- 1 tsp kalonji (nigella seed)
- 1 tsp fennel seed
- 2 tsp cumin seed
- 3 fat cloves garlic, minced
- 1 red chile pepper, seeded and minced
- 8 green cardamom pods, crushed
- 1 tsp turmeric
- 1 tsp extra hot red chile powder
- 1 large onion, roughly chopped
- 1 red pepper, cut into short strips
- 1 lb organic beef tenderloin or other cut of your preference, sliced in pieces about 3/8-inch thick
- 3 small red potatoes (skin on), cubed (about 3/4 lb)
- 8 plum tomatoes, chopped (1-1/4 lb)
- 1 400 ml can coconut milk
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 bag of baby spinach (about 5 oz)
- a big handful of cilantro, chopped (reserve some to stir into the basmati rice if you like)
Heat the coconut oil over medium-high heat and add the yellow mustard, black mustard, fennel and cumin seeds. When you hear the seeds starting to pop, reduce the heat to medium and stir in the garlic and red chile pepper, along with the cardamom pods, turmeric and chile powder. After a minute or so, introduce the onion, red pepper and beef and stir well. Add the potatoes and tomatoes and then pour in the can of coconut milk. Cover and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for 2 hours.
After 30 minutes or so, taste the broth to check the heat level. Add more chile powder if you like a hotter curry. About twenty minutes before serving time, taste for seasonings again and add the salt if desired. Strew the spinach and cilantro over the curry, leaving for a few minutes to wilt down before folding in.
Serve with basmati rice prepared according to package instructions, with some chopped cilantro and freshly ground pepper stirred in for colour and flavour.
I don’t often do beverage pairings, but I was planning to serve the curry with a crisp white wine. However, a Belgian white ale with coriander and orange caught my eye and it proved an excellent complement to the meal.
As I write this, there are about four hours to go until dinner time. I can hardly wait for the leftovers!