beef curry with tamarind and ginger

This is our family and friends’ favourite dish by a significant margin and is one of the first Indian dishes I ever ate. If you have ever eaten Indian food at our home, there is a good chance we served this.

If I announce I am cooking Indian, the kids say, “Dad, can we have the beef curry?” If Karenne invites people to dinner and I’m cooking, they say “Is Keith cooking the beef curry?”

I recall my daughter, young and in her stroller, with this curry and chapatis in her lunchbox, munching away whilst we shopped at Chatswood, near Sydney. Not even the chance to go to McDonald’s had any effect. Whenever my parents came up to Sydney they always requested this dish.

It is one of the early recipes in my grandmother’s cookbook. The provenance is unclear but does seem to come from a time she lived in Kolkatta, or Calcutta as she knew it. It is a thick, rich and hot dish, with the sourness of the tamarind offset by the sweetness of the ginger.

By style, it is similar to a Madras style curry but doesn’t have a tomato base. Adding the ginger late in the cooking process is unusual;  I think, but cannot substantiate, that this was probably an error by the cook. He forgot to put the ginger in the usual onion, ginger and garlic base and only added it later. Whatever the reason, it works so well. The natural sweetness of the ginger comes through and contrasts with the tartness of the tamarind.

Wherever it comes from and whatever the reasons for its structure, it remains our favourite beef dish.

There are two ways to cook this recipe. The first uses a pressure cooker, which is how my grandmother’s notes describe the recipe. The second, and our preferred approach now, is to cook it on the stovetop. Either way provides the same rich, dark, hot beef curry.

The times shown below reflect the stovetop version. Cooking in the pressure cooker will take around 45 minutes.

This is a dish best served with simple accompaniments. We usually have plain rice, a raita, and a simple vegetable dish.

the recipe

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equipment

  • pressure cooker - optional
  • wide pan with lid - for stovetop

ingredients

  • 800 g chuck steak - cut into 4cm pieces

for the marinade

to cook

to serve

instructions 

for the marinade

  • Heat a small frypan over medium heat. Add the coriander, cumin and fenugreek seeds and toss gently until the seeds start to colour and become aromatic. Remove from the heat, allow to cool then grind to a fine powder.
  • Place the meat in a large bowl. Add the ground coriander, cumin and fenugreek seeds, turmeric and garam masala. Work the spices well into the meat using your hands. Cover the bowl and refrigerate overnight.

to cook in a pressure cooker

  • Heat ghee in a pressure cooker pot on low heat. Add the mustard seeds and curry leaves. Stir well.
  • When the mustard seeds start to pop, add the onion and sprinkle with the salt. Fry until onions are soft and starting to go brown at the edges. This will take at least ten minutes
  • Add the garlic and chilli, then fry for another two minutes or until the raw garlic aroma has gone.
  • Add the meat to the pot and mix well. When browned and gently bubbling add the tamarind liquid and stir until well combined.
  • Seal the pressure cooker and cook on low heat for twenty minutes.
  • Release pressure naturally and open the cooker. The meat should now be cooked and tender. Most of the fat should be rendered from the meat.
  • Add the ginger and mix well.
  • Turn the heat up and, stirring frequently, reduce the sauce to a thick consistency. Do not allow the bottom of the pot to burn and do not stir too vigorously, as the meat may break up. It should have a darkish brown colour, with large pieces of meat in a thick, clinging sauce. This should take around 15 minutes.

to cook on the stovetop

  • Heat ghee in a pan on low heat. Add the mustard seeds and curry leaves. Stir well.
  • When the mustard seeds start to pop, add the onion and sprinkle with the salt. Cover, and slowly fry until the onions are soft and starting to go brown at the edges. This will take at least ten minutes
  • Add the garlic and chilli, then fry for another two minutes or until the raw garlic aroma has gone.
  • Increase the heat to medium and add the meat to the pot and mix well. When browned and gently bubbling add the tamarind liquid and stir until well combined.
  • Reduce the heat to a simmer, cover the pan and cook for about two hours stirring every thirty minutes until the meat is tender. If the curry is drying out, add water, not more than 100ml at a time, mixing well.
  • When the meat is tender, add the ginger and mix well.
  • Turn the heat to high, and, stirring frequently, reduce the sauce to a thick consistency. Do not allow the bottom of the pot to burn and do not stir too vigorously, as the meat may break up. It should have a darkish brown colour, with large pieces of meat in a thick, clinging sauce. This should take around 15 minutes.

to serve

  • Turn off the heat and allow to sit in the cooker, covered, for about five minutes. Fats and oils will separate out as temperature falls. Stir these gently back in, sprinkle with coriander leaves, then serve.

notes

  • The cooking times above refer to the stovetop method.
  • If cooking on the stovetop, the lower the heat and the longer you cook this the better the flavours will develop. 
  • If cooking on the stovetop, make sure you do not allow the bottom to burn. Stir often and gently, and cautiously add water, You may need to add a lot of water whilst cooking this, depending on the meat’s moisture content

private notes

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nutrition

Serving: 250 g | Calories: 658 kcal | Carbohydrates: 23 g | Protein: 41 g | Fat: 46 g | Saturated Fat: 21 g | Trans Fat: 2 g | Cholesterol: 168 mg | Sodium: 734 mg | Potassium: 1046 mg | Fiber: 4 g | Sugar: 11 g | Vitamin A: 621 IU | Vitamin C: 118 mg | Calcium: 110 mg | Iron: 8 mg

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