beef 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 a chapati in her lunchbox, munching away whilst we shopped at Chatswood, near Sydney. Not even the chance to go to McDonalds 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 (Chennai) style curry, but doesn’t have the 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 well with the tamarind tartness. I think this is a case of “if you can’t fix it, feature it”.

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

the recipe

preparation:15 mins
cook:45 mins
marinate:12 hrs
total:1 hr
servings:4 servings
calories:653 kcal


  • 800 g chuck steakcut into 4cm pieces

for the marinade

to cook

to serve


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 pwder.
  • Place the meat in a large bowl. Add the ground coriander, cumin and fenugreek seeds, the turmeric and garam masala. Work spice mix well into the meat. Cover bowl and refrigerate overnight.

to cook

  • Heat ghee in a pressure cooker pot. Add mustard seeds and curry leaves. Stir well.
  • When mustard seeds start to pop, add onion and sprinkle them with salt. Fry until onions are soft and starting to go dark brown at the edges. 
  • Add garlic and chilli, then fry for another two minutes or until raw garlic aroma has gone.
  • Add meat to pot and mix well. Reduce heat to a low simmer and when gently bubbling add tamarind liquid. Stir until well combined.
  • Seal pressure cooker and cook on low heat for twenty minutes.
  • Release pressure naturally and open pot. 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 heat up and stirring frequently, reduce the sauce to a thick consistency. Do not allow bottom of 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 pot, 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.


  • If you don’t have a pressure cooker, this can be cooked on the stove top. Prepare as above, but instead of putting it in the pressure cooker, simmer on low heat until the meat is just cooked – this may take up to two hours.  You may need to add water, 100ml at a time, to keep it moist and prevent it sticking to the bottom of the pan. Do not allow it to become too watery. Once the meat is cooked continue from the step of adding the ginger.
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