Sunday, 12 February 2012

Sri Lankan style beef curry, rice and sambol

Sometimes I want a curry that smacks me round the face, something intensely spiced and fiery. Anything Thai usually fits the bill, but on this occasion it was the earthier flavours of the Indian sub-continent I was after.

I don't know a great deal about Sri Lankan food, I've tried a few classic Sri Lankan dishes and I have a fair idea of the style of curries that originate there. They like a good hot curry the Sri Lankans, of that I'm sure. Chilli is used generously as are many other spices, which they like to roast before grinding into powders. Fish and seafood are popular as you'd expect on an island, including the use of fishy tastes as seasoning a la South-east Asia. They also seem to eat more meat than the Indians, and aren't short of coconuts which pop up in everything.

So here's my attempt at a curry, Sri Lankan style. It's probably inauthentic, but I hope it's recognisably in the style of that country, and either way it tastes good.

Serve with plain rice and coconut sambol, a sort of coconut chutney. The sambol is sweet and fresh, and contrasts really well with the earthy, aromatic depth of the curry.

You'll need to make the curry powder first. This can be done in advance and the powder stored in an airtight container (preferably a metal one, or at least store it out of sunlight) for anything up to a few weeks. Once you've made the curry powder the curry itself takes about an hour and a half to cook. The sambol can be knocked up in a few minutes when the curry is simmering.

The Curry Powder

What you'll need:

For the curry powder
5 tsp coriander seeds
4 dried red chillies
3 cardamom pods
2 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp black peppercorns
2 tsp mustard seeds
2 tsp fenugreek seeds
1 small cinnamon stick
about 20 curry leaves

What to do:

1. Set the oven to the lowest possible heat. Mine starts at 80 deg C, so at a rough guess I had it on at about 70. Spread out all of the ingredients on a baking sheet.

2. Roast in the oven for 60-80 minutes, until dry and a bit darker in colour (only a bit, not burned or anything), then take out and leave to cool.

3. Grind to a powder in a coffee/spice grinder or a pestle and mortar.

The Curry

1lb stewing beef
1 tin coconut milk
1 batch of curry powder, made as per above
1 onion
5 cloves garlic
1 large thumb of ginger
1 tbsp worth of chopped fresh coriander (stalks and leaves)
2-3 small fresh hot chillies
1 tbsp palm sugar (jaggery)
15-20 curry leaves
vegetable oil
Thai fish sauce

What to do:

1. Heat some oil in a large pan, finely chop the onion and throw in the pan. Fry for a couple of minutes.

2. Season the beef with salt, then add it to the pan. Leave it to brown, stirring occasionally.

3. While the beef is browning roughly chop the garlic, ginger and chillies, then blend them to a paste with the coriander and a little water.

4. When the beef is brown add the curry powder to the pan and continue to fry, stirring to ensure it doesn't stick. Open the coconut milk and add a little bit to the pan if it does start to stick.

5. Fry for 2-3 minutes then add the garlic, ginger, chilli and coriander paste and fry for another 2-3 minutes.

6. Pour in the coconut milk, then fill the empty tin with water and pour that in too. Throw in the palm sugar, curry leaves and a good splash of fish sauce.

7. Bring to a boil then leave to simmer for about 80 minutes, until the sauce has started to thicken and the beef is tender. Give it a good stir from time to time.

8. Adjust the seasoning when it's almost ready. I find that the roasted spices can occasionally have a slightly bitter edge that can be sorted out by adding a little more salt.

The Sambol

What you'll need:

half a fresh coconut, flesh and juice
2 limes
about 1 tbsp of finely chopped red onion
1 hot red chilli (fresh), finely chopped.
about 1 tbsp of finely chopped coriander

What to do:

1. Shred or grate the coconut flesh and put it in a bowl with the finely chopped onion, coriander and chilli.

2. Squeeze in the juice of both limes and give everything a good stir.

3. Set aside to let the flavours marry.

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