There are very few dishes that make my mouth truly water as the chilli beef from Kerala does (it is right now just by writing this post). Kerala is a state in southwestern India that forms the major chunk of what’s called the Malabar Coast (requisite geography lesson-food pairing when possible). As the hot, humid climate necessitates consumption of copious amounts of fiery spices, Malabari cuisine relies heavily on the coconut tree that proliferates along the coast; kernels, oil, cream, milk, etc. are used to temper the pungency of the cuisine.
All this rambling to say, the mix of crazy hot spices with the sweet taste of coconut makes for some delicious eating. It is of great personal disappointment that the cuisine hasn’t quite made it across the Indian Ocean—there are a sprinkling of restaurants in the US that have Malabari cuisine, but these are usually hard to find, even here in NYC.
There are two ingredients in this delicious dish that you can only find at an Indian grocery:
- Green chillies, skinny and long but pack a whole lot of punch into their tiny being; a staple in most Indian kitchens.
- Curry leaves, a South Asian condiment with a very distinctive flavour.
Don’t fear if you cannot find them or are too lazy to trek out to get them (like me), you can use Serrano peppers/jalapeños and coriander instead (even if the flavours aren’t a close substitute at all).
I served the chilli beef with steaming hot coconut rice; told you I was on a binge! It also paired amazingly with Malabari paratha, a flaky pan-fried bread, that you can buy at Trader Joe’s (I haven’t dared to make my own yet).
Beef tenderloin, 1 lb, cut into ¾” cubes
Onion, 2, medium, finely sliced
Chilli powder, 1 tsp
Coriander powder, 1 tbsp
Turmeric powder, ½ tsp
Garam masala, 1 tsp
Aniseed/fennel powder, 1 tsp
Cinnamon powder, ⅓ tsp
Black peppercorns, ¼ tsp, crushed
Garlic, ½ tbsp, minced
Ginger, ½ tbsp, freshly grated
Vinegar, 2 tsp
Coconut flakes, ½ cup, unsweetened
Salt, 1 tsp
Water, 1 cup
Coconut or vegetable oil, 1½ tbsp
Green chillies, 4, sliced | or Serrano peppers, 4, sliced | or Jalapeños, 2, sliced
Curry leaves, 8-10 | or Coriander leaves, 3 tbsp, chopped
Yields 2-4 servings.
In a heavy-bottomed pot with a tight lid, toss the cubed beef with all of the spices, one half of the sliced onions, garlic, ginger, vinegar, coconut flakes, and salt. Let the meat marinate for about half an hour in the fridge.
Add the water to the marinated beef, cover the pot, and cook on medium-high flame for 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to low and let it simmer for about 25 minutes until the water has mostly dried out and the meat is almost cooked.
Heat the coconut oil in a saucepan and, if you are using them, fry the curry leaves for a few seconds. Add the remaining half of the onions and fry until they start to brown; stir in the chillies or jalapeños halfway.
If you are not using curry leaves, garnish with chopped coriander. Serve with hot rice or parathas.