Simple Kerala Beef Curry

When it comes to Indian food, I can never resist a spicy and savory meat curry, especially beef curry!

I was a super picky eater as a child, but one of the few dishes I would eat without complaint were the chicken or meat curries my parents made. Even when they were too spicy, I sopped up all the gravy and licked my fingers clean!

In fact, when I was pregnant with my daughter, I constantly craved my dad’s beef curry, even though I was suffering with terrible morning all-day sickness. When I finally got a chance to eat some, I suffered with terrible heartburn afterward. But it was worth it!

The reason Kerala curries are so delicious is because the ingredients and spices are “layered” when cooking. They are not all dumped in a pot and cooked at the same time. Instead, components are added at different steps until flavors develop.

For example, first meat is marinated with salt, turmeric, and sometimes yogurt. Then aromatics like onions, garlic, and ginger are sautéed. Next spices are browned or “roasted” until they bloom. Finally, the meat is added to the pot and allowed to simmer (see my tip below on browning meat before adding it).

Towards the end of cooking, even more spices are added in the form of a ground masala mixture. You can buy pre-made masalas from the Indian grocery store, but nothing beats a homemade version. 

Though the steps may seem extensive, the whole dish comes together rather easily.

3 Tips for Tender Beef

If you’ve ever cooked with beef, you’ll know it’s easy to overcook it, resulting in tough and chewy meat.

But the type of beef you buy, the way you cut it, and how you cook it can also affect its texture.

Here are my tips to ensuring your beef is nice and tender.

  1. Buy Wisely: Look for beef that has higher connective tissue and some marbling. Good choices for curries or stews are chuck steak, round roast, or beef stew meat.

  2. Cut Against the Grain: When looking at meat, you’ll notice grains or fibers along the meat. Instead of cutting along those lines or with the grain, turn the meat around, and cut across or perpendicular to the lines or grain. By doing this you’ll end up with shorter muscle fibers and thus tender beef.

    Check out these videos on how to cut against the grain: (for raw meat) How To Cut Meat Against The Grain, According To Butcher Ray Venezia and (for cooked meat) How To Cut Meat Against The Grain.

  3. Brown the Meat First: This method is not normally used in Kerala cooking, at least not that I’ve seen. Meat is either added directly to the sauce, or it is boiled or pressured cooked beforehand to remove impurities or tenderize the meat. 

    However, in western dishes like beef stew and stragonaoff, meat is often browned first and it does seem to add flavor and keep the meat tender. By searing the meat and forming a nice brown crust on the outside, you’re sealing in flavor and moisture. You’re also adding color to the dish. 

    Of course you may skip this step and make the curry the traditional way by adding the raw meat after sautéeing onions and spices.

How to Make Kerala Style Beef Curry

Start with about 2 pounds of chuck steak, round roast, or beef stew meat. Cut into bite size or 2 inch pieces. Place in a bowl and mix with some turmeric, 1 teaspoon salt, and a little fresh grated ginger. Set aside.

Next, place a large skillet over medium-high heat. Drizzle in a little oil and add 1/3 to 1/2 of the beef pieces. Don’t overcrowd the pan or the beef will steam.

Let the beef brown on each side, then transfer to a bowl. The beef does not need to be fully cooked at this point. Brown the remaining meat in small batches and transfer back to the bowl.

Now add some more oil to the pan, followed by sliced onions, more ginger, crushed or minced garlic, green chilies, fresh curry leaves, and a pinch of salt. Sauté this mixture for about 5-8 minutes or until golden brown.  

I usually use serrano chili peppers in my recipes, but you can use jalapeños or bird’s eye. 

  • For a mild curry, leave the chilies whole
  • For a medium spicy curry, split the chilies in half
  • For a spicier curry, slice or mince the chilies.

Next, add the tomatoes or tomato paste and another pinch of salt. Allow the tomatoes to cook down and stick to the bottom of the pan. The darker the tomatoes get, the darker the gravy will be.

Now reduce heat to low and add ground coriander, red chili powder, and paprika. Sauté 1-2 minutes until the spices turn a deep brown color and become aromatic. Be careful to not burn them.

Finally add the beef back in along with any of its juices. Stir and and cover with a lid. Increase the heat to medium-low and simmer for 10 minutes.  

After 10 minutes, stir in about 1/4-1/2 cup water and sprinkle in the meat masala. Cover again and let it simmer for 20 minutes more. 

Take curry off heat and taste for salt, adding more if needed.

I recommend not serving the beef curry immediately, bur rather in the next day or two. The flavors in curry concentrate and deepen over night and taste so much better!

When first made, the sauce is more watery and lighter in color.

After sitting overnight, the sauce has thickened up.

To cool properly, let the curry come to room temp which may take about 30-60 minutes. Then cover and store in the fridge.

Enjoy beef curry with basmati rice, naan, or chapati!

Here are some other kerala meat curry recipes

Curried Chicken Meatballs
These Indian meatballs have all the flavor of chicken curry concentrated into one small bite. It is sure to be a crowd pleaser!
Check out this recipe
Plate of Indian meatballs in curry simmer sauce, with cilantro and rice.
Turkey Keema with Mixed Vegetables
A savory and spicy curry made of ground meat, onions, tomatoes, veggies, and plenty of masala! 
Check out this recipe
Joby's Test Kitchen skillet with turkey keema or turkey mince curry mixed veggies
Kerala Style Pork Curry
Tender pieces of pork are browned and then simmered in a sauce of tomatoes, onions, chilies, and spices for a rich and savory curry.
Check out this recipe
Joby's Test Kitchen Kerala style pork curry in skillet.
Dad’s Kerala Chicken Curry
Tender pieces of chicken simmered in a rich gravy of tomatoes, onions, and spices.
Check out this recipe
Joby's Test Kitchen Kerala Chicken Curry in metal bowl on wooden platter

Joby's Test Kitchen Kerala beef curry and chili pepper in pan.

Simple Kerala Beef Curry

Joby’s Test Kitchen
A savory Kerala curry of tender beef simmered in onions, tomatoes, and spices.
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 1 hour
Total Time 1 hour 20 minutes
Course Main Course
Cuisine Indian
Servings 6
Calories 205 kcal

Ingredients
  

  • 2 lbs beef (chuck steak, round roast, or beef stew meat)
  • tsp salt, divided*
  • ½ tsp turmeric
  • 2 tbsps (30ml) oil
  • 1 small-medium onion, sliced
  • 1 inch peeled ginger, minced and divided
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1-2 medium green chilies, minced or left whole *see Notes
  • 2 fresh branches curry leaves
  • 1 large tomato diced or 1-2 tbsps tomato paste
  • 3-4 tbsps ground coriander powder
  • ½-1 tsp red chili powder
  • ½-1 tsp paprika
  • 1 heaping tsp meat masala (recipe below)

Meat Masala (makes about 2 teaspoons)

  • 1 tsp fennel seeds
  • 3-4 whole cloves
  • 3-4 whole cardamom pods
  • ¼ tsp ground cinnamon or 1 1/2 inch cinnamon stick
  • ¼ tsp ground black pepper or 3 black pepper pods
  • ¼ tsp nutmeg, optional
  • ¼ tsp cumin, optional
  • 1 petal star anise, optional

Instructions
 

  • In a medium bowl, mix together the beef, 1 teaspoon salt, ⅓ of the minced ginger, and turmeric.
  • Place large skillet or pot over medium-high heat. When it becomes very hot, add in 1-2 teaspoons of oil and ⅓ to ½ of the beef pieces. Don’t overcrowd the pan or the beef will steam. Let the beef brown on each side, then transfer to a bowl. Do not fully cook the beef at this point. Continuing browning the remaining meat in small batches. Set aside.
  • Add the remaining oil to the pan, then add the onions, remaining ginger, garlic, green chilies, curry leaves, and ¼ tsp of the salt. Sauté and stir for 5-8 minutes or until golden brown.
  • Next, add the tomatoes or tomato paste and ¼ tsp of salt. Sauté for 1-2 minutes or until the tomatoes cook down and stick to the bottom of the pan and starts to turn dark.
  • Now reduce heat to low and add ground coriander, chili powder, and paprika. Sauté another 1-2 minutes until they turn a deep brown color and become aromatic. Be careful not to burn!
  • Finally add the beef back in along with any of its juices. Stir and cover with a lid. Increase the heat to medium-low and simmer for 10 minutes.
  • After 10 minutes, stir in ¼-½ cup water and sprinkle in the meat masala. Cover, and let it simmer for 20 minutes more.
  • Stir and taste for salt. If planning to serve the next day, let the beef come to room temp for about 30-60 minutes, then store in the fridge. The flavors in curry concentrate and deepen over night, hence why they taste better after 1-2 days!

Meat Masala:

  • In a spice grinder or with a mortar and pestle, grind together fennel, cloves, cardamom, cinnamon, black pepper, and nutmeg, cumin, and star anise if using. Store in an air-tight jar, preferably in the fridge so it will stay fresh longer.

Notes

Salt: I like to salt the vegetables while sautéing because it helps them release water and cook faster.
Chili Pepper: I use serrano chili peppers in my recipes, but you can use jalapeños or bird’s eye.
  • For a mild curry, leave the chilies whole.
  • For a medium spicy curry, split the chilies in half.
  • For a spicier curry, slice or mince the chilies.
Keyword beef, curry, Kerala

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