I’ve neglected Indian food big time lately. Which makes me very sad. It was my first love when I learned to cook in my own kitchen and it means a great deal to me. It occurred to me a little while ago that my weekly menu (such that it ever is) seemed to have become “spot the Indian meal” with no one particular cuisine presiding over all else as curry once did. When I looked at this startling fact, I realised why! It’s for Hungry Hubby’s sake. The Hungry One is one of this life’s truly nice guys; very little gets him down and he will talk, amiably to anyone. He is easily satisfied and the calm in the storm that sometimes tends to be my life. When it comes to food, he will try anything (almost) and has pushed away very little over the years I have plonked down in front of him. I think another clue that I hadn’t done much Indian lately was that he has suggested “going for a curry” on enough occasions for me to stop and wonder. Being a freckly red head, he can’t take spice like I can (I have no evidence for this but an old surgeon boss maintained gingers were more sensitive to various things than non-gingers and anecdotally, he may have been onto something…) so I think subconsciously, I steered us out of the Indian subcontinent and into various more mild mannered spice palates like traditionally British cooking, Italian, Middle Eastern, even Chinese cuisine, depending on what dishes we are talking about. I’ve even briefly dabbled in French food. Also, there is absolutely no denying creating an Indian feast means all four burners will be occupied on your hob plus the mountain of dishwashing required afterwards makes a take out curry appear more appealing. To Hungry Hubby. The designated dishwasher 😉 Fortunately I’ve reconnected with curry via quite the easiest method I’ve ever followed.
Enter Rick Stein’s beef vindaloo. I was truly wiped out on Friday night after a couple of trying weeks at work with little good quality sleep yet after pulling all of my Indian books (the collection is ever growing) off my shelves for inspiration, I plumped for this recipe and knocked together the marinade with little effort. Tis the marinade which works the magic. What is really thrilling is that once the beef, which we had picked up at a whim down at the local butchers just before closing for a very reasonable price on Friday afternoon, has steeped in the fridge overnight, the rest of the recipe is almost too easy. You would be forgiven for thinking the finished dish could not possibly have so much full throttle flavour on the basis of putting in so little effort yourself but you would be oh so wrong. Once you have your onions good and brown, add your beef with its marinade then follow with tomatoes, a splash of water and cook low and slow until the beef falls apart. Brown onions are one of those “tricks” to Indian food – you need to spend time getting them good and golden for meat curries such as this one to get the first layer of flavour going from the start. Don’t rush it and burn them!
Another insider tip is using sour tomatoes in your curries. Those beautiful, sweet, fragrant heritage style ones aren’t necessary here (save them for your Caprese salads) as you want the sour tang of those “salad” style ones which supermarkets here stock almost above anything else. Amongst the other heady spices, there is a good amount of ground cloves and cinnamon bark in the marinade which gives warmth and sweetness and using sweet, ripe tommies isn’t the way to go. You want tang in a vindaloo – pickly piquancy.
Of course, as the star of the show, this beef curry needs top quality supporting acts to show it off to it’s full potential. So enter some bhakri – butter enriched, slightly thick wholewheat flatbreads from the Gujarat. I followed Anjum Anand’s directions in Anjum’s New Indian but increased the quantities as she really is tight on the portions! I’m no stranger to exercising dietary restraint but I’m sorry – 100g atta (Indian wholewheat flour) does not in any way make enough for 6 individual breads! They were good though. The carom seeds gave a nice perfume to them too.
Another recipe from Rick Stein’s India made up the vegetable quotient in this curry feast. Seasonal vegetable curry. It is a very simple dish and is mildly spiced which made it a great accompaniment to the vindaloo. A little cumin, clove and garlic to which I added ginger and a mild red chilli for it’s flavour as it really didn’t impart any heat and you’re away. I used broccoli, mini Chantenay carrots and spinach as that’s what I had in. It came together again with little encouragement from me within the last 20 minutes of cooking time for the vindaloo.
All that was needed to bring it all together was a bowl of plain but perfumed steamed basmati rice, a little cucumber and mint raita plus a couple of beers. Yes, I know, they are Italian beers, so sue me.
I was thrilled with how easy the meal came together and as always happens when I eat homemade curry, the lightness and freshness of each dish hit me between the eyes in stark contrast to the excessively rich and heavy on the stomach take-out curry house offerings across the nation. Hungry Hubby loved it and remarked how it satisfied his craving for curry. Lately, I’ve been missing the hum of chilli in my food and have been gradually adding more and more of it back into our diets so this curry didn’t seem hot at all. You must, however, be aware that chillies are somewhat the Russian Roulette of the spice world – all are not created equal. I didn’t add the fresh chillies and used less chilli powder as my Kashmiri chilli powder is paradoxically rather hot (it’s normally known for being one of the mild ones). Do as you please – dial it back or ramp it up. There is so much interest and deep, pungent, warming layers of flavour to excite the palate in this dish, you hardly need to go chilli crazy and spoil the pleasure of eating it with volcanically hot chilli.
- 500g stewing steak cut into large chunks (it will fall apart on cooking – 2-3 inch pieces would be ideal)
- 5cm cinnamon bark (I used cassia bark)
- 1 tsp cloves
- 1 tsp cumin seeds
- Seeds of 12 green cardamom pods
- 1 small onion, quartered
- 8 cloves of garlic
- 2 inches of fresh ginger, peeled
- 2 tbsp tamarind paste or liquid
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp sugar
- 1/2 turmeric
- 2 tbsp Kashmiri chilli powder (please adapt to your heat level preference)
- 75ml white wine vinegar (I used cider vinegar)
- 2 tbsp of oil or ghee (I use olive oil)
- 1 small onion, finely diced
- 3 tomatoes, finely diced
- 3 fresh green chillies, halved length ways (optional, in my opinion)
- 100ml water
- Prepare the marinade – grind the whole spices in a mortar and pestle or spice grinder/coffee grinder designated for spices only.
- Tip into a blender/mini processor/processor and add the rest of the ingredients. Blend or process until a thick paste is produced.
- Rub it into the beef well (I would use a couple of spatulas to protect your hands and later, eyes or worse, from the chilli!) and cover the dish the beef is in very tightly with cling film. A double layer will help prevent all the contents of the fridge smelling of spice. Chill overnight.
- Heat the oil in a pan or pot with a lid then brown your onions – go slowly at first so they don’t burn.
- Add the beef plus the marinade clinging to it, sizzle for 5 minutes on a medium heat then add the tomatoes and water, stirring very well to combine. Simmer for 2 hours on very low, stirring maybe every 15-20 minutes to ensure it doesn’t catch. Add water if it looks dry – mine didn’t.
- It is ready once the beef easily breaks down into shreds when pushed gently with a spoon.