We love a curry in this house – this is partly how I was raised (my Grandfather was born and raised in India before Independence, and consequently we grew up eating legit vindaloo in a country town where lamb chops and mashed potatoes were the staples), and partly because chilli is a gift of the Gods and must be ingested on an almost daily basis. Where most families might have tomato sauce on their table, we have at least two kinds of chilli sauce at all times (plus two kinds of back up chilli sauce in the pantry just in case we ever run out).
While I do use recipe books for some curries (the Magicke Curry Booke, or Spices Moste Potente, is a book passed on from my mother to all the kids in our family – I actually don’t know the title, author, or the publisher, but I believe it is out of print), most times my husband and I invent the curries that we eat. We use a few basic principles – onions, garlic, and ginger form the basis of most of our curries. After that, we tend to use a blend of the following spices in varying quantities: coriander, cumin, turmeric, garam masala, chilli, cardamom pods, bay leaves, whole cloves, cinnamon sticks. We don’t use coconut milk or cream or any almond meal due to our allergies.
This beef curry uses red lentils as a thickening agent, creating a thick gravy that is really tasty. It also uses only a small amount of beef, making it a low (er) cost and healthier meat-based dish (it’s still expensive compared to vegetarian or chicken dishes – red meat has increased in price significantly over the past 12 months, which is why I don’t cook with it often). If you have not used garam masala before, it is a spice blend, most commonly made of pepper, cloves, cinnamon, mace, cardamom, bay leaf and cumin. Don’t be tempted to substitute it for something else in recipes that call for it – garam masala adds a very specific flavour that can’t be replicated. It is easy to buy from most supermarkets or from Asian supermarkets.
Beef and red lentil curry
3 Spring onions, finely chopped – free
White stems of three bok choy, chopped – free
1 piece fresh ginger, roughly chopped – 30 cents
1 clove garlic, finely chopped – 5 cents
1 tablespoon rice bran oil – 6 cents
300 grams blade steak, cut into cubes – $4.80
1 cup red lentils, washed – 50 cents
2 cups water or vegetable stock
1 teaspoon salt – 1 cent
1/2 teaspoon chilli powder – 2.5 cents
1 teaspoon ground coriander – 5 cents
1.5 teaspoons garam masala – 7.5 cents
1 teaspoon ground cumin – 5 cents
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric – 2.5 cents
8 cardamom pods – 5 cents
Heat the rice bran oil in a deep, ovenproof pot (I used my Le Creuset Dutch Oven – I have had this pot for 20 years and it is still going strong). Slowly cook the Spring onions, taking care not to burn. Add the garlic and ginger and the bok choy, and cook for two minutes.
Add the beef and cook for five minutes. Sprinkle with the spices and add the cardamom pods. Stir well and cook for two minutes.
Add the lentils and stir well. Cook for two minutes, and then pour in the water or stock. Stir well and then place the lid on the pot and put the whole pot in an oven pre-heated to 170 degrees C.
Cook for two hours, checking regularly to ensure the lentils have not stuck to the bottom. Add more water if necessary, stirring well each time. Season with salt.
The lentils will have formed a thick gravy and the beef will be tender.
Serve with hot rice and pappadams.
Total cost: $5.69
Per person (serves 4): $1.42