Thursday, October 10, 2013

Spicy Fried Beef


In the 4th century, the Syrian merchant Thomas of Canaan is said to have arrived in the port city of Cranganore, Kerala. His ship held 400 passengers, including clergy from the Syrian Christian church. The locals were used to welcoming foreigners from Greece, China, and other far off lands due to Kerala’s central role in the spice trade. Both the Hindu rulers of the Chera dynasty and the Christian community that had been established in the first century by Saint Thomas the Apostle greeted them with warmth. Overtime, the descendants of these voyagers became known as Knanaya Christians. 


Fast forward to present day and you’ll find white washed steeples projecting into the skyline across Kerala to accommodate the state’s diverse Christian community. In the early morning and late afternoon, throngs of children teem about in Catholic school uniforms. Brightly-colored lorries hog the road, in what appears to be a game of chicken, and proclaim “Jesus is King” above their dashboards or honor a patron Saint. On long journeys, travelers can stop to pray at grottoes dotting the countryside dedicated to Hindu Gods or to Mother Mary.  


My family is part of Kerala’s Knanaya Christian community. During family trips to India, I always received numerous wooden rosaries and (itchy) wool scapulars from my paternal grandma, who spent time as a Novitiate (more on that later), and great Aunts, Sister Sophia and Sister Loretta. In their later years, Sister Sophia and Sister Loretta gave alms to the church in the hopes of improving my marriage prospects. (If only it had worked!)


During family vacations, my aunts served us many Syrian Christian specialties including chicken stew, sauteed pork, and roast mutton. 


We also ate our share of beef, and like my dad, I had a sweet spot for Amachi’s Spicy Fried Beef. It calls for stewing cubed beef with a mix of cardamom, cloves, cinnamon, and other spices, and sauteing the cook meat with shallots. When I sit down to a plate of steaming parboiled rice and her beef recipe, I am transported back to Kerala.



Serves 6

My father always wanted a meat dish on the table, and this zesty beef preparation was a family staple. The coconut slices take on an addictive jerky-like texture after being stewed with the beef. That being said, both the coconut and curry leaves are optional, thanks to the hearty flavors of the other spices. So don’t fret if you don’t have them on hand. (I didn’t at the time of this post!) Serve Spicy Fried Beef with steaming hot rice and plain yogurt or flatbread. 


10 black peppercorns
6 cloves
6 cardamom pods
2 tablespoons coriander seeds
2 pounds stewing beef, rinsed and cut into 1-inch cubes
2 (1-inch) cinnamon sticks
1/2 cup sliced coconut (optional)
Dash of ground turmeric
1 teaspoon salt
2 small dried red chilies
Pinch of fenugreek seeds
10 to 15 fresh curry leaves (optional)
1  cup finely diced onions
2 tablespoons minced ginger
3/4 cup water
2 tablespoons canola oil


Blend the peppercorns, cloves, cardamom pods, and coriander seeds.

Place the beef, cinnamon sticks, coconut, turmeric, salt, dried red chilies, fenugreek seeds, curry leaves, ½ cup of the onions, ginger, water, and ground spices in a large saucepan over high heat. (For extra heat, tear the dried red chilies apart before you add them.) Stir. 

Bring to a boil. 

Lower the heat to medium. Cover and cook for 35 to 40 minutes or until most of the liquid has evaporated. If there is ¼ cup or more of liquid left after 40 minutes, remove the beef with a slotted spoon. 

Raise the heat to high and cook until there is just enough liquid to cover the bottom of the pan. Remove from heat. 

Put the beef back into the pan and stir to coat it with the liquid.

Heat the canola oil in a large frying pan over medium heat. Add the remaining onions. 

Cook until they become translucent. Add the beef and cook, stirring occasionally, until the moisture evaporates, about 5 minutes. 
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