This Sunday heralds the beginning of winter. Hard to fathom with our warm weather and blue sunny skies. It’s still t-shirt weather, our winter coats are hanging in the very back of our cupboards waiting for that elusive cold snap. As much as we love our barbecues and salads we’re looking forward to embracing slow cooked soups, curries and braises. A changing of the guard as our seasons slowly segue from a long Indian summer into what is shaping up to be a very mild winter.
Last Sunday I was invited to attend the Paddington Community Garden’s May Harvest Meal. Tucked away behind Trumper Park, it’s a thriving oasis of individual and communal plots producing an enviable array of organic fruits, vegetables and herbs. This month’s focus? The harvesting of the gorgeous bounty of the Asian herb garden; chilli, lemongrass, ginger, galangal and turmeric. I often use these ingredients, freshly purchased from the markets, in curries and stir fries but have never had the opportunity to cook with them plucked straight from a garden plot.
Chilli, lemongrass, ginger, galangal and turmeric lend themselves perfectly to a rich and fragrant beef and potato curry. My contribution to the harvest meal. Prepared from scratch. Malaysian style. The garden fresh herbs peeled, sliced and pounded before being combined with an earthy spice mix of freshly toasted cumin, coriander, cinnamon, cloves and cardamom. There is something enormously satisfying about preparing your own spice paste. Gorgeously aromatic, it’s infinitely superior to anything you can buy off the shelf, and can be a little different each time you make it allowing for both seasonal availability of the herbs and spices and any personal tastes and preferences.
For a magnificent curry all the work is in the creation of the curry paste; the building and balancing of many layers of fragrant flavours and spice. Traditionally, each ingredient was amalgamated by hand with nothing more than a mortar and pestle. Today our modern food processors make short shrift of all the pounding. It’s then just a matter of gathering the remainder of your ingredients for a long leisurely braise in a slow cooker or dutch oven. Guaranteed to provide a tender, melt in your mouth result for very little further effort.
As I prefer to prepare my curry in a slow cooker, allowing me the freedom to go about my day while dinner looks after itself, there are a couple of idiosyncrasies to this recipe I should probably point out. This recipe by virtue of it’s long cooking time lends itself perfectly to cheaper cuts of meat. I like to use chuck steak as I find it to be more flavoursome. As slow cookers have tightly sealed lids they require the addition of less liquid than curries cooked on the stove top. The coconut cream should just cover the meat and potatoes and amount needed will vary a little depending on the size and shape of your pot. Using toasted and ground coconut will act as a natural thickener for the curry. If the curry seems too liquid, remove the lid half an hour or so before the end of cooking time or add a little more toasted and ground coconut. Balance the spiciness of the curry with chilli, the sweetness with palm or brown sugar, saltiness with soy sauce and sourness with lime.
Malaysian Beef and Potato Curry
Dry spices for the curry powder
1 tablespoon ground coriander
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon chilli powder
6 black peppercorns
10 whole cloves
4 whole cardamom
Fresh ingredients for the curry paste
3 stalks lemongrass
5cm length fresh galangal
5cm length ginger
2cm length turmeric
6 large cloves garlic
6 – 8 red chillies
6 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 kg chuck steak, cubed
750g small chat potatoes, scrubbed and cut in half
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 red onions
6 kaffir leaves, rolled and thinly sliced
¾ turmeric leaf, rolled and finely chopped (optional)
2 whole chillies
2 star anise
2 cups coconut milk
1 cup desiccated coconut
3 tablespoons dark soy sauce
1 tablespoon soft dark sugar or shaved palm sugar
DRY ROAST AND GRIND THE SPICES
Place peppercorns, cloves and cardamom in a hot wok and dry roast until fragrant. Remove from heat and add the ground coriander, cumin, cinnamon and chilli. Stir to combine. The residual heat of the wok will darken the ground spices and release their aroma. Transfer to a spice grinder or mortar and pestle, and grind until smooth.
PREPARE THE FRESH CURRY PASTE INGREDIENTS
Remove the outer tough leaves from the lemongrass. Cut off bottom 8-10 cm from the stalks and slice finely. Reserve the remainder of the stalks to add to the curry as it cooks.
Peel and finely slice the galangal, ginger and garlic.
Peel the turmeric and using a micro plane grate coarsely. Be careful when using turmeric as it stains hands and benches easily.
De-seed chillies and remove white membrane if you prefer less heat. Slice roughly.
In a food processor or mortar and pestle, process or grind lemongrass, galangal, ginger, garlic, chilies and oil until smooth, adding a little water as needed
PREPARE THE CURRY
COMBINE the dry roasted spice mixture with the fresh curry paste in a large glass or ceramic bowl. Add the beef and toss well. Leave to marinate for at least an hour, overnight in the refrigerator is best.
HEAT wok over low heat and toast the coconut until golden. Grind in a mortar, blender or food processor and set aside.
COOK the onions and shallots slowly in oil until soft and translucent; about 20 minutes.
PLACE in crock pot with curry paste marinated beef, potatoes, coconut milk, ground toasted coconut, lemon grass stalks, star anise, whole chillies, finely sliced lime and turmeric leaves, soy sauce and brown sugar.
COOK on high for 4 hours or on low for 8 hours. Leave lid off for last half hour to thicken the sauce if it is too liquid. If you don’t have a slow cooker, finish this in a large Dutch oven or heavy pot with a lid in a 140 C oven for about four hours, until the meat is very tender and falling apart.
WHEN ready to serve discard whole chillies, star anise and lemon grass stalks. Taste and adjust seasoning with soy, palm sugar, chilli and lime as necessary. Ladle into bowls over steamed rice.