Tuesday, August 17, 2010
2 Recipe #165: Keralan-Style Hot & Spicy Chili Beef Stir-Fry
Coconuts are ubiquitous throughout Keralan cuisine, and this dish is no exception. Traditionally, both coconut oil and coconut slices are used for this recipe.
Although coconut oil has gotten a bad rap in the past because it's high in saturated fats, that reputation is largely undeserved. Coconut has significant nutritional value: It's surprisingly lower in fat than several other types of nuts & oils, is rich in fiber & vitamin B9 (i.e., folate/folic acid), and has a low glycemic load. Coconut is actually used by athletes for performance enhancement reasons because its fat content is easily converted into energy and it doesn't lead to the accumulation of fat in the heart & arteries. It's also purported to bolster the immune system against viral and bacterial infections; and some also believe that it is an effective aid in losing weight -- how's that for irony?! -- although both of these effects have yet to verified by scientific studies. There are many other benefits, which you can read about here.
In India, Keralan-Style Chili Beef Stir-Fry has hundreds of variations that vary from region to region. It also goes by several names: Some people call it "Erachi Ularthiyathu," while others call it "Erachi Olathiyathu." (The basic translation = sautéed beef or beef stir-fry.) I've also seen it referred to it as Nadan-Style Beef Curry.
Whatever name it's called, this dish is, of course, a particular favorite of Keralans (i.e., residents of the South-Indian state of Kerala). While it can be served as a main course, it's often served as a snack for visiting friends & relatives, & is typically served with toddy, a potent alcoholic beverage made from the fermented sap of a coconut tree. Toddy is knock-your-socks-off strong, & the point of serving it with the chili beef is to help take the edge off the spiciness of this dish. :) I guess the logic there is to counter one overpowering thing with another. ;) I don't know if the two actually cancel each other out, since I've never had toddy before, but I've lowered the heat index of this recipe considerably from its more traditional incarnation (i.e., "blast-your-head-off" hot!), so that second step probably won't be necessary. ;)
Although I love hot & spicy dishes, I decided to spare you all from the experience of having to make a mad dash to the refrigerator, in search of a beverage to put out the flame fest. ;) That's why I purposely made this recipe more amenable to the average American/Western tolerance for piquancy.
However, if you're like me & enjoy pumping up the heat, feel free to add more chili peppers, or just choose a more potent variety. Serrano peppers are a tad bit hotter, & would be a nice choice. Next in line (in terms of heat) would be cayenne, aji, or tabasco peppers. Or, if you really want to fan the flames, try Scotch bonnet or habañero chili peppers.
On that note, you might find it useful to know the following: I've found that creamy drinks like almond or soy (or skim) milk, (mango) lassi, etc., usually work best to quell the fires of super-spicy dishes. Guess it's better than falling off your chair after drinking too much toddy. :)
Conversely, if you can't hack the heat & would like to lower the flame factor even further, substitute an Anaheim or poblano pepper for the jalapeño pepper. Or, just leave out the chilis altogether, if you'd rather not set your mouths afire. ;)
1 tsp. coriander seeds
1/2 tsp. black mustard seeds
1/2 tsp. cumin seeds
1/4 tsp. cardamom seeds
3 Tbsp. shallot (about 1 large shallot)
1 Tbsp. jalapeño pepper, finely minced
1/2 c. fresh coconut meat, sliced into thin slivers
6-10 fresh curry leaves
1 Tbsp. distilled white (wine) vinegar
1/2 c. coconut juice (reserved from the same fresh coconut listed above)
2 c. tomatoes, diced (about 3-4 medium-sized tomatoes)
1 Tbsp. cilantro or parsley leaves, coarsely chopped
Directions: Dry roast all of the dried spices -- coriander seeds, black mustard seeds, cumin seeds, cardamom seeds, & fennel seeds -- in a large (12-13") sauté pan covered with a splatter screen for about 30 seconds on medium heat, or until black mustard seeds pop & splutter. (Spices should begin to darken & give off their aroma, but be careful not to burn them.) Remove from heat, let cool, & transfer spices to a food processor. (You can also grind the spices separately in a coffee grinder before adding them to the food processor.) Then add ginger, garlic, salt, black peppercorns, chile de arbol, amchur (dried mango) powder, garam masala, cinnamon, & clove, & pulse until finely ground. Next, add nonfat Greek yoghurt, lime juice, & tomato paste & pulse until smooth.
Optional step: Transfer marinade to a large resealable Ziploc/plastic bag, add beef slices, seal bag, & marinate in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour. Then remove Ziploc bag from refrigerator, remove beef, shake off excess sauce, & transfer to the same sauté pan. (I didn't marinate the beef beforehand; I just tossed the sauce into the pan after browning the beef, although the traditional preparation is to marinate the beef first. The reason I did it this way was because I didn't want the marinade to brown or burn in the process of browning the beef, which is more of a likelihood for tomato-based marinades.)
In the same sauté pan, brown beef & 1/2 Tbsp. olive oil on medium heat. Add onions, shallots, jalapeño, coconut slices, & remaining 1/2 Tbsp. olive oil & continue to cook until vegetables are soft (and the raw smell of the garlic, onions, shallots, & ginger disappears.) Add coconut slices & sauté until it becomes a pale golden brown. Next, add curry leaves & then deglaze with vinegar & coconut juice. Add tomatoes & (remaining) tomato-ginger-garlic marinade/sauce & reduce liquid to about 1/2 of its original volume. Continue to cook until mixture thickens into a gravy-like consistency; stir continually to uniformly coat beef with sauce. Remove from heat. Garnish with cilantro (or parsley) and serve hot with basmati rice, an Indian flatbread (like naan, chapati, roti, poori, paratha, pathiri, papadum, appam, dosas, etc.), idli, or as a starter accompanied by cold beverages.
Yield: 2-3 servings as a main dish, or 4-6 as an appetizer.