Malaysian Beef Curry

When I was in Singapore recently, I sampled some lovely curries. They were Indian in flavour, though not entirely, with some spicing from other parts of the Asian world. This beef curry has classic Indian spices as well as star anise and is finished with a little preserved lemon, which gives it extra zing. My recipe isn’t traditional, but these extras lend the dish a silky finish with serious kick. By sautéing the spices whole and then grinding them with a mortar and pestle or a coffee grinder, the flavour is much fresher. You can use ground spices if you wish, however. If you like a hotter curry, add up to half a teaspoon of cayenne for a real punch of heat. Serve it with rice and sautéed greens, dusted with a little garam masala.

Ready time: 2 1/2 to 3 hours
Servings: 4

1 tbsp cumin seeds

1 tbsp coriander seeds

1 tbsp black peppercorns

1-inch piece cinnamon stick

1 tsp whole cloves

2 star anise

6 cardamom seeds, removed from pod

1 tsp grated nutmeg

1 tsp turmeric

1/4 cup vegetable oil

2 lbs (1 kg) boneless beef shoulder, cut into 1-inch pieces

Salt and freshly ground pepper

2 cups chopped onions

2 tbsp finely chopped ginger

2 tbsp chopped garlic

1-2 bird’s eye chilies, seeded and chopped

2 cups beef or chicken stock

2 cups canned tomatoes with juice, chopped

2 bay leaves

1 cup thick coconut milk

2 tbsp slivered ginger

2 tbsp slivered preserved lemon

1/4 cup slivered mint leaves

1/3 cup plain yogurt

1/3 cup coarsely chopped pistachios

Preheat oven to 325 F.

Toast cumin, coriander, peppercorns, cinnamon, cloves, star anise, cardamom, nutmeg and turmeric in a small frying pan over low heat for 2 to 3 minutes or until the spices are fragrant. Cool and grind. Reserve.

Heat oil in a large oven-safe sauté pan over high heat. Season beef with salt and pepper. Working in batches so as not to crowd the pan, brown beef on each side for 1 to 2 minutes or until it’s dark and golden. Remove the beef to a platter and reserve.

Return the same pan to medium-low heat. Depending on the cut of beef, you may need to add more oil to the pan. Add the onions and cook, stirring until softened and golden (about 6 to 8 minutes). Add ginger, garlic and chili and cook for another 5 minutes or until vegetables are brown and very tender. Add ground spice mixture and continue to cook until you can smell the spices and the vegetables are coated (about 2 minutes).

Stir in beef, then add stock, tomatoes and bay leaves. Bring to a boil. Add coconut milk and boil 1 minute longer. Season with salt and pepper. Cover and bake in the oven until beef is very tender (1 to 1 1/2 hours). Stir in slivered ginger and preserved lemon. Return to oven and cook for 10 more minutes or until ginger and lemon have softened slightly.

Spoon curry into bowls and garnish with fresh mint, a dollop of yogurt and a sprinkling of pistachios. Dole out with rice.