Beef is not a word you will often find on an Indian menu and the reason for that of course is that Hindus do not consume cows for religious reasons. But beef is not absent from the very secular India's food tapestry-- in fact it features regularly in the cuisines of Christians and Muslims who constitute a sizable chunk of the country's billion-plus population.
I have for you today a vegan version of a beef curry that's cooked in the Catholic kitchens of Goa, a former Portuguese colony that sits languidly along India's west coast. I have written before on these pages about Goa's distinctive cuisine which -- although not something you'll often find featured on Indian restaurant menus -- is undoubtedly one of the most exquisite you will ever taste. Goan Christian cuisine is heavily influenced by the land's Portuguese colonizers and it sparkles with ingredients like vinegar, an ingredient not commonly used in other Indian cuisines. But it also incorporates some very Indian ingredients that are available easily along the coast, like coconut and spices.
For my vegan beef curry I used two types of meat substitutes: tempeh and some beefless strips from Gardein. That's because I wanted to incorporate a variety of textures to replace the mouth-feel of the meat and also pack a protein wallop (there's nearly 19 grams of protein in each serving). You can go with one or the other, use a completely different meat substitute, or even cook this entirely with vegetables. Mushrooms and/or eggplant would be great here.
To make this a recipe where no one will miss the meat I added layers and layers of flavor, using aromatic vegetables and herbs. In went some green peppers, mint and coriander. And in the end, to mellow down the puckering sourness of the vinegar, I added a sweet dash of coconut milk.
This is a good dish to serve when you need to please different palates, including carnivorous ones. This is also a good dish to make the day before-- the flavors meld and merge beautifully when the curry has time to stand. Keep in mind you need to marinate the meat substitutes for at least two hours-- I wouldn't recommend cutting on the time because the substitutes need it to absorb the marinade to give you the most flavor. Once that's done, this dish comes together in minutes.
Here's the recipe. Enjoy!
Vegan Goan "Beef" Curry
(Makes 8 servings)
1 8-oz package of tempeh
1 11.5-oz package of Gardein Beefless Strips
4 medium potatoes,cubed and placed in a microwave-safe bowl with 1 tbsp of water. Cover and zap for five minutes or until the potatoes are just tender and not mushy.
1 green bell pepper, minced
2 tbsp vinegar
2 tbsp lemon juice
1 medium onion, one half roughly chopped, the other half minced
5 cloves of garlic, chopped
1/2-inch knob of ginger, chopped
12 curry leaves
1/2 tsp turmeric
1 tbsp coriander seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp mustard seeds
4 green cardamom pods
1-inch stick of cinnamon
2 tsp garam masala
1/4 cup mint leaves, chopped
1/4 cup coriander leaves, chopped, plus more for garnish
1 moderately hot red chilli pepper, like byadgi, that's eaten widely in Goa. You can substitute with a poblano pepper or, if you don't have any of these, skip the chilli at this stage and add more paprika and a dash of cayenne when you add the powdered spices later in the recipe.
1 tsp paprika
1 tbsp grated jaggery (can substitute with brown sugar)
2 tbsp tomato paste
1/3 cup thick coconut milk
1 tbsp vegetable oil
In a small skillet roast the cumin, coriander, mustard, chilli pepper, cardamom and cinnamon until the coriander seeds are golden and a few shades darker. Keep stirring so you don't burn anything. Remove the spices to a blender.
To the blender add one half of the onion (the half you chopped), the vinegar, and the lemon juice.
Blend until you have a smooth paste and then scrape the paste onto the meat substitutes, in a bowl. Mix well so all the pieces are coated and set aside to marinade at least 2 hours.
In a saucepan, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the onions and curry leaves and saute until golden spots appear on the onions. Lower the heat to medium-low, add the mint leaves, turmeric, ginger and garlic and stir fry for a few seconds.
Increase the heat to medium-high again, add the green peppers and coriander leaves, and stir-fry for another three or four minutes or until the peppers start to soften.
Add the cooked potatoes, stir-fry for a few seconds, then add the tomato paste and mix well to coat all the vegetables. Add the beef substitutes with all the marinade. Stir well.
Add 1-2 cups of water, depending on the thickness you desire for the curry, stir well, and let the curry come to a boil. Add the grated jaggery or sugar. Lower the heat and let it simmer about five minutes for all the flavors to come together.
Stir in the coconut milk and turn off the heat. Garnish with coriander leaves.
Serve hot with some crusty bread or boiled rice.