So easy and soul-satisfying, this Kerala-style beef curry is perfect for weekend entertaining. Make it on the stove or if you go the Instant Pot route, your active work time for this dish is only 20 to 30 minutes. And if you want to try a beef curry with all the flavors of Goa go to my Goan red beef curry.
Most Westerners don’t typically think about beef when thinking about Indian food. But there are Indian states that have enthusiastic beef eaters. This recipe works equally well with lamb in this Kerala coconut curry.
Called Nadan after a small group of south Indians, this peppery rich coconut-based curry with curry leaves is easy to make and so full of flavor. And yes, there is a substitute for fresh curry leaves if you can't get your hands on them.
Toasting whole spice is where the magic is when cooking Indian food. While I have a ground spice mix substitution, I hope you start with the whole spices, toast, and then grind them. This extra 10-minute process will give you an even more special masala.
I have made a few adjustments to this curry to suit my taste. First of all, I am a chili wimp, so I use a bit less fresh chili and black pepper than the traditional recipe. And I prefer larger chunks of beef or lamb, which does take longer to cook. This is where you do you and adjust the heat to the level you prefer.
What is to Love
- You probably never have tasted this incredible spice combination
- This Kerala beef curry recipe is simple and requires no marination time
- It tastes even better the next day, so mealtime can be effortless
- It is an easy recipe to make at home
Feel free to make this dish as hot or mild as you wish by adjusting the black pepper and green chilies. As written, it will give you a gentle hum of heat.
Spices: One of the beauties of this curry is the unique blend of spices. If you want a more streamlined recipe I also have a combination of ground spices that you can put together. Fennel, cardamom, cloves, cinnamon, and star anise are the stars of this dish, or you can use 2 1/2 teaspoons of my Kerala garam masala.
Aromatics: Ginger, garlic, and onions
Meat: Beef or lamb (or even chicken)
Liquid: Coconut milk
Herbs: Curry leaves or lime zest
Heat: Fresh green chili and black pepper
How to Make
Rather than buying pre-cut stew meat which tends to be from a mix of various cuts and irregularly cut, I buy a roast that weighs a bit more than my target weight. This accounts for any trimming needed, and I can cut the meat into my ideal cube size. If you don’t mind the size of stew meat found at your local butcher or grocer, you can skip this step.
Kerala beef stew cooks beautifully in the Instant Pot or on the stove. Either cooking method you choose will give you a wonderfully tempting curry.
Toast the spices
Toast the whole spices in a small pan over medium heat. Then grind them to a powder in a spice/coffee grinder or mortar and pestle:
Make the sauce
In the Instant Pot on Sauté, or in a heavy-bottomed pan on the stove, add the oil. When hot stir in the onions and salt, cook until the onions begin to brown along the edges. Add the ginger and garlic paste, fresh chilies, and curry leaves and sauté briefly.
Reduce the heat to medium and stir in the spices and ground pepper. Cook for several minutes until fragrant. Pour in the coconut milk and scrape off any of the spices that may have stuck to the bottom of the pan. Stir in the beef or lamb, and the carrots and potatoes.
How to Cook in the Instant Pot
Close the vent and cook the stew on High Pressure for 20 minutes. Then natural Release for 10 minutes.
How to Cook on the Stovetop
Bring the stew to a boil and then turn the heat to low or to the temperature you have a low simmer. Cook the beef or lamb until it is tender. How long it takes depends on the cut of meat, the size of the cubes, and your stove. This step will take approximately 1 1/2 hours.
Substitute for Curry Leaves
Curry leaves have a sweet pungent aroma with hints of anise and citrus flavor. However, please consider making this dish even if you can't find this herb. And if you want to go down the rabbit hole to learn more about them see my Curry Leaf Plant post. Besides lots of other information, I include how to grow a plant if you wish.
My favorite curry leaves substitute is lime zest. While it will not give you the exact same flavor, it makes a very good stand-in. You can also use lemon balm (which I find harder to get than curry leaves), a bay leaf, or lemon basil.
Frequently Asked Questions
After drying these leaves there isn't very much flavor or aroma left. I would go with lime zest instead.
Yes and yes! Both will not take near as long to cook. I would even use all potato and it will be a Kerala potato curry!
Yes! My recipe as written has less chili heat, but with this special blend of spices, this curry has an amazing flavor.
Serving Tips for Kerala-Style Beef Curry
In India, this curry is often served for Sunday lunch paired with dal, rice, roti (flatbread), or appams (a rice flour flatbread). If you want to try your hand at making appams, pop over to Dassana's Veg Recipe for a popular appam recipe.
How to Store and Reheat
Store: This beef stew is even better the following day. It keeps well in the refrigerator for up to 3 days, and is tightly wrapped in the freezer for up to two months.
Reheating: If I have time, I find that almost anything frozen is texturally better if defrosted in the refrigerator overnight. However, that is in the ideal world. You can also defrost in the microwave. Reheat in the microwave, or on the stove.
Here are Some Other Kerala Inspired Recipes
Did you try this recipe? I’d love to hear about it! Please rate by clicking stars ⭐️ on the recipe card and/or let me know in the comments below. Thank you! ~Alonna
Recipe Card 📖
Kerala Beef Curry with Coconut Milk
Kerala Garam Masala OR See Notes below to buy
- 12 green cardamom
- 7 whole cloves
- 7 whole black peppercorns
- 1 inch cassia stick ~ Or cinnamon
- 1 tablespoon whole fennel seeds
- 1 whole star anise
- 1 1/2 pounds beef ~ Cut into cubes. See Notes below
- 1 tablespoon coconut oil ~ Or oil of your choice
- 1 cup onion ~ Finely minced
- 2 small green Indian chilis ~ Or one Serrano chili slit down the middle. More to taste.
- 2 tablespoons ginger garlic paste ~ Or 1 tablespoon each puréed ginger & garlic. Make
- 1 1/4 teaspoon sea or table salt ~ To taste. Substitutions
- 2 curry leaf sprigs ~ 10 to 12 leaves or 1 teaspoon of lime rind. See Notes below.
- 2 1/2 teaspoons Kerala garam masala ~ See Notes below
- 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 13.5 ounces coconut milk ~ 1 can or 1 1/2 cups
- 1/2 cup carrots ~ Cut into 1-inch cubes
- 1 cup potatoes ~ Cut into 1-inch cubes
- 1/4 cup water ~ Or more if needed to cover
- 2 teaspoons lemon juice ~ Optional, or vinegar. To taste
- 2 tablespoon cilantro ~ Optional, for garnish or fried curry leaves
Kerala Garam Masala
- Gather your ingredients. Peel your cardamom seeds if you are using whole cardamom pods.
- In a small skillet over medium heat, toast all the garam masala spices for a minute or two, just until fragrant. Cool and grind in a spice grinder or mortar and pestle.
- In the Instant Pot on sauté mode, a heavy-bottomed pot on the stove over medium-high heat, add the coconut oil. When the oil is hot add the onions and salt. Turn the heat down to medium. Cook stirring frequently until the edges of the onion begin to turn golden. About 5 minutes.
- Add the ginger garlic paste, fresh chilies, and curry leaves and sauté for 1 to 2 minutes until it smells fragrant and cooked.
- Stir in the garam masala and ground pepper and for several minutes until fragrant. Sauté for 1 to 2 minutes until fragrant.
- Pour in the coconut milk and scrape off any of the spices that has stuck to the bottom of the pan. Stir in the beef or lamb, and the carrots and potatoes. Make sure the liquid level is just barely covering the meat. Add a bit of water or more coconut milk if needed.
For the Instant Pot
- Carefully place the marinated meat on top of the coconut mixture. Close the vent and cook on manual High Pressure for 20 minutes. (Or 15 minutes if you meat is in 1-inch cubes or less.) Turn to natural release mode for 10 minutes.
For the Stovetop
- Turn the heat to high and when the stew starts to boil, turn the heat to low or the temperature at which the liquid cooks on a low simmer. Cooking until the meat is tender. How long this takes will depend on the cut of the meat, the size of the cubes, and your stove. For 1-inch beef, it will take around 1 1/2 hours. Lamb may take a bit longer.
Finishing the Curry
- Skim any unwanted fat from the surface of the curry. If the sauce isn't thick enough, turn the Instant Pot to sauté to simmer until it reaches your preferred level of thickness. On the stovetop, increase the heat to medium-high.
- Taste for salt, lemon juice, and heat from black pepper. I find 2 teaspoons of lemon juice or vinegar give the sauce some welcome brightness. Top with a sprinkle of chopped cilantro if you wish
- Please note that the timing for this recipe is for cooking it in the Instant Pot.
- A note about the meat: Lamb would work here as well. Rather than buy stew meat, which I find to be too small and irregular, I buy a roast weighing a bit more than required so I can account for the trimming. I like to use cubes of meat cut in 1 to 1 1/2-inch piece. This takes longer to cook than the traditional 1/2-inch cubes, so you do what you like. If your beef cubes are 1-inch or smaller you can reduce the High-Pressure cook time to 15 minutes. On the stove, 1-inch cubes of meat will take around 1 1/2 hours to become tender.
- Kerala garam masala substitutes: There are three ways to spice this curry. The first is to use the whole-spice Kerala garam masala above. You will have enough spice mix for two dishes. Or you can use 2 1/2 teaspoons of my full recipe for Kerala garam masala. Or this streamlined masala using ground spices:
- 1 1/2 teaspoon ground fennel 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
- Curry leaves add herbaceous, anise, and citrus notes to a dish. Buy and learn more. If you can’t find them, you can add 1 teaspoon of lime rind. The result won't be the same but the zest can add some of the citrus notes you get with the real thing. Buy unwaxed fruit.
- I tend to prefer fairly thick sauces. If you would like a thinner sauce, add an additional 1/2 of coconut milk or water.
- Kerala beef curry is traditionally quite spicy. I have reduced the ground black pepper from 1 teaspoon to 1/2 teaspoon. If you want a spicy curry, please adjust the pepper/green chili to your taste.