Beef Vindaloo

My first Vindaloo - based on ground beef - I tasted at the Curry House in Greys Ave, Auckland, as a university student in the sixties. I began perspiring about two mouthfuls in and continued throughout the meal. It was wonderful. I had never tasted anything quite like it. Hot, sharp, and clean, with a quarter lemon to cut the heat.

My worst ever Vindaloo was probably that served by the Curry Leaf restaurant in Kumeu a year or two back, in which the overwhelming flavour closely resembled the Indonesian sambal oelek I had in a jar in the fridge at home.

I'm pretty satisfied I've got most of this one sorted now - for me, anyway.

Preliminary Waffle

The essence of a vindaloo is that it is both hot and sour.

The heat is not just a matter of extra chilli - it has a strong element of mustard and black pepper as well.

Typically the sourness comes from vinegar, and/or from tamarind, though occasionally amchur - dried green mango powder - is used or lemon or lime. My preference is for a lemon or lime plus amchur combination.

As I hunted around for recipes to compare, several more things became clear to me.

More than just about any other Indian dish, these recipes specify that you start with the whole seeds of the spices used and grind them freshly, whether you use a traditional mortar and pestle, or bung them into an electric coffee grinder. The flavour is intended to arrive in your mouth at full speed ahead.

Secondly, though not universally so, the meat needs time to soak up the flavours, not just carry them as a surface veneer. It's one particular curry which benefits from being made the day before you eat it.

Onions also feature strongly. They must be cooked until they begin to brown. Transparent is not enough. Burned is too much.

So here goes. It wouldn't be me if I didn't throw a few of my personal biases into the method: I use ghee, because I like what it does for a spice dish that oil doesn't. I use a deep casserole dish of my own making, because I like what that does to meat. Alternatively I use a cast-iron, covered pot that can double as ovenware or saucepan.

You will need

750g - 1kg beef (gravy beef, blade or chuck) cubed about 2.5cm.

2 teaspoons whole Cumin Seeds

Chilli Powder to taste

1 teaspoon Black Peppercorns

1 teaspoon Cardamom Seeds, black or green

5cm of cinnamon stick, or some pieces of Cassia Bark

1 teaspoon Black Mustard Seeds

1 teaspoon Powdered Fenugreek

Grind the spices together finely. Place together with the meat in a ceramic or glass bowl with the following:

75 ml white vinegar

1 teaspoon brown sugar

a little wine, perhaps some mashed kiwifruit or tamarillo flesh.

If you like, you can mix and match a little here with some lemon juice instead of vinegar, if you want the sourness without the vinegar flavour. It's your curry.

Stir these together and set aside overnight if possible but try for at least an hour.

50g Ghee

300g Chopped Onion

1 tablespoon of grated ginger root

3 teaspoons of ground coriander

6 chopped cloves of garlic

1 heaped teaspoon of turmeric

Melt the ghee, add the onion and fry gently, then add the spices, (the turmeric towards the end as if it is cooked too hard it will contribute a bitter flavour) and cook a little longer until the onion is a translucent amber, beginning to go brown.

Remove the meat from the marinade mixture, and combine the marinade and the onion mix. Blend to a paste, adding a little water if necessary for a paste consistency.

Brown the meat and place in a covered casserole dish. Add the spice and vinegar mixes. At this point I often throw in about 50ml coconut cream and some tomato puree or paste. If you're eating the meal straight off instead of preparing for tomorrow, it can be a little harsh to a kiwi palate, and both of these contribute to a richer and smoother flavour.

Top up with water to just level with the meat, and place in the oven for about 90 minutes at 180C.

Put the rice on. Remove curry from oven and add salt to taste. It's a disputed contention but many believe that adding salt at the start contributes to a tougher meat. Return the casserole dish to the oven while the rice cooks. The curry is ready when the ghee is floating on top of the dish when you take the lid off the casserole.


On the first occasion I did this, I found the vinegar to be still there in its own right at the end of the cooking. I felt it was a bit dominant, though Miranda found it OK. By the next day, the vinegar flavour was more thoroughly blended.

The next occasion I cooked a vindaloo, I used mince (ground beef), and I decided to substitute the same amount of lemon juice for the vinegar, to try and get the sourness without being able to identify it as vinegar or whatever. In addition, I used a rounded teaspoon of amchur. This time, it was the amchur which dominated, giving a slightly raw and harsh sourness which was more appealing than the vinegar, though still a touch dominant. On further experiment, about half a teaspoon of amchur appears to be about right.]

Mince and fat

Remember when using mince (ground beef) that, unless you do it yourself, it is inclined to be fattier than chuck steak or blade steak. Animal fat does not contribute positively, as ghee does, to the final taste and thickness of the dish, and adding ghee simply compounds the fattiness. It is worth, if you can, getting a leaner mince for curries.


Amchur is powdered dried green mango. It is available from specialist Indian groceries - around Auckland at any rate. Don't buy too much at once as it can absorb moisture and become lumpy over time.


Several kinds of subtropical fruit contain enzymes that break down meat fibre. These include kiwifruit, tamarillos, feijoas. If you've eaten a bunch of these you can often feel their effect on your lips. If meat is marinated with a couple of any of the above, sliced or mashed, for several hours it will be noticeably more tender when it is cooked. (Conversely, salt and tomatoes will tend to toughen meat, and mostly are better added towards the end of cooking.)

We are currently using up a freezerful of somewhat tougher than usual beef - buying by the quarter or half-beast is like that sometimes - so the time in the marinade is useful. Place in the fridge for a couple of hours, or even better, pop it in after breakfast for the evening meal, and come back later for the rest of the preparation. If you have good chuck or blade steak, this is unnecessary. Topside can be a little on the dry side and will benefit from a little marinading.







Sauces, Chutneys, Relishes, Jams and Marmalade

Tramping (Hiking)



Spreads, Dips, Entrees, and Dressings



With Meat or Fish