We spent last weekend at a beach house on the coast of New Jersey (ok, the Jersey Shore) with a bunch of friends for a conference. I volunteered to cook for everyone and to make things easy, planned a weekend of slow cooker dinners. Originally, this meal was just going to be spaghetti, but I then decided that boiling pasta and stirring sauce would involve spending too much time in front of the stove. Thus I began searching for a slow cooker recipe whose ingredients were easy to find or transport… and oh man did I find treasure! The recipe has you make your own home-made curry paste (easy to transport, check) and then after sautéing onions and browning meat, you dump everything into the slow cooker to create yummy goodness!

Ok, as long as you have time to prep your curry paste in advance, this meal is fast and delicious. Thanks to the homemade chai I made last winter, I happened to have all the whole spices needed in our pantry for the paste and was able to find some lemongrass at Chelsea Market… not sure where else I would have found lemongrass if I didn’t live in the city, though. Unfortunately for me, we broke our spice grinder the night before, so I got to spend half a day grinding spices in our little wooden pepper grinder (Marcy found this fascinating, by the way). But, curry paste was made and stored in a little glass jar to travel to New Jersey!

I really liked this dish, and I think it’s one of those that would taste even better the next day after letting the flavors come together. If you’re wondering about the 15 dried chilies, it creates a warm spiciness rather than a mouth-on-fire spiciness. I thought the sauce was a little liquid-y, but that’s easily fixable either with a little flour or by taking the lid off for the last part of cooking. All in all, a delight to make and eat. I adapted the recipe and added bell peppers and bamboo shoots, but I think next time I’ll use softer veggies like eggplant and green beans, maybe.

Malaysian Beef Curry (original recipe here)

Dry spices for the curry powder
4 tbsp coriander
2 tbsp white cumin
10 whole cloves
4 whole cardamom
6 black pepper
1 tbsp ground cinnamon or 1 cinnamon stick
1 tbsp chili powder (or to taste)
1 tsp turmeric powder

Wet or fresh ingredients for the curry paste
4 stalks lemongrass
2 inches fresh galangal (optional)
2 inches length ginger
8 cloves garlic
15 dried chilies
6 tbsp oil
6 tbsp curry powder (see above)

4 lbs chuck steak, cubed

Sauce building
2 onions
6 shallots
2 bell peppers, chopped
1 can bamboo shoots
4 cups coconut milk
1 pound baby red potatoes, scrubbed and cut in half

Flavor finishing
3 tbsp soy sauce
3 kaffir lime leaves or zest of 1 lime
Sugar to taste

Toast the whole spices for the curry powder in a heavy skillet over medium heat for a minute or two – take off the heat when you can smell them. Grind them all in a spice grinder or mortar and pestle. (Note: If you do not want to round up all the whole spices for this recipe, you can use a blend of their ground counterparts. Don’t toast the ground spices.) Add the last three ground spices and combine.

jarred curry paste!

Remove the outer tough leaves from the lemongrass and slice finely. Peel the galangal (if using it) and slice it as finely as you can. Peel and slice the ginger and garlic as well. In a food processor or mortar and pestle, blend lemongrass, galangal, ginger, garlic, chilies and some oil. This may seem like a lot of chilies, but this dish soaks up the heat and unless you are extremely sensitive to hot foods, this won’t be too much. I ended up tossing in a whole handful more near the end because it wasn’t hot enough.

Add spice mix and beef and toss.

Cook the onions slowly in a little oil until golden – about 20 minutes. Really take your time with these and do not let them brown. Let them slowly sweat until translucent.

Add the meat over low heat, cover and cook for 15 minutes. You don’t want to sear the meat or brown it in this recipe. The toasted spices will give it that roasted taste.

Put in slow cooker with halved potatoes, vegetables, coconut milk, lime leaves and soy sauce and cook on high for 4 hours or on low for 8, or overnight. Leave lid off at the end to reduce the sauce a little if you wish. Taste and adjust flavors with soy sauce and sugar. Serve with rice or rice noodles.

new skills learned: prepping lemongrass