Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Beef and Beet Curry- Chukandar Gosht ** 2nd time winner of salon.com Kitchen Challenge!

My parents lived in Muscat, Oman in the late 1970s. The summers were bone-dry and scorching. To escape, we would travel to the equally scorching but more smoldering, humid heat of Karachi, Pakistan where my maternal aunt lived with her family. My grandmother lived with her at the time too. Their house was a modern version of a traditional South Asian home. The rooms wrapped around a central courtyard that was open to the skies. It was here that we pursued our world of play with an abandon and dedication that now seems so elusive. A full day of childlike hooliganism almost always ended with a water fight much to the dismay of the adults. Leading off of this courtyard was a gate that led to the beach. This stretch of land and water wasn't in any way idyllic or pristine but rather raw, rough and odorous, a beach the likes of which I have only come across in this part of the world. It had an immediate, intense and dangerous beauty. We were only allowed to enjoy it from the steps leading down to it from the gate. However, the briny air drifted up to the house and was always present.
If monsoon ever interrupted our play, we would spend endless afternoons lounging on the veranda. My aunt would put on music, either classical raag or songs from an Indian film du jour, but always about the rainy season. We would eat vegetables pakoras (fritters) or samosas (savory turnovers) with delicious, piquant, tangy chutneys and listen to our respective mother or aunt and grandmother tell stories, discuss politics or better, people and share jokes. At other times, we would listen to the pitter patter of raindrops or the thunder in the clouds. I remember many a washed out days dozing off to these sounds and smells. Ah yes, especially the smells.
As is the desi* way of life, my aunt had a cook who took care of the daily meals so it was a special day when my grandmother cooked. She would spend the whole day in the kitchen and the aroma wafting down the corridor would tantalize our senses and keep our appetite alert in anticipation. One of my absolute favorite dishes of hers was chukandar gosht (beets and meat curry).  I did not have a child’s aversion to vegetables or, specifically, beets. Maybe it was the color staining my fingers (of course, as another time-honored desi tradition, I used my hand to scoop up the curry with bread) and lips (in the days when lipstick was taboo) or its rich, dense, sweet earthiness that made me love this root so much. Curried, spiced and cooked with hearty red meat made this a uniquely soul-satisfying dish.
Recently, I shared the fact that the smell of roasting beets was a tug of nostalgia at my heart like no other with a friend of East-European descent. She could not wrap her head around the simple fact that I knew of, much less that I had been eating this root vegetable since I was young. For her it was a comfort food, particular to her region and tenderly introduced to her by her grandmother, same as me. This made me wonder if the love of this vegetable is so passionate and personal that all who have it feel that it could only have come from the deepest, most sacred part of us. 
1 pound beetroot quartered and diced. 
1 pound beef/lamb cubed
1 large onion, thinly sliced
1 tbsp. ginger paste
1 tbsp. garlic paste
1 tsp. red chilli powder
1 tbsp. coriander powder
1 tsp. turmeric powder
2 tbsp. amchoor (dried mango powder)
fresh coriander leaves
grated lemon peel 
1/2 cup oil 

salt to taste
Heat a heavy bottom dish over medium high heat.
When hot, add oil and then the sliced onion.
Brown the onion over medium heat till nicely caramelized, about 10-15 minutes.
Remove with a slotted spoon and lay out on kitchen towel to drain the excess oil. 
In the still hot dish, add the garlic and ginger paste, red chilli, coriander powder and turmeric and sauté for a minute or two.
Add the meat and brown on all sides.
Add the beetroot and some water to cover the mixture and leave little extra for curry.

Crush the cooled, browned onions and add to the dish.
Bring to a boil, reduce heat and cook covered over medium-low heat until both the meat and beetroot are tender, about 1.5 hours.
Uncover, add salt and amchoor powder and cook over high heat till the curry is of desired consistency.
Let it sit uncovered for 5 minutes before serving.
Garnish with freshly chopped coriander and grated lemon peel.

* people or culture of South Asia

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