My quest for the ‘perfect’ Sri Lankan Beef Curry

Sri Lankan Recipe Books

There are quite a few curries I make all the time. My fail-safe, go-to curries. These include a couple of meat curries, five or six vegetable curries and a few sambols. Beef curry isn’t one of them. However, as this is my first ever recipe post (or post in general) I was keen to try something new. Also I’ve had my eye on a mas paan recipe for a while, so figured I could use any leftovers to make some of those!!

As with all my curries, the first time I make them I like to try out as many combinations as possible. Obviously the more I make a recipe, the more tweaks I make, but I like to have a good foundation curry to work with. Between the internet and my book shelf I found quite a few recipes for making a Sri Lankan beef curry – all completely different from one another, of course! The following components address the main differences I found between them.


Most recipes don’t specify which type of beef to use. Peter Kurivita advises chuck steak and Charmaine Solomon advises stewing steak. My butcher said either would be fine, or even the more tender topside if time was of the essence! Personally, when cooking curries, I always prefer to use the cheaper, fattier cuts of meat as when slow-cooked they always result in a softer and more flavourful dish. I love it when the meat starts to fall apart. I opted for stewing steak.


Charmaine Solomon’s recipe specifically calls for ghee while the others advise any kind of vegetable oil. I tend to always use sunflower or groundnut oil when cooking curries as I think that they have the least overpowering flavours and they cook well at high heat. I did, in the name of research, make one batch of beef with ghee, and while it did produce an incredibly luscious curry, it was slightly too rich for for my taste (and that’s saying something)! The curry had an overwhelmingly strong flavour of ghee which I felt inhibited some of the spices.


The most significant differences were when it came to the spices. There is, as always, quite a lot of variation in the types of spices and the amount used between different recipes. Peter Kurivita’s beef curry doesn’t include mustard seeds, which most of the others do, and which I am also more familiar with in a Sri Lankan beef curry. Kurivita also suggests the addition of tomato puree and beef stock, which I thought gave the curry an almost North Indian element of richness. His recipe also adds a significant volume of water, despite a relatively short cooking time, which I found made the curry too wet for my taste, despite cooking for an additional hour! This is a very personal preference though. My dad, for example, can’t stand a dry curry and always judges a curry by the quantity of its gravy! Kurivita’s recipe does however contain freshly ground black pepper which I think adds a brilliant extra kick, which some of the others lack! I was surprised that neither Solomon nor Kurivita’s curries were particularly spicy, however this can easily be adjusted by simply increasing the amount of chilli. Based on my experience of eating in Sri Lanka, there appears to be no limit to the number of chillies you can add if you want to! Sri Lankan food is notoriously spicy with some curry recipes calling for as many as 90 dried chillies!! This again is a very personal preference and the best thing is to make it as mild or as spicy as you like.


Again, a personal preference, but I think at a push, I slightly preferred the addition of potato – it produced a more hearty and substantial beef curry. Also if you want to use it to make the filling for mas paan, you need some potato in there!


My Sri Lankan Beef Curry

I always tend to make rather large quantities of curry as it seems more efficient and we’re always more than happy to eat leftovers for the rest of the week! As any true curry fiend knows – it always tastes better the next day! This amount should be more than enough for 6 people, especially when served with all the other curries! Remember to amend the amount of chilli according to your own taste!

Serves: 6-8


1 kg stewing steak
2 tbsp oil
1 large or 2 small onions, finely chopped
4 cm piece ginger, grated
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
Sprig fresh curry leaves
1½ tbsp Sri Lankan curry powder
½ tbsp roasted Sri Lankan curry powder
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp chilli powder
1 tsp chilli flakes
½ tsp fenugreek seeds
2 cardamom pods, bruised
1 cinnamon stick
½ tsp ground turmeric
2 tsp black mustard seeds
½ tsp black pepper, ground
1 piece of rampe leaf
2 large tomatoes, peeled and chopped
2 tsp malt vinegar
1 tsp salt
2 large potatoes, peeled and diced (optional)


  1. Heat the oil in a heavy based saucepan. Add onions, ginger, garlic and curry leaves and fry on a low to medium heat until the onion softens.
  2. Add the curry powders, fenugreek seeds, cardamom pods, cumin, coriander, chilli powder and flakes, turmeric, mustard seeds, black pepper and rampe leaf. Cook for a couple of minutes, stirring well till onion mixture is coated.
  3. Add salt, vinegar and beef, stirring well until beef is evenly browned and coated.
  4. Add the tomatoes. Stir. Cover and simmer for 2 hours.
  5. If using potatoes, add these to curry approx 30 mins before finished cooking. If there isn’t enough liquid left, add a little water to the curry.
  6. Serve with rice and any other vegetable curries and sambols that you like.

Leave a comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>