As unlikely as it may sound, the first time I ever ate beet curry was over a campfire in Hot Springs, Arkansas. I was dubious, but my girlfriend at the time had lived in Tamil Nadu for a year and knew what she was doing. Granted, everything tastes good around a campfire after an arduous day of lounging around the hot springs, but this was eye-openingly delicious.
I’ve made this dish a few times since, relying on my own instincts rather than a recipe, but I figured it was time to write it down and share. I use mustard oil and mustard seed because those flavors go so well with beets. If you don’t have mustard oil, just use all vegetable oil and maybe add more seeds. I also like to add some tamarind concentrate to provide a bit of acid balance against the sweet earthiness of the beets.
If your beets come with good looking greens, go ahead and wash them, chop them, and toss them in the curry for some extra nutrition and flavor. They tend to make it look slightly less lovely, but why waste a good ingredient? Of course you could also use them for a totally different dish.
Vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free
- 1 tablespoon mustard oil
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 1 tablespoon black mustard seeds (don’t use the light brown / yellow ones!)
- 1 tablespoon cumin seeds
- 1/2 white onion, finely diced
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
- 1/4 – 1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
- 2 teaspoons ground turmeric
- 3 pounds red beets (about 3 medium bunches), peeled and cubed (reserve greens if desired)
- 1 teaspoons Kosher salt
- 1 tablespoon tamarind concentrate dissolved in a bit of hot water (I use Tamcon brand; you may need more if you use a less concentrated variety)
- 1 teaspoon garam masala
- Place a large skillet (preferably cast iron) over high heat. Add the mustard and vegetable oil, and when they are shimmering, add the mustard seeds and cumin seeds. As soon as the mustard seeds start to change color, add the onion, garlic, ginger, cayenne, and turmeric and cook, stirring frequently, until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
- Add the beets, salt, tamarind paste, and 1 cup of water. Stir. If using the beet greens, rinse them, roughly chop them, and add them on top of the beets.
- Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and put on a cover. It doesn’t have to fit perfectly. Simmer until the beets are very tender, about 20-30 minutes. Remove the lid and simmer off any remaining water (or add more during the cook if needed). Stir in the garam masala. Taste and adjust seasoning. It may need more salt, tamarind, or cayenne to achieve the flavor that you like. Serve hot.