Jo’s Vietnamese-style beef curry

Vietnamese-style beef curry

In the office where I work, about 95% of our conversation revolves around food. Appreciative mumbling through mouthfuls of cake that someone’s baked and brought in, dissecting last night’s episode of Masterchef or Bake Off, or reminiscing about such childhood delights as corned beef. (Remember corned beef?)

In the year (almost to the day) since I’ve worked there, I’ve picked up loads of new recipes from my team following mundane conversations about what we’ve all been doing with our Christmas leftovers or from snooping over someone’s lunch, going: “Ooh, that smells amazing!”

This recipe came from one such occasion, when my colleague Jo was enjoying what looked and smelled like a delicious bowl of leftover curry at her desk next to me. It was a recipe from an old slow cooker book, which ended up being shared with the whole team. I think pretty much all of us have cooked it at least once since, so I guess it’s our official team dish (if that’s a thing – if not, it should be).

This is my own version of the curry, but I’ve included Jo’s original, slightly ‘rustic’ iPhone picture of the recipe at the bottom.


  • The seeds from 5 cardamom pods
  • 1 cinnamon stick, cracked open
  • 2 star anise
  • 1 tablespoon cumin seeds
  • 1 tablespoon coriander seeds
  • 2 average sized red onions
  • 500g beef casserole steak, cut into chunks
  • 2 lemongrass stalks, topped and tailed and tough outer leaves removed
  • Green chillies – I usually use three or four, with a couple of them deseeded. Adjust to your own preference though.
  • A thumb sized piece of fresh ginger, peeled and cut into pieces
  • 4 garlic cloves, peeled
  • Half a beef stock cube
  • 200ml coconut milk
  • 1 teaspoon soy sauce
  • A large carrot, scrubbed or peeled and diced into roughly 1cm pieces
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1/2 a teaspoon ground cinnamon

Add the cardamom seeds, cinnamon stick, star anise, cumin seeds and coriander seeds to a dry pan and toast until fragrant. Remove the star anise and cinnamon stick and set aside. Put the rest of the spices into a pestle and mortar with a pinch of sea salt and grind to a powder. Set aside.

Slice one and a half of the red onions into half moons, add to the pan with a dash of oil and a pinch of salt and and fry until nicely softened. Remove from the pan and set aside.

Brown the meat in batches in the pan and set aside, covering with foil.

Whizz the lemongrass, chillies, ginger, garlic and the remaining half a red onion with a blender wand until they form a smooth, fine paste. Add the paste to the pan with a drizzle of oil and a small pinch of salt and fry off until nicely coloured.

Add the other fried onions back to the pan, along with the toasted and ground spices, coconut milk, half stock cube, soy sauce, carrot, turmeric and ground cinnamon. Stir everything together and simmer for a moment until you have a nice curry sauce consistency.

Add the contents of the pan to a slow cooker along with the beef (including any meat juices) and stir together.

Cook in the slow cooker on low for as long as possible – ideally at least 6 hours. You could also cook this long and low in an oven.

Before serving, fish out as much of the cinnamon stick and star anise-y bits as you can, and maybe warn any fellow diners that there might still be some surprise bits lurking…

Serves 2 hungry people or 3 normal people.

Vietnamese beef curry original recipe


The Hairy Dieters’ (almost) guilt-free chicken korma

Chicken korma

Owen and I recently invested in a set of bathroom scales, ending years of blissful ignorance towards any excess weight we may be carrying. It was a little unsettling. While blissful ignorance may not be an entirely accurate description – we do make an effort to eat good, healthy food most of the time – we have accepted that we really need to reduce our calorie intake as well as getting off our arses and doing some exercise.

I’ve honestly never been the sort of person who bores everyone to tears with their fad dieting and all that sort of nonsense, but I do believe in eating well – with the odd indulgence thrown in of course. When I hear the word ‘calories’, I tend to immediately zone out, drifting off into daydreams of cake and curry. I think this relates back to years ago when I used to work in a library, where a large majority of my colleagues were middle-aged women on diets. They were all very lovely – don’t get me wrong (it was like having about twenty mums), but I was a svelte youngster in my late teens, and could therefore eat and drink whatever I wanted without getting fat. I had little interest in such concerns.

Needless to say, I am no longer eighteen years old, and when I eat lots of crap, there are consequences.

Should you find yourself in a similar predicament, I can recommend this curry, which is from the Hairy Dieters: How to Love Food and Lose Weight cookbook and TV series. Gawd bless those lovable Geordies.

The only changes I made were to halve the recipe as there are only two of us, and to leave out the double cream (I just used yoghurt instead). I would usually use a bit less cardamom in a curry, but this actually came out fine with the amount suggested. We ate this on Friday night and I will definitely be making it again. Admittedly, the idea of it being a ‘lighter’ curry may have been undermined by the naan bread and beers we had with it…

Thai Green Curry Paste

I’ve got a thing about making curry at the moment. I recently tried out a recipe that I found on Recipe Rifle (Esther Walker’s recipe blog) for butter chicken, which was in turn a Hugh Fearnley-Whatshisface recipe, and it was lovely (you can read the recipe here). Although it’s a bit of a faff to make initially, the recipe made enough to put three spare portions of sauce in the freezer, and you don’t even have to bother defrosting them- just whack them in the pan whenever you fancy a curry.

Anyway, I’ve been wanting to make some Thai green curry paste for a while, just to see how it turned out and whether it was worth the bother. I tried some of it last night and it actually was worth the bother, so when I’ve used up all the portions in the freezer I’m definitely going to make some more.

I’ve cobbled together my own recipe from lots of different ones, and it goes a little something like this:


  • 6-8 green chillies, halved and de-seeded
  • 5 large banana shallots (or 8-10 smaller shallots), peeled
  • 6 large-ish cloves garlic (or equivalent), peeled
  • 6 thin or 3 fat lemongrass stalks, outer layer removed, topped and tailed to leave the tender parts and chopped into shorter lengths
  • A sploosh of fish sauce
  • 5 or 6 kaffir lime leaves
  • 2 large or 3 small limes (zest and juice)
  • large bunch fresh coriander
  • ginger or galangal or mixture of both (equivalent of a large hand), peeled
  • a generous sprinkling of cumin seeds
  • a generous sprinkling of ground coriander
  • palm sugar (a couple of tablespoons worth)
  • some peppercorns

Obligatory picture of the finished (and frozen) product

Whizz all the ingredients in a food processor, then whizz with a hand blender to make sure everything is well puréed (I know this makes more washing up, but my food processor couldn’t quite manage to purée the last few chunks of ginger). Freeze in individual portions (I use tiny 5cm by 5cm by 5cm Tupperware pots).

To make a curry to serve two people:

Fry up your preferred curry ingredients (I’d suggest chicken or prawns, with some sliced onion and crunchy veg), then add a portion of defrosted curry paste and 200ml coconut milk (as this is half a normal tin, I usually freeze the rest). Maybe also add an extra splosh of fish sauce. Serve with rice.

The paste above is tailored to my own heat tolerance (i.e. quite mild), but add more chilli if you like it a bit hotter.

A note about ingredients:

I happened to find some galangal in Bartlett and White, which is a greengrocer in Ramsgate of all places- I think you can also sometimes get it from small Asian food shops, though ginger would be a cheaper and, I’m sure, perfectly acceptable substitute. Most of the other ingredients can be bought in supermarkets.