Sri Lankan Beef Curry is an incredibly flavorful curry that you can make with any gamey red meat. An easy and authentic recipe! I also provide two ways to cook this delicious curry depending on your preference and time available. Naturally gluten free and keto-friendly.
Learn how to make classic Sri Lankan Beef Curry!
We make curry at least once every week in our house. Usually, several times a week. It’s comfort food.
They are simple to make, and you can make a big batch at once. So curries are perfect for meal planning, and to freeze for later. Especially for those busy days and nights. And then you realize there’s delicious curry in the freezer, and all is right with the world again.
What is unique about Sri Lankan curry?
The curry powder is usually heavy on coriander, cumin, and black pepper. This blend of spices and flavors gives Sri Lankan curries a unique flavor profile. And the flavor changes with the ingredients that you use it with.
There’s also Jaffna curry powder that is very popular as well, which is a lot more spicy than the standard curry powder that I’ve shared on my blog before.
Sri Lankan curries can also include Ceylon cinnamon, which lends a lovely sweetness to the dish. Black pepper is also a very popular spice, and it adds a delightful smoky flavor.
Which cut of beef should I use to make this curry?
Chuck beef is ideal to make a curry. It’s lean but all the collagen and connective tissue in this cut will make the meat tender when braised for a length of time.
But if you want to make a quick curry, then I recommend using a cut of beef with some nicely marbled fat going through the meat, like sirloin.
How to make Sri Lankan beef curry
There are lots of ways to make curry. You have the easy, dump and cook method, OR the slightly more time-consuming method that develops layers of flavor.
I take the latter route most of the time. Which is to take some time to develop more layers of flavor. But the dump and cook easy curry does come in handy, especially on those nights when you just can’t be jazzed.
Layering flavors for the beef curry (takes longer)
The first step is to marinate the beef.
Cut the beef into bite-sized pieces the day before you’re making the curry. Place the beef in a bowl, and mix in the curry powder and salt. Refrigerate overnight, allowing the meat to marinate. One hour is the minimum marinating time, or up to a maximum of 24 hours in the fridge.
To maximize the flavors of your curry, you can caramelize the marinated pieces of beef in a saucepan (in batches). The beef doesn’t have to cook through, just a nice, caramelized surface on the beef. This is not necessary however, and I only do this very occasionally.
To make the beef curry base, saute onion, garlic, and ginger in pot with heated oil. Fry the curry leaves and fresh chili as well. This helps layer and deepen the flavor of these ingredients, before you add in the other spices.
Next, saute the curry powder with the other spices for just a few seconds, and then you can add the meat to the pot.
Saute the beef for about 15 minutes on medium high heat. Since I don’t caramelize the beef first most of the time, I like to saute the beef on a higher heat at this stage. I might even saute the beef longer to get a little caramelization on the beef – but this isn’t necessary.
Once the beef is sauteed, you can add the liquid to the curry. You can add as much or as little as you like. We like to add about 1 cup of liquid, usually 1/2 cup water and 1/2 cup coconut milk. Sometimes I add 1 cup of coconut milk for a curry that is extra rich and creamy. This is totally up to you.
Then the curry is simmered for about 30 – 40 minutes. Keep it covered if you want to preserve the curry sauce as much as possible, or uncover, if you’d like to have a reduced, thick curry sauce. And ALWAYS remember to season to taste.
For a creamier curry, only add 1/2 cup of water (or more if needed) to simmer the curry, and then add 1/2 cup of coconut milk only at the end.
The easy, dump and cook curry
No shame in taking the easy way out. Not when it comes to a curry as fine as this! It’s still delicious, IF you use a good curry powder.
Homemade curry powder is obviously the best choice for many reasons, but I understand if you don’t have any at hand. Do NOT use the pseudo curry powders from generic supermarket brands though. Get your hands on a good curry powder from an Indian / South Asian store. It’ll make all the difference! Bonus points if it’s a Sri Lankan curry powder, or at least a Madras curry powder. A good Sri Lankan curry powder will make a great beef curry!
Use a cut of beef that doesn’t need to be simmered for too long – like sirloin. OR you can use chuck as well, but cut it into thin slices, instead of bite-sized pieces. Make sure the sirloin is also cut into thinner / smaller pieces, since this will also help with keeping the meat tender, and cook the curry faster.
Add the onion, garlic, ginger into the pot, along with curry leaves and green chili (if you have it). Add the beef, curry powder, and spices into the same pot if you like too (or saute the onions first if you can).
When the beef has been sauteed for about 5 minutes on high heat, you can add the coconut milk. Lower the heat, and let the beef curry simmer for about 15 – 20 minutes. Season to taste. Now the curry is ready to be served!
Which version of the beef curry do I prefer?
That’s a no brainer. I of course prefer the version that develops layers of flavor, but is also a little more time consuming. This is your typical classic Sri Lankan beef curry.
Can I substitute any ingredients?
This curry works best for red meats like beef, lamb, mutton (goat), hogget (sheep), and even venison. Just make sure you have a cut that is ideal for stewing, so that you don’t end up with a dry, chewy curry.
If you can’t find Sri Lankan curry powder, try to locate a Madras curry powder. You can also make a curry powder that’s better than most generic supermarket curry powders with just ground coriander, cumin, cardamom, and black pepper.
If you’re not as tolerant of the heat, PLEASE adjust the level of cayenne pepper that you add. You can also remove the seeds from the green chili to reduce the heat. Heat / spice tolerance is subjective of course, and the recipe I’m sharing here is a MILD curry for us. We do add quite a bit more cayenne pepper / chili powder when we make this for ourselves.
How to store this curry
This curry always tastes better the next day, so I always make enough for leftovers!
You can store this beef curry for up to 3 days in the fridge. To store it for longer, divide the curry into portions and store in the freezer. You don’t want to reheat and refrigerate / re-freeze the curry multiple times.
So this curry is absolutely PERFECT for meal planning too.
Curries are naturally gluten free and can be keto friendly too (if your curry powder is keto friendly). So it’s a very hearty, and healthy meal option for you.
One of the most common questions I get asked about my curry recipes is what can they be served with?
Usually curries are served with rice, or some type of roti (like this Sri Lankan pol roti). This Sri Lankan beef curry is also perfect with rice or roti.
Other side dishes that go well with this beef curry simply depend on what you’d like.
Sri Lankan Beef Curry
- 1 kg beef chuck (2.2 lbs) cut into ¾ – 1 inch pieces
- ½ tbsp Sri Lankan curry powder
- 1 tsp sea salt
For the curry
- 1 – 2 tbsp coconut oil or any flavorless oil such as vegetable oil
- ½ medium onion sliced (or 1 small onion)
- 4 garlic cloves or 5 – 6 small garlic cloves, finely chopped
- 1 ½ tbsp ginger finely chopped
- 8 – 10 curry leaves fresh or dried (or use 2 bay leaves)
- 2 fresh green chilis or jalapenos
- 1 ½ tbsp Sri Lankan curry powder
- 1 tsp ground black pepper use less for a milder curry
- 1 tsp cayenne pepper use less for a milder curry
- 1 tsp ground ceylon cinnamon
- Salt to taste
- ½ cup water
- ½ cup coconut milk
- Cut the beef into bite-sized pieces, and place it in a bowl. Add the salt and curry powder for the marinade, and mix. Let the beef marinate for at least one hour if you can, OR in the fridge overnight or up to 24 hours.
- Slice the onions. Finely chop the ginger and garlic. Slice the green chili either lengthwise or across. Remove the seeds and white pith if you prefer, to lessen the heat.
- Heat a large pot over medium high heat. Add the oil, and once heated, add the onion and saute for a few minutes until the onions start to soften.
- Add the garlic, ginger, curry leaves, and green chilis. Saute until the onions are translucent.
- Add the curry powder and saute for a few seconds until you can smell the spices.
- Add the rest of the spices, along with the marinated beef. Stir well to coat the beef with the spices.
- Saute the beef for about 15 – 20 minutes. Some caramelization on the meat pieces is ideal, but not necessary.
- Add the water and let it come to a boil. Add the coconut milk at this point, if you'd like the coconut milk to split in the curry. This enhances the flavor of the curry. Otherwise, leave out the coconut milk until towards the end of the cook time. This will yield a creamy curry sauce.
- Lower the heat to a simmer. Let the curry simmer (uncovered), for about 30 minutes. Stir regularly.
- Add a little more water, as needed, if the water is evaporating. You can also place the lid on the pot half way through the cooking time.
- When the beef is very tender (about 30 – 40 minutes of simmering), the curry is ready.
- If you didn’t add the coconut milk at the beginning, then add it towards the end of the cook time. Stir the coconut milk through the curry, and allow the curry to come back to a simmer.
- The curry is now ready. Let the curry preferably rest for about 30 minutes to let the flavors “mingle”. But it can also be served right away at this point too.
Make ahead tips / storing leftovers
- Store the curry in portions. Store enough for 1 meal, in separate containers. Curries can be stored in the fridge for up to 3 days, but avoid reheating and refrigerating multiple times.
- The curry will keep in the freezer for at least up to 2 months. Store in separate containers, so that you can thaw and reheat only what you need for one meal at a time.
Tips & Tricks
If you’re pressed for timeYou can skip the step where you marinate the beef. Also, you can cut the beef into thinner slices so that it becomes tender sooner and cooks faster. OR use a fat marbled beef cut (sirloin) to make the curry, which will also become tender faster.
Leftover ideasLeftovers can be used for another meal, OR be used to make these curried beef buns, curried grilled cheese or kotthu roti (substitute the chicken with your leftover beef).
“This website provides approximate nutrition information for convenience and as a courtesy only. Nutrition data is gathered primarily from the USDA Food Composition Database, whenever available, or otherwise other online calculators.”