Kerala beef biryani & Christmas traditions


Christmas is a month away- A MONTH AWAY- can you believe that?

Its too early to whine about resolutions and how fast this year went by,which i shall keep for my New Year post, so lets talk about food, and Christmas family traditions.

Christmas is a big deal for us back home, something i thoroughly miss after we moved to UK. Although we have tried to do something or the other on Christmas day with friends who are around, its never the same without family. Christmas was spent with cousins and aunts and uncles and started pretty early with a church service at the wee hours of the morning. Droopy eyed we’d still go to church without much fuss because we know we’d get to open presents after. After church we’d all go over to my paternal grandparents house where my grand mother would have prepared a breakfast fit for the kings. But before we sat down to breakfast we’d open all our gifts, which of course was the most favourite part. Breakfast would be elaborate with a Kerala special called appam (hoppers as its commonly known here) served with chicken or mutton stew and there would also be loads of sides like boiled eggs, steamed plantains and this and that. I cant ever remember my grand mother entertaining guests with just two or three dishes, she’d go all out, and every one of them delicious.

We’d have relatives or friends dropping by and they would all be given fruit cake (equivalent of the Christmas pudding) and home made sweet sweet wine. Lunch would follow soon after with a biryani and a side of raita, pappadum, cutlets (croquettes), fish fry etc etc. All home made. It would stretch on for a couple of hours, with non stop banter, Christmas carols in the background, and finally end with dessert which would either be a payasam (which is a sweet milk pudding with vermicelli) or caramel custard or something similar. We’d all be stuffed by then and would be calling dibs on which sofa or bed we’d want to plonk on.

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These are all such fond memories of home during Christmas. Its not the same now. Of course the appam and the biryani’s are all very much omnipresent, but its no longer a big gathering with cousins and family as we are all spread around the world now. I feel terribly home sick around Christmas time and give Ro quite a hard time about it.

Beef biryani is not something that is made on Christmas day- its usually a chicken or a mutton biryani- but i thought I’d give a twist to tradition with a beef version, which is just as good. The recipe may look long and a bit intimidating for first timers, but its actually not that cumbersome, especially if you manage to make the beef curry a day or two in advance. Do read my notes.

Every family has a Christmas tradition, but if you are looking for something different this time around, then check out the Waitrose Christmas page which has a round up of traditions from around the world accompanied by recipes (Mixing Gorgonzola cheese with Prosecco, now that’s a combination i thought never existed!).

Food, in the end, in our own tradition, is something holy. Its not about nutrients and calories. Its about sharing. Its about honesty, its about identity.’ Louise Fresco

Kerala Beef Biryani (Serves 4 to 5 generously, as part of main) 


To marinate

Beef- 1 kg, diced

Turmeric powder- 1/2 tsp

Garam masala- 1 tsp

Pepper powder- 1 tsp

Yoghurt- 4 tbsp

Salt- to taste

For the masala

Oil- 2 tbsp

Onions- 2 large, roughly chopped

Curry leaves- 2 sprigs

Ginger- 2 1/2 tbsp, peeled and roughly chopped

Garlic- 2 1/2 tbsp, peeled and roughly chopped

Green chillies- 3 to 4 (increase or decrease as per tolerance level)

Tomatoes- 2, finely chopped

Garam masala- 1 tsp

Chilli powder- 1 1/2 tsp

Coriander powder- 2 tsp

Fennel powder- 1/2 tsp

Biryani masala powder- 1 tsp (optional)

Mint leaves- 1/4 cup, finely chopped

Coriander leaves- 1/2 cup, finely chopped

Water- 1/2 to 3/4th cup

Khus Khus (white poppy seeds)- 1 tbsp, soaked in water


For the rice

Ghee- 2 tbsp

Cloves- 5 pods

Cardamom- 5 pods

Cinnamon- 2, 1 inch sticks

Star anise- 1

Bay leaves- 2

Basmati rice- 3 1/2 cups (I used Tilda long grain rice)

Water- 7 to 8 cups

Salt- to taste

Lemon juice- 1/2 tbsp

For garnishing

Ghee- 3 tbsp

Onions- 1/4 cup, julienned

Cashew nuts- 2 tbsp

Coriander leaves- 1/4 cup


Marinate the beef with all the ingredients under the ‘to marinate’ section. Keep aside while you prepare the remaining ingredients.

Grind together the ginger, garlic and green chillies.

Soak the khus khus in water for about 15 minutes, and grind to a smooth paste. Keep aside.

Wash and soak the rice in cold water for about 30 minutes.

Also get the garnish ingredients ready by heating the ghee in a pan and frying the onions and cashew nuts, separately till they turn golden brown and crispy. Drain on paper towels and keep aside.

Into a pressure cooker pour the ghee. 

Keeping the heat on medium, add the chopped onions and curry leaves and cook till they turn a light brown in colour. This could take around 10 to 12 minutes.
Add the crushed ginger-garlic-chilli paste and continue cooking till the raw smell disappears.

Add the tomato and cook till they turn mushy and the oil starts to slightly separate.

Stir in all the spice powders- garam masala, chilli powder, coriander powder, fennel powder and biryani masala (if using).
Season with salt, saute for about 2 minutes, and then tip in the marinated beef and all its juices.

Add the mint and coriander leaves, give a good stir and then pour in about 1/2 cup water. 

Bring to a boil, and close the cooker.
Put the weights on once the steam comes and cook the beef on medium heat for about 4 to 5 whistles or till the beef is completely cooked.
Wait for the steam to die on its own and then open the lid.
If you feel the gravy is too loose, then slow cook it till you feel its thick-ish. Alternatively, if you feel there is not enough gravy then add some more water. Remember you need enough water to mix with the rice and make it moist.
Stir in the ground khus khus, check for salt, add more if needed and take the meat off heat.


While the beef is cooking get the rice ready.

In a large pot (enough to hold around 8 cups of water) heat the ghee.

Throw in the whole spices and sauté for a couple of seconds, just to get the aromas going, on medium heat. Put a kettle of water to boil at this point.

Add the drained rice and fry for a couple of seconds.

Add about 7 to 8 cups of water to the rice followed by salt and lemon juice. Stir well and wait for it to boil on high heat.
Once the water starts boiling, time it and cook the rice to an almost al dente form, for about 6 to 8 minutes maximum on a rolling boil.
Keep stirring in between, but make sure the rice doesn’t break and get over cooked.
Drain immediately into a colander.

To assemble, smear the bottom of a large heavy bottomed pan with ghee. Use left over ghee from frying the cashew and onions.
Spread a layer of rice and then sprinkle half a tsp each of the chopped coriander leaves, fried onions and cashew over the rice
Top with a layer of the beef curry. Spread it out as gently as possible.

Tip in the remaining rice, spread it out and sprinkle the remaining biryani masala powder and coriander leaves. Continue the layers till you run out of both, but with the rice layer right at the top.

Close with a tight lid, making sure no steam escapes, reduce heat to the lowest possible and let it warm up for about 10-15 minutes.

When done, scatter around the remaining fried onions and cashews and serve hot with some raita, pappad and pickle.


Notes: The beef curry can be made a day or two in advance, refrigerated and used as required for the biryani. In fact its a better option because the curry would taste absolutely delicious once the masalas have caught on.
The rice i use got cooked to perfection in exactly 5 minutes, so keep a close watch and make sure you don’t over cook it. If you can comfortable with the absorption method with the exact quantity of water used, please do that instead
It is a spicy one, so reduce the green chillies to 2 if you are not a spice fan. I used birds eye chilli
If you can get hold of beef on the bone, nothing like it. I shall do so the next time.

Instead of using the biryani masala powder you can also use normal curry powder in its place.

You can do the layering in the oven as well. Arrange it in an oven proof bowl and warm in an oven preheated at 150C for about 20 minutes.
Freeze the remaining biryani in a freezer proof container. To thaw, either transfer it to the top compartment of the fridge and let it thaw over night or take it out and leave on the counter for it to thaw by evening. Tip the contents into an over proof bowl and let it heat in an oven preheated at 200C for about 15 minutes. 
If you don’t own a pressure cooker, you can slow cook the beef in a heavy bottomed pan till done. Just keep a check on it at intervals, keep stirring in between and add water as required.

Tomato and shallot raita


Yoghurt- 1 cup
Green chilli- 1/2 of one, finely chopped
Chaat masala- 1/2 to 1 tsp + enough to garnish
Salt- to taste
Tomato- 1 small, finely chopped
Shallot- 1 small, finely chopped
Coriander leaves- 1 tsp

Add a few table spoons of water to the yoghurt and whisk to make it a bit loose.
Stir in the salt, chaat masala and green chilli
Add the tomato and shallots, give it a good stir and just before serving garnish with coriander leaves and a generous sprinkle of chaat masala.

With thanks to Waitrose online for sending me a Waitrose gift card which I used to purchase my ingredients. 

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