We haven’t eaten much beef on the Subcontinent, because in Hindu communities there’s no beef around. So it was a delicious surprise to be served beef bhoona, as this dish is called, when I was in Bangladesh. It was accompanied not by plain rice, but by kichuri, a kind of easy pilaf of rice and dal. In a traditional home-style Bangla meal, if you served plain rice with the beef bhoona, you would also serve a simple dal, as well as a green vegetable.
Bhoona is a method of slow cooking spices and meat until tender. It is very suited to beef, for beef is one meat that must be cooked either very briefly or for a good long time. Anything in between results in tough meat. The small pieces of meat in this thick, rich-tasting stew are briefly browned, and then the whole dish simmers for a good hour. At the end of this second cooking, the meat is very tender, and the sauce has reduced to a thick aromatic gravy.
Use stewing beef and look for meat with some marbling, for that will give the best flavor and the tenderest texture. You can substitute round steak or flank steak, but again select meat with some marbling.
Cut the meat into ½-inch cubes or into narrow strips about 1 inch long. Set aside.
In a wide heavy pot, heat the butter, ghee, or oils over medium-high heat. Add the spice blend and cook for about 30 seconds, or until the mustard seeds have popped. Add the turmeric, coriander, bay leaves, cinnamon, garlic, and ginger and stir-fry for 30 seconds. Add the sliced onions, reduce the heat to medium, and cook, stirring frequently to prevent sticking, until well softened, about 10 minutes.
Add the meat and chiles and cook for a minute or two, stirring frequently, to brown the meat on all sides. Add enough water to moisten the dish well and the lime juice. Raise the heat and bring to a boil. Toss in the salt and sugar, lower the heat to medium, cover loosely, and simmer for 40 minutes to 1 hour, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking, until the meat is very tender and softened. The sauce will be rather thick. (The dish can be set aside, covered, for up to 1 hour, or refrigerated for up to 1 day. Reheat until very hot, stirring to prevent sticking.)
Stir in half the coriander leaves, then transfer to a serving bowl. Top with the browned onions, if using, and the remaining coriander leaves. Serve hot, with the lime wedges on a plate alongside; a squeeze of lime juice brings forward the flavor of the beef.
Serve with rice, either plain rice or kichuri (see headnote), and with Bangla Salad Plate on the side. A fresh or lightly cooked vegetable dish, such as Pea Shoots for a Crowd, makes a good accompaniment.
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