Authentic Sri Lankan Beetroot Curry Recipe
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I know what you’re thinking, there is something that just sounds so wrong about a beetroot curry. I used to think this too, but after trying it in Sri Lanka I am 100% converted. Sri Lankan food is largely vegetable and fish based, and we had this curry as part of almost every meal we had there. This recipe may have quite a long ingredients list, but it is totally worth doing. Plus, once you have the ingredients, it’s really easy to make and you will have all you need to make a variety of Sri Lankan curries.
There are some basic staple ingredients in Sri Lankan cooking. Coconut is a staple on the island, and they always use coconut oil in all of their cooking. The island is also famous for its cinnamon, so of course this is used too. The other two ingredients that appear to be fundamental in Sri Lankan cookery are curry leaves and mustard seeds. Combine these four ingredients together and you have the smell of Sri Lanka.
We are massive foodies in our house, so we like to make this as part of a meal along with many other curries. However, it could also work brilliantly with just some rice and dal on the side too. This is such a fantastic way of using up a glut of beetroots. This recipe also works well with carrots instead, or even a mixture of beetroot and carrots. We frequently make this with half carrots and half beetroot.
We source our spices and fresh curry leaves from South Asian grocery stores. If you are based near a large town or city, you are likely to have one near you. Otherwise you can source the ingredients online. Most supermarkets sell a good range of spices in jars, so this is an option too, although these are often more expensive for a smaller amount.
Fresh curry leaves can be a little trickier to source, but if you can’t find somewhere local that sells them, I have managed to find them online here*. Waitrose also have them online but we haven’t seen them at our local store, so this may be dependent on your location. We tend to buy a lot at once and freeze to use as needed. This recipe uses fresh curry leaves specifically. I would avoid using dried curry leaves. Dried curry leaves are much easier to find, but they just do not have the flavour.
The other ingredient which can be difficult to source is Sri Lankan curry powder. In Sri Lanka, they have two different curry powders. Unroasted curry powder is primarily used for vegetable dishes, meanwhile roasted is used more for meat and fish. There is a very easy way around this though – make your own. One batch will last you a long time. It is super simple and recipes vary greatly, but I wouldn’t worry too much about this. I have provided my own recipe for this too. You will need a spice grinder* to make this, but I often say that my spice grinder is probably one of the 2 or 3 kitchen gadgets I couldn’t live without.
Unroasted Sri Lankan Curry Powder
4 tbsp coriander seeds
2 tbsp cumin seeds
2 tbsp fennel seeds
1 tbsp black peppercorns
1 tbsp uncooked rice
1 tsp black mustard seeds
½ tsp whole cloves
1 green cardamom pod
1 dried red chilli (ideally Kashmiri, but any large dried red chilli will do)
1 x 7.5cm cinnamon stick or cassia bark
Method: grind all the ingredients in a spice grinder and combine.
Beetroot Curry Recipe
1 tbsp coconut oil
1 x 7.5cm cinnamon stick/ cassia bark
1 tsp black mustard seeds
10 curry leaves
125g red onion, diced
2 cloves (around 10g) garlic, finely chopped
1 green chilli, finely chopped
½ tsp turmeric
1 tsp chilli powder
1 tsp cumin seeds
½ tsp ground fenugreek (methi)
1 ½ tsp unroasted Sri Lankan curry powder
500g beetroot (or carrot, or 250g of each), sliced into matchsticks or julienned
½ tsp salt
Juice of ¼ lime
- Melt the coconut oil in a heavy based saucepan, then add the cinnamon, black mustard seeds and curry leaves. Fry gently until the mustard seeds start to pop.
- Add the onion and fry for 5 minutes until soft, and then add the garlic and fresh chilli and cook for a further 2-3 minutes.
- Add all of the dry spices and cook for a minute.
- Next add the beetroot and the salt and mix to coat it in the oil and spices. Then add a good splash of water and ensure there aren’t any spices stuck to the bottom of the pan. Cover the saucepan with a lid.
- Cook with the lid on until the beetroot is tender. This is likely to take 10-20 minutes, depending on how finely you sliced or julienned your beetroot.
- Once the beetroot is tender, remove from the heat and finish by stirring in the lime juice.