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Curried Beef Pita Pockets with Lime Cilantro Yogurt Sauce

Posted Feb 20 2012 6:37pm
One of my favorite classes in culinary school was titled Cuisines Across Cultures. This class, obvious by the title, explored the roots and traditions of different cuisines from around the world. We would take one ingredient, such as lentils, and prepare it utilizing different cooking techniques, methods and flavor combinations to explore and better understand flavor profiles and cuisine staples from different countries. We also spent a good deal of time learning about every herb, spice and seed used to flavor foods around the world. One of the first topics our chef instructor lectured on was curry.

Most people are well aware that curry is widely used in Indian and Thai cooking, but most don’t know that curry itself is not a spice. Curry is actually a blend of up to 20 spices, herbs and seeds which typically contain cardamom, chiles, cinnamon, cloves, coriander, cumin, fennel seed, fenugreek, mace, nutmeg, red and black pepper, poppy and sesame seeds, saffron, tamarind and turmeric. Obviously you can purchase commercial curry powder in the grocery store, but it bears little resemblance to the freshly ground traditional Indian blends and pastes. If you decide to explore this recipe I have included a recipe for making your own simple curry powder, which will stay wonderfully fresh in an airtight container for up to two weeks.
I LOVE traditional curried dishes, but I also love to mimic those deep flavors in simple easy, healthy dishes too. I really wanted to share something this time that is so simple to make that literally anyone can do it! This is a perfect dish for those who work long hours and like to use the slow cooker to ensure dinner is ready when you get home. This is one of my favorite Wednesday meals, and the leftovers make packing Thursdays lunch for Liv a breeze. Weighing in at under 400 calories per serving while boasting a whopping 37 grams of lean protein you just can’t go wrong with this slow cooked, curry inspired, healthful super easy meal!

This dish does take a little bit of prep to get into to the slow cooker, but it is worth it! The good news is the assembly for dinner is a breeze, so invest the 20 minutes in prepping this dish in the morning while you are sipping your coffee, for a healthy dinner on the table in 10 minutes when you get home in the evening. I found this idea in one of my all time favorite magazines, Clean Eating. I took the liberty to add and change a few of the basic ingredients and cooking techniques to deepen the flavor profile without adding any noticeable calories. My simple addition of onion, garlic, cinnamon and tomatoes really add a richness and body to this yummy dish. Most importantly browning the meat prior to putting it in liquid is a must for a delicious tasting stewed or braised dish. Skipping this step will result in tougher bland meat which will taste more boiled than slow cooked.

Curried Beef
Adapted from a Tosca Reno Clean Eating Recipe

1 lb extra lean or lean stew beef, defatted and cubed into about 1-1.5” cubes
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
2 tbsp Indian curry powder, divided (I used yellow mild curry, no hot chilies for the kids)
½ tsp ground cinnamon
2 tsp cooking oil (I like grape seed oil)
½ large yellow onion, chopped
2-3 cloves garlic, finely sliced
1 tbsp tomato paste
1-14oz can chopped tomatoes
1 can (drained) low sodium chick peas, or 14 oz of cooked dried chick peas
1 cup low-sodium stock (you can use vegetable, chicken or beef. I use chicken or vegetable typically because I make my own stock and freeze it)
1 cup frozen peas

Combine cubed beef, kosher salt, cinnamon, and 1 tbsp curry powder in a medium bowl. Rub meat vigorously with your hands to cover thoroughly with spice mixture.

Heat cooking oil in a medium skillet over med-high heat, add spice rubbed meat evenly in one layer to skillet and brown on both sides. Don’t over crowd the pan, work in batches if necessary. Remove meat with a slotted spoon and place on paper towel lined plate.

Add onions and garlic to the pan and cook for 2-3 minutes until translucent and fragrant, do not brown.

Add tomato paste, cook one minute then add chopped tomatoes, cook for 1 minute more to deglaze the pan.

Add beef, tomato, garlic and onion mixture to a 2- to 3-qt slow cooker.

Add stock and chick peas to the slow cooker, stir in remaining 1 tablespoon of curry powder and cook on low for 8 hours.

To finish use a large skillet heated on medium-high heat, transfer the contents of slow cooker to skillet and bring to a simmer. You will reduce this mixture to desired consistency, stir in frozen peas during the last minute of cooking so they retain their bright green color. If you would prefer this dish to stay on the saucy side don’t reduce as much and serve over cooked brown rice instead of inside a whole wheat pita!

Lime Cilantro Yogurt Sauce
1 cup non or low-fat plain Greek yogurt
1 clove garlic, grated
Pinch kosher salt
¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro (optional)
Lime juice, to taste
Low-fat milk (as needed to thin the yogurt)

In a small bowl grate one clove of garlic. You can use minced garlic, but I personally hate biting into a piece of raw garlic so I prefer to grate raw garlic with a micro plain or fine cheese grater. Combine garlic, yogurt, salt, cilantro and lime. If needed, stir in a dash of milk to thin the yogurt to desired consistency. I also like to add just a bit of honey to this sauce it works nicely to balance the tartness of the lime and garlic.

For Serving

6 warmed whole-wheat pitas (I love the Trader Joes WW pitas)
2 cups fresh baby spinach
Stuff each warm pita with some spinach, spoon in some curry mixture, drizzle with yogurt sauce and enjoy!

Homemade Yellow Curry Powder, makes 5 to 6 tablespoons.
2 tbsp whole coriander seeds
1 tbsp whole cumin seeds
2 tsp whole black peppercorns
1 ½ tsp whole brown mustard seeds
1 ½ tsp ground tumeric
1 tsp whole fenugreek seeds (I used 1 tsp of ground fenugreek, you can get it at Whole Foods)
3 hot dried red chilies, crumbled (when I use chilies I use dried chile de arbol)
3 whole cloves

Heat a small DRY frying pan over medium heat. When it gets hot, add coriander, cumin, peppercorns, mustard seeds, cloves and chilies. Keep moving the pan constantly, to make sure the spices do not burn, the spices will begin to get toasted and become fragrant. Keep moving the pan over the heat until they begin to darken slightly in color. Add tumeric and fenugreek and stir constantly for 10-15 seconds.

Remove from heat and pour into a bowl. Allow to cool. Once cool, place into a spice grinder and grind until fine. Store curry powder in an air tight container for up to two weeks for optimal freshness.

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