Sri Lankan beetroot curry is a well-loved curry in my family. It’s a little sweet, a little sour, creamy, aromatic, and hit all the right notes. This is what I cook when I want to impress someone with a vegan meal. Everyone falls in love with this dish.
I love beetroot as a vegetable. Especially the natural sweetness and the earthiness they have. They also last a long time in the fridge when the leaves are removed. And there are a lot of dishes like stir-fries, salads, and curries that I can make with beetroot.
Beetroot curry is one of the very popular dishes that I grew up eating for lunch with rice and other curries. I make it at my home very often too. As with all of the other Sri Lankan dishes, there are many variations for beetroot curry as well. Some people like to cut beetroot differently. Some like to add different spices and aromatics. So the curry tastes different from one family to another.
Ingredients and substitutions
Beetroot: Almost all grocery stores carry beetroots. Get the popular red ones (not the yellow or white or candy cane strip ones). Sweeter the better.
Curry leaves and pandan leaves: A must for almost all Sri Lankan dishes. Curry leaves are available in Indian grocery stores in the US. Pandan leaves can be found in Asian stores. Check the freezer section as well. Skip if you can’t find pandan.
Mustard seeds and fenugreek seeds: Use black/brown mustard. Not yellow mustard seeds. Both these ingredients can be found online and in Indian grocery stores. You can skip fenugreek seeds if you can’t find them.
Cinnamon sticks: You can use cinnamon powder too. But make sure you use True Ceylon Cinnamon, not Cassia (Chinese cinnamon) which is commonly refers as cinnamon in many countries but has a different flavor. Cinnamon goes really well with beetroots.
Curry powder and turmeric powder: What I’m using for the recipe is Sri Lankan unroasted curry powder. This curry powder is not very strong. If you can’t find Sri Lankan curry powder, a mild curry powder can be used instead. Turmeric powder can be skipped but in Sri Lanka, we use a little bit of turmeric powder in most of our dishes for health benefits and color.
White Vinegar: This is the key to a good beetroot curry. Vinegar is absolutely necessary to balance out the sweetness of the curry. It also helps to thicken up the curry. My mom sometimes add a diced tomato instead of vinegar. So if you’re not a fan of using vinegar in curries, you can add a tomato. But the taste would be quite different.
Sugar: This is optional. I use a little bit of sugar when I get beetroots that are not sweet enough for the curry. The sweetness helps to bring out the natural beetroot flavor and it complements the dish very well.
Onions: I use yellow onions. You can use shallots too.
Garlic: A must. But don’t use too much as we want beetroot flavor to shine. Fresh garlic is always better than pre-peeled garlic.
Coconut oil: In almost, all Sri Lankan households, coconut oil is the primary oil we use. If you can’t find coconut oil, substitute it with a neutral oil that doesn’t have a strong flavor.
Coconut milk: I use canned coconut milk. Usually Chaokoh brand or Aroy-D. Both are from Thailand and they taste good. Canned coconut milk is almost always thicker than freshly squeezed coconut milk which we use traditionally in Sri Lanka. If you use canned then make sure to dilute it with water.
What to serve it with?
We Sri Lankans, always serve Beetroot curry with rice. One of my favorite menus is Beetroot curry, red lentil curry, chicken, fish curry, or young jackfruit curry and coconut sambol. Any creamy curry along with spicy meat or fish curry would work with this beetroot curry. Or you can serve it with plain rice too.