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The Flavors Behind Beef Rendang

beef rendang ingredients

Susheela Raghavan's recipe for Beef Rendang is made intensely aromatic by coconut milk, chiles, and spices. She begins with a flavor base purée and incorporates two distinct spice blends (whole spices, then ground), for added complexity. In this slideshow, you’ll learn about some of the ingredients that make Susheela’s rendang so spectacular.


Dried Chiles de Árbol

Beef Rendang gets its heat from fiery dried chiles. Chiles de árbol, a relative of cayenne, remains a vibrant red when dried. The chiles are quite hot (about an 8 on a scale of 1-10).

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This slightly more pungent relative of ginger is prized for its extraordinary citrus-like flavor and its burst of herbal heat. In the rendang, its used along with ginger for extra intensity. It’s available from

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Born of an evergreen tree, cloves are indigenous to Indonesia but are also cultivated in Malaysia, where Beef Rendang is a culinary tradition. The cloves in Susheela's version are whole and cooked in oil.

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Cardamom Pods

Intensely aromatic, sweet, complex, spicy, beguiling, and heady, cardamom appears throughout classical Indian cuisine. Cardamom is related to ginger, but whereas ginger is valued for its rhizome (an underground part of the plant), it’s cardamom’s dried seed pods that are most commonly used in cooking.

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Star Anise

This star-shaped spice is the dried fruit of a small Asian evergreen tree. It's dried in the sun, where it develops its red-brown color and a sweet warm flavor reminiscent of licorice, clove, fennel seed, and aniseed.

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Made from rolled, pressed, and dried tree bark, cinnamon has a pleasing, woody fragrance and sweet flavor that's surprisingly complimentary to beef. Whole cinnamon infuses the oil with flavor as part of Susheela’s first spice blend.

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Ground Coriander

The round, tan, papery seeds of the cilantro plant, coriander has a warm, spicy-sweet scent and flavor that's slightly lemony, warm, and pine-y, with a whiff of caraway. You'll need ground coriander for the recipe; grinding the seeds yourself is easy.

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Ground Cumin

Cumin is the dried seed of the herb Cuminum cyminum, a member of the parsley family. Its characteristic flavor and aroma comes from the cumin seed’s essential oil. In the rendang, ground cumin is blended into the oil to flavor the beef.

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Ground Fennel Seeds

Harvested from common fennel, fennel seeds have a pleasantly sweet aniseed, or licorice-like flavor. Read our Test Kitchen post for tips on how to ground fennel seeds.

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Ground Turmeric

Another relative of ginger, turmeric looks like a cross between a knob of ginger and a carrot, and it tastes that way too. It’s slightly bitter and metallic in flavor and ranges in color from sunny yellow to a saturated, Technicolor orange.

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Coconut Milk

Coconut milk is a staple ingredient in any rendang; as it cooks down, it creates a fragrant coating for the meat.

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Tamarind’s flavor is potent but elusive. With its distinct sweet-sour flavor, a little tamarind goes a long way. Tamarind is available in many forms. Susheela uses tamarind concentrate in her recipe because it is the easiest to use and is readily available through

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Along with wild lime leaves, lemongrass adds an aromatic element to the rendang. It’s bruised to release its flavor, then tied in a knot so it’s easy to remove later.

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Wild Lime Leaves

Used widely in Southeast Asian cuisine, especially in curries, wild lime leaves give dishes a refreshing, lingering lift that is intensely floral and citrusy.

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Toasted Coconut

Toasted, grated coconut is traditional in Malay and Indian cooking. The flavor is subtle, but it adds wonderful texture to the Beef Rendang.

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