A recipe is a story that ends with a good meal. -Pat Conroy
There are some dishes that instantly transport you back to your childhood, the flavors and aromas tug at your heartstrings as your mouth waters for a taste. My moms keema is one such dish that does just that. To this day my brother and I will request it as one of her ‘must make meals’ every time we visit. Mom always tries to suggest other dishes and Dad pulls her leg how he doesn’t get keema until we come home… but we stick to what we love, and we love her keema!
Keema, in Hindi means mince meat – of any kind. There are variations of this dish using mutton, chicken, beef or turkey with additions of peas or potatoes. Growing up however, keema was simple: lean lamb, spiced to the fullest made in big batches to ensure leftovers for keema paranthe, keema samosas, keema rajma… the list goes on. Throughout the years my mom tried variations, adding peas for my dad, switching from lamb to turkey but her original recipe always seemed to win.
Before I moved away from home I asked my mom to make keema in front of me numerous times, so that I could take notes and document her recipe. It’s one of the first meat dishes I learned to cook and one I still make pretty often. It’s a dish that freezes wonderfully and can be used in so many ways as leftovers that I always find myself doubling the recipe. The list of spices and cooking method may seem long but the dishe comes together quite quickly. I try and use 90% lean ground meat however can choose a different ratio if you prefer it more rich. You can make this well ahead of time and rest assure that the flavors will only enhance the longer it sits. On cold winter nights we enjoy keema with tandoori rotis and pickled onions. In the summer we scoop it up with crunchy lettuce and dunk the ‘wraps’ in raita (a yogurt salad). It’s an earthy rustic dish that’s welcomed anytime of the year in our home.
Keema | Indian Spiced Mince Meat
2 lb minced/ground meat (I generally use lamb but have also made it with mutton, chicken, turkey)
1 cup chopped onion
1 cup chopped tomatoes
3 tablespoon cooking oil
1 bay leaf
1 Indian green chili (birds eye chili), slit open
1 inch cinnamon stick
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2″ fresh ginger root, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/3 teaspoon turmeric powder
1 teaspoon coriander powder
1/2 teaspoon cumin powder
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
2 teaspoon kashmiri chili powder
1 teaspoon garam masala
1 1/2 teaspoon salt; adjust to taste
To garnish – chopped cilantro, lime wedges
In a heavy bottom wok or pot with a lid, heat oil on medium high heat. Once hot, add bay leaf, cinnamon stick, green chili and cumin seeds. As they start sputtering, reduce to medium heat and add onions. Sweat onions and cook until they turn translucent to light brown (about 5-7 minutes). Add ginger & garlic and let sauté for 1-2 minutes. Next add chopped tomatoes and mix. Once you see the water separating from the tomatoes add the salt, turmeric, kashmiri chili powder, coriander powder and cumin powder; mix well. Increase the heat to medium high and add minced meat to the mixture & and break it up with a wooden spoon for about 10-15 minutes. (I like my keema super fine, not chunky so I spend extra time breaking up the meat.) The meat will slowly start breaking apart and changing color. As it cooks it will sweat and water will release. Continue mixing until the meat is light brown and broken up to your liking. Cover the wok/pot, reduce heat to low and let simmer for about 30-35 minutes, stirring occasionally to ensure the meat is not sticking to the bottom.
Remove lid and check on salt level (adjust if needed). Increase heat to medium, add garam masala and cook for another 5-7 minutes. At this time if you feel the keema is too dry, add hot water in small increments until you reach desired consistency.
Garnish with chopped cilantro and squeezes of fresh lime juice. Serve warm with roti or naan. Enjoy!