Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Keema Matar (Ground Meat Curry with Peas)

Lately I've been contemplating the number of dishes made of ground meat, loosely cooked and served with bread of some sort. There are quite a few, and they vary surprisingly.

I think the first such dish I became aware of was Maid-Rites, which did not inspire me to rush off to Iowa to try them. They are more generically known as loose-meat sandwiches, which tells you pretty much what you need to know. It's a hamburger that doesn't even attempt to hold itself together.

No, wait - before that I knew about Sloppy Joes. Ate some even, as a kid. It's not something I've made in a long time, though. They are not that different, as they have evolved, from the loose-meat sandwich although they have more in the way of tomatoey sauce incorporated into the meat. As far as I can tell, they were first served by a bar named Sloppy Joe's - oddly enough - in Havana, Cuba. AHA! This is basically Picadillo, served in a bun. (And pretty devolved, in its current incarnation, if I may use that term. This site says it was Ropa Vieja; in which case it's deteriorated even more than I thought during its transfer to American cuisine.)

Then in the last week or so I noticed a bit of a bun-fight between the British and the New Zealanders over something called "Mince on Toast" at The Guardian. Looks pretty much of a muchness.

Meanwhile... the Pakistanis and northern Indians have been quietly eating Keema for centuries. Keema apparently just means ground meat, and I made mine with matar - that is to say peas - so this is Keema Matar.  It gets served with hot, fluffy naan and it's full of amazing spices and flavours.


A little research suggests this was once a rather luxurious dish, no doubt due the amount of chopping required to make it before the advent of mechanized meat grinders. Now it's the kind of thing that can be made at home as a quick dinner dish. I also suspect it's very adaptable; lamb is probably most traditional but people make it with beef or even chicken. (I would do turkey, too.) I put in peas because it is pea season, but I see no reason not to switch to green beans in a week or two. Fresh tomatoes now; canned in the winter along with frozen peas. Not everyone seems to put in tomatoes at all; some use broth or even just water. As it is, it would work well as part of an ensemble of dishes; throw in a boiled potato or two, peeled and diced, with the peas and would be quite substantial enough on it's own. (Actually it's pretty substantial even without them.)

Don't be put off by roasting and grinding the spices. That can be done in 15 minutes, then the rest goes together in half an hour, apart from shelling the peas. 

4 servings
45 minutes prep time

Keema Matar (Ground Meat Curry with Peas)

Make the Spice Blend:
1 tablespoon cumin seeds
1 tablespoon coriander seeds
4-5 green cardamom pods
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 to 1 teaspoon ground red chile (to taste)

Heat a small skillet over medium heat and lightly toast the whole spices until just fragrant. Turn them out onto a plate at once to cool.

Grind all the whole spices, removing the papery covers from the cardamom after they have been broken open. Mix the toasted ground spices with the remaining spices and set aside.

Cook the Keema:
2 cups shelled peas (1 generous quart with pods)
1 to 2 tablespoons grated peeled fresh ginger
6 cloves of garlic, peeled and grated or minced
1 large onion, peeled and minced
500 grams (1 pound) ground beef or lamb
up to 2 tablespoons mild vegetable oil (if needed)
2-3 whole bay leaves
1 2" stick cinnamon (or add 1/2 teaspoon ground to the spices)
2 cups crushed tomatoes OR 2 or 3 medium fresh tomatoes
1/4 cup finely minced fresh cilantro

Shell the peas and set them aside. Peel and grate the ginger. Peel and grate or mince the garlic. Peel and mince the onion. (If you are using fresh tomatoes, they should be blanched, peeled and chopped and set aside now too.)

Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat.

If your meat is very lean, add a little oil and start frying the ginger, garlic, and onion. Add the meat once they have softened and reduced slightly in volume.

 If your meat has enough fat, break it up into the pan and start it cooking; add the ginger, garlic, and onion once it has rendered some of it.

Sprinkle 2/3 of the spice mixture over the cooking meat, etc. Add the bay leaves and cinnamon piece, if using. Cook, stirring frequently, until there are no signs of pink in the meat. Use the tip of your flat utensil to break the meat into quite fine bits as it cooks.

At this point, add the prepared tomatoes, and cook, continuing to stir frequently, until the liquid from them has reduced noticably. Add the peas so that they cook in the remaining liquid, but continue to cook until the liquid is essentially gone. You can leave the mixture fairly moist but not runny, or you can continue to cook it to a drier and more crisped texture; whichever you prefer. Add in the rest of the spices.

Transfer the keema to a serving dish, removing the bay leaves and cinnamon piece as you do so. Serve with naan, potatoes, or rice.

Last year at this time I was cooking Rutabaga Greens.


Karen said...

This recipe brings back memories of my Indian MIL. I have ground beef thawed so I think Keema is going to be on the menu tonight. Thankyou!

Megan said...

This is a real go-to dish for me. I use a slightly different order for the spices though, which I find a bit easier:
- First lightly fry any spices you are going to leave whole, in oil. For me this would be mustard seed, fennel, and a dried red chili pepper. The mustard seeds will pop (like popcorn), so you need a lid on the pan to contain them.
- Then add the ground dried spices to the oil. The spices will "bloom" in the oil after about 30 seconds, giving them a richer cooked flavor.
- Then add the ginger, garlic, and onion.

When you're finished cooking everything, it's nice to fry a little onion and/or garlic and/or cumin seeds in oil and drizzle that flavoured oil on top of the finished keema.

Ferdzy said...

I hope you enjoyed your Keema, Karen, and thanks Megan for the pointers.