Pakastani Keema (or kheema) is a smoky, fairly dry and intensely flavored ground meat curry that is garnished with copious fresh vegetables and herbs, making it a perfect late autumn dish. Affiliate links have been used to link to items I am discussing in this post.
This Pakastani Keema was almost a victim of my recent moves. My black cardamom pods, brought to me from abroad by my neighbors in Ohio, have gone missing. I went ahead and ordered more, but in the meantime I needed them for this dish. Not only is green cardamom alone not an appropriate substitute for black cardamom, but the smokiness black cardamom imparts was extra needed because I was choosing not to smoke this dish, which the recipe called for. So I went with the probably unorthodox solution of a combination of smoked paprika, green cardamom and a dried chipotle chile pepper (for anyone unfamiliar, that is a smoked jalapeño chile pepper). It worked wonderfully!
But I am still glad I ordered the Black Cardamom Pods for next time and I recommend you add it to your spice cupboard also for its unique flavor.
Some of you may be confused by the fact that I usually spell the word for a ground meat curry, “kheema.” In general my kheemas are inspired by the kheemas I learned to cook from Indian cookbooks–and as far as I have seen the two spellings are interchangeable, but I chose “kheema” a long time ago and try to be consistent. But because this is a Pakastani keema, I went with the spelling used in the cookbook I was adapting from.
I was excited to try this Pakastani Keema because it had a few distinguishing features from the Indian kheemas I have made. First, it is smoky–and the recipe I adapted from even calls for it to be smoked on your cooktop. Now I am too lazy for that (and did not have the appropriate equipment anyway), but adding some smoky flavor worked beautifully and reminds me of how a keema cooked over a tribal campfire in Pakastan might taste. To go along with that “taste image,” this keema is much drier than the Indian kheemas I have made. The final result should not be saucy. And last we have the fact that according to Summayya Usmani, the author of Summers Under the Tamarind Tree: Recipes and memories from Pakistan (which is a gorgeous cookbook and definitely recommended), Pakastanis especially love their keema garnished with loads of fresh veggies in addition to herbs (which is not to say that Indians do not, but I had never seen it mentioned as such, nor had I ever served kheema that way). With all these wonderful local tomatoes still pouring in, it seemed like a sign we needed to try the Pakastani version of a keema!
And the verdict? Big thumbs up all around! As my children grow older, dishes that used to last us two nights now only produce a smattering of leftovers, and this was another one as everyone dug in enthusiastically. They especially enjoyed the fresh, local tomato garnish, making this a great dish for saying goodbye to summer and ushering in fall.
Closely adapted from Summayya Usmani. While I always recommend finding the spices called for if possible, I was happy with my substitute of a whole dried chipotle pepper and green cardamom pods--so do not let an inability to find black cardamom pods keep you from making this dish!
- 2 T vegetable oil, such as avocado
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 1 whole star anise
- 1 black cardamom pod, bruised (substitute 2 bruised green cardamom pods and 1 dried chipotle chile pepper if necessary)
- 6 whole black peppercorns
- 6 whole cloves
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 t whole coriander seeds
- 1/2 t whole cumin seeds
- 1 large red onion, chopped
- 1 T minced garlic
- 1 T minced ginger
- 1/4 t ground turmeric
- 1/2 t smoked paprika
- 1/2 t ground coriander
- 1/2 t ground cumin
- salt to taste
- 2 medium-large tomatoes, chopped
- 1 lb ground meat of choice (lamb is most traditional; I used beef; if you use a milder meat like turkey you might increase the spices just a tad)
- 1 t dried methi (fenugreek) leaves
- lemon wedges
- chopped fresh tomatoes--use cherry or grape tomatoes off season
- chopped cilantro
- garam masala (use one that is heavy on the warming spices, such as cloves, cardamom and cinnamon)
- fresh ginger slivers (I left out)
- chopped green onion or diced red onion that has been soaked in cold water and then drained
Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the cinnamon stick and star anise. Let them roast briefly and then add the whole peppercorns, whole cloves and black cardamom (add the green cardamom and chipotle chile pepper if you are using that).
Let these larger whole spices roast until they are beginning to be fragrant. Shake the pan to move the spices around so they do not scorch, and add the spices that roast more quickly, the bay leaf, coriander seeds and cumin seeds.
Watch the pan carefully--cumin seeds especially can burn quickly. When the spices have darkened (and unfurled in the case of the cinnamon) and are fragrant, add the chopped onion with a pinch of salt.
Stir the onion occasionally--keep some water nearby to splash the pan in case it starts to stick or scorch. Cook until it is caramelizing, about 10-15 minutes.
Add the ginger and garlic. Cook, stirring, for 2-3 minutes.
Add the turmeric and smoked paprika. Cook another 2 minutes, stirring.
Add the ground coriander and cumin. Stir for 1 minute.
Add the tomatoes with another pinch of salt and a splash of water. Cook for 8-10 minutes, stirring occasionally at the beginning. Then leave it be and the oil should rise to the top, at which time it is ready for the meat.
Add the ground meat with another pinch of salt. Break it up and stir it into the tomatoes. Cook for 8-10 minutes, until all of the excess moisture has evaporated, stirring nearly constantly.
Add the dried methi leaves and cook for another 7-10 minutes on medium low heat. This curry should be fairly dry and a dark brown. Taste for additional salt.
Serve the kheema over rice (I like Basmati) or with flatbread. Sprinkle it with a little garam masala. Squeeze the juice of one lemon wedge over the kheema and then serve it with another. Sprinkle the dish with the tomatoes, green or red onion and cilantro.
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