A traditional Indian Kheema, literally ground meat, made in our kitchens is only an imitation of an authentic kheema. American cooks cannot achieve the same Indian flavors primarily because of the difference in meats.
In India drier cuts of meat, usually mutton or lamb or venison, are used and typically cooked on the bone using neck parts or shoulders. One reason for cooking the meat on the bone is the cultural difference of eating with their hands.
Additionally in India, most meals are served with breads (roti, chapati or paratha) which are used as utensils in place of forks and knives. When the meat is cooked on the bone, it is also easier to pick up—and the bones filled with marrow are highly sought after delicacies.
In spite of those things, we can still make wonderful tasting kheemas from our own kitchens as I’ve done here. I’ve altered the traditional kheema recipe to suit the way I cook and according to the availability of ingredients in America. It’s also twisted away from tradition and served as a salad.
My mentor was initially appalled, especially when she noticed the orzo replacing the traditional rice, and then she tasted the finished dish. She grinned and nodded her approval and I began to breathe again. So here we go!
Many recipes for kheema instruct the cook to meld the aromatics and spices into a smooth paste in a food processor or spice grinder. I do that when I’m using chicken*(see below) which necessitates marinating over night to achieve the level of flavor that I prefer.
For beef, I like to leave the ingredients in pieces that augment the texture in the finished dish and give it a particular “pop” of flavor when a cardamom seed or peppercorn crushes between your teeth.
2 pounds fresh chuck or top round, fat and gristle removed, ground once
2 tablespoons vegetable oil, NOT olive oil
1 medium sized onion, chopped
3 tablespoons garlic, minced
3 tablespoons fresh, peeled gingerroot, minced
1 jalapeno pepper with seeds, (stem removed), chopped
3 generous teaspoons coriander powder
2 teaspoons cardamom seeds
1 tablespoon Madras curry powder or more to taste
(Do not use Asian or Oriental curry powder)
1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
2-3 teaspoons red pepper powder
(I use Reshampatti but Cayenne is a good substitute)
1 teaspoon white pepper powder
(You can find this at any Indian market or substitute fine grind
8 ounces Orzo pasta (trust me on this one)
*For a Gluten Free option, substitute pre-cooked Basmati rice or Quinoa for the Orzo.
2 cups beef broth, skimmed of all fat if homemade
4 scallions, chopped into small pieces
2 chopped, seeded tomatoes
Paper-thin slices of cucumber, about ½ of a medium cucumber
½ cup cilantro
1 cup Greek yogurt
Hot mango chutney
Spinach to line the plates or bowls
Add salt to taste, if necessary
This recipe works best if all the ingredients, including the beef, are at room temperature.
Heat the vegetable oil in a heavy large skillet over medium high heat. Add the beef and sauté just until cooked and no pink appears, approximately 5 minutes. Remove the meat to a bowl and set aside.
Reheat the same skillet over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic, ginger, jalapeno, and sauté until aromatic, about 2-3 minutes. Add the coriander, cardamom, curry powder, black peppercorns, red and white pepper powders and the orzo to the pan. Stir briskly until combined and heated, about 1 minute or until the aromatics make you swoon.
Add the beef broth, stirring to combine, and bring the mixture just to a boil. It is important to bring it just to the boiling point without actually boiling the mixture. As soon as the bubbles begin, reduce the heat to medium low and cover the skillet.
Cook until the orzo is tender and most of the beef broth is absorbed. Stir the mixture occasionally to keep it from sticking in the pan. The cooking should take about 20-25 minutes depending on your equipment.
When the broth is absorbed, return the beef to the skillet and stir until the mixture is completely combined. Taste and adjust your seasonings.
To plate this dish, line a plate or bowl with fresh spinach leaves. Mound the kheema in the middle of the dish. Arrange your condiments (cucumber slices, chopped tomato, scallion and cilantro) decoratively in rows over the kheema.
Add a dollop of yogurt with a dollop of chutney on the side of the dish.
Serve and enjoy! Your tastebuds will dance!
* You can easily alter this recipe for chicken, if you wish. The difference is that you would add the yogurt to the paste, and then add the chicken. It should marinate, refrigerated, overnight. The chicken can then be ground or cut into chunks after marinating. At this point, cooking can proceed accordingly in the recipe above. For vegetarians, firm tofu works very well here but sauté the tofu to a golden brown for added flavor.
NOTE: Variations that I’ve tried and recommend are the addition of small chunks of potatoes, peas, sautéed mushrooms or cooked spinach. Serving the kheema over lentils is also very nice.