Kheema, a North Indian classic, is a spicy curry made with minced meat and fresh peas, simmered in a pot with ginger, garlic, onions, tomatoes and a bunch of warm spices. Think of it as the Indian version of the American favorite, chili. While traditionally, ground mutton or goat meat is used in kheema, you can use any kind of ground meat or create a vegetarian version like I have done, with minced mushrooms or cauliflower.
Making the kheema may seem a little daunting, but don’t be intimidated by the long list of ingredients. It’s a pretty simple, one-pot concoction that’s easy and quick enough to make even for a weeknight dinner. And you can play with the ingredients; stir in a few veggies like green peas, diced potatoes and even chopped spinach! Serve it in its humble form to be mopped up with pav or naan or simply mixed in with steamed basmati rice for a hearty meal.
I often double my kheema recipe; my family loves to eat it in its true form and then I like to play with the leftover, turning it into something beyond my imagination – stuffed in kheema puffs or kheema triangles for quick appetizers, turned into a party food as kheema tartlets or as a topping for the kheema pizza, bubbling with melted cheese hot off the oven!
(Indian-style Minced Meat Stew)
Let’s start with the basic kheema recipe. There are millions of households in India and they have millions of different recipes to make the kheema. So do I! I believe that the key to making a great kheema is to focus on developing the individual flavors, bringing out the best in all the ingredients and not just throwing in a bunch of things with the ground meat, letting them simmer in a pot. So I start by mixing the minced meat with lots of fresh garlic, ginger, spicy hot green chillies, cilantro and mint along with the spices and let it sit for a little bit. The marination process allows the meat to absorb the flavors of the fresh ingredients and warm spices. I believe it makes all the difference, resulting into an intensely flavorful kheema with an irresistible aroma!
1 lb ground meat (Here I have used ground chicken thigh meat, but you can use ground goat meat, lamb, beef, turkey or any other vegetarian options like crumbled paneer, minced mushrooms or cauliflower)
2-3 tbsp canola/vegetable oil
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 large or 2 medium onions, finely chopped
3/4 cup canned tomato sauce or homemade purée of 2 large tomatoes
1 large or 2 small garlic cloves, minced
1 inch piece of ginger, minced
1 tsp turmeric powder (haldi)
1 tsp red chilli powder (optional, for desired level of heat)
1 tsp garam masala
salt, to taste
1/2 cup of green peas (fresh or frozen) (optional)
a handful of spinach leaves, roughly chopped if fresh or use frozen (optional)
1 medium potato, diced (optional)
cilantro/coriander, finely chopped for garnishing
For the marination:
handful of mint sprigs, leaves and tender parts of the stems, minced
handful of cilantro/coriander sprigs, leaves and tender parts of the stems, minced
3-4 medium garlic cloves, minced
1 inch ginger, peeled and minced
3-4 green chillies, minced (Serrano or Thai/bird-eye) (Depending on your level of tolerance)
1 tsp turmeric (1 tsp for the marinating and the rest for preparation)
1 tsp red chilli powder/cayenne pepper (optional)
1 tsp garam masala
salt, to taste
In a bowl, add all the ingredients for the marination process along with the ground meat, mix well and cover it with a plastic wrap. Refrigerate for about 1 hour or so. If you don’t have enough time, just let the mixture sit till you finish the rest of your prep work.
In a large pot or a deep sauté pan, heat oil over medium flame and throw in the cumin seeds. When the seeds splutter, add the onions along with the garlic and ginger. Sauté till the onion turns light brown in color. Add the tomato sauce or purée, turmeric, red chilli powder, garam masala and continue frying till oil seperates out. Add a little water, about 1/4 cup and continue frying over medium heat till oil separates out again.
Add marinated minced meat mixture to the onion-tomato masala in the pot (along with the peas, potatoes and spinach, if using any) and mix well. Rinse the bowl in which the meat was marinated with minimum quantity of water (not more than 1 cup) and reserve the water. (This adds to the overall flavor of the dish and you also do not waste any of the marinade flavor)
Add the reserved water to the simmering pot, mix well and cook covered for 15-20 mins till the ground meat is cooked and most of the moisture is evaporated, making it into more of a dry-sauce dish.
Garnish with cilantro/coriander and serve hot with rice or naan.
I love small bites – creating them and popping some on my mouth. They are perfect for entertaining, especially for the cocktail hour! With leftover kheema in the refrigerator and ready-to-make puff pastry sheets in the freezer, I put these tiny kheema tartlets together in a snap for one of our dinner parties.
My inspiration was Giada’s Tomato Basil Tartlets. I found her technique of baking the puff pastry between two baking sheets, rather interesting. Using her method, I baked a batch of cute little discs that were a perfect base for the spicy kheema. Colorful and incredibly flavorful, these little bites were gone in no time!
Makes 12-14 round 2-inch tartlets
For the Tartlets
1 frozen puff pastry sheet (Trader Joe’s or Pepperidge Farm) thawed
some all purpose flour, for rolling the pastry sheet on a surface
2 – inch round cookie cutter, optional
about 1 cup prepared kheema, slightly warmed
1 small tomato, small diced
1 small red onion, minced
a few springs of cilantro, minced
Baking the Tartlets
Preheat the oven to 400 deg F.
Lightly flour the surface and the rolling pin and gently roll out the thawed puff pastry. If using a cookie cutter, cut out as many rounds of the pastry as possible. Alternatively, using a paring knife, cut equal 2 – inch puff pastry squares and lay them on a parchment paper lined baking sheet.
Lay a piece of parchment paper on top of the pastry rounds. Place another baking sheet directly on top of the parchment paper to keep the pastry even while baking. Bake for about 15 mins until golden and lightly flaky.
Cool off on a wire rack for about 5 mins.
Top with a table spoon of warm kheema, diced tomatoes, onions and sprinkle the minced cilantro over the tartlets and the serving plate.
Serve at room temperature.
Kheema Naan Pizza
After making the kheema, you could either mop it with warm, soft naan or spread it over naan, top it with some desi Amul cheese and bake it for a few minutes until the bread gets crispy and the cheese melts. Finally, drizzle some cool mint – yogurt chutney… and there you have, one of the most incredible fusion foods – the Kheema Naan Pizza!
You could certainly make it with regular pizza crust or use store-bought pizza dough, but these days you can find naan at your local grocery store in the ethnic food aisles like Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, Wegmans, or any Indian grocery store. I usually have naans in my freezer and I think are just perfect for a fusion pizza of this kind.
You can make pizza literally out of anything! For me, this pizza comes together in minutes with leftover or freshly made kheema and some all-time handy ingredients from my refrigerator. Sometimes I also spread sliced red onions, green pepper, diced tomatoes on top of the kheema and then sprinkle the cheese, but my family prefers the “meat lovers” version.
Now you too can experience the amazing combination of flavors in this pizza … first make the kheema and then follow the steps below for making the pizza
For every naan pizza
1 cup kheema
1 small red onion, sliced (optional)
1 small green pepper, sliced (optional)
1 small tomato,diced (optional)
about 1/2 cup shredded Amul cheese (You would find it in any Indian stores. Alternatively, you could use your favorite cheese that melts well)
Mint-Yogurt Chutney/Sauce for Topping (makes about 1/2 cup chutney, enough for about 4-6 pizzas)
1/4 cup yogurt, any kind
a generous handful of mint leaves, roughly chopped
5-6 sprigs of cilantro, tender parts of the stem and leaves chopped
1-2 Thai/bird’s eye chillies
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp ground coriander
1/2 – 1 tsp sugar
freshly ground black pepper
In a food processor or a blender, combine all the ingredients for the Mint-Yogurt Chutney and process until smooth. Add water if needed and adjust seasonings according to your taste.
Preheat your oven to 400.
Spoon about a cup of kheema over the naan (thawed if using frozen), top with onions, tomatoes and peppers (if using) and then sprinkle a generous handful of shredded cheese.
Bake for 10-12 mins, until naan is crispy on bottom and cheese is bubbling on top.
Remove from the oven and let it cool for a couple of mins. Drizzle the mint-yogurt chutney/sauce and slice with a pizza cutter.