Thursday, January 9, 2014

Aloo Keema (Plus Matar): Pakistani Meat 'n' Potatoes

Hi, folks! The recent breathtakingly cold temperatures have had me in the kitchen making “cold weather” food like soups and casseroles. It’s partly to satisfy our cravings for nice hot meals, but also to make the house smell excellent!

If you like hearty, spicy foods, you’ll love this. It’s an easy, quick, one-dish meal. If you can make Hamburger Helper, if you can follow directions, this isn’t too much harder.

Before I go further, the following is based on a recipe shared by Mrs. Sahar Khan, owner of SK Kitchen Store here in Jefferson City. You’ll find SK Kitchen Store in the shops next to Schnuck’s on Missouri Boulevard. Sahar, her husband, and her son are usually there, ready to help you pick out quality cookware and find what you need in a cavalcade of fun kitchen gadgets. They also sell Pakistani and Indian foods and cooking ingredients.

Sahar leads occasional cooking classes at her store, and if you’re interested in this sort of thing, I encourage you to call her and get on her contact list. Part of the “mystery” of this cuisine is in the technique, and she shows you: When has the masala cooked enough? How hot should the oil be before you add the spices? Also: Her graciousness is very welcoming, and her enthusiasm is contagious!

This recipe calls for only one special ingredient that probably is not in your spice cabinet—black cardamom pods. Don’t worry! You can buy black cardamom at SK Kitchen Store! If you’re not in Jefferson City, look for it at any good international store with a decent selection of Indian spices. (If you really can’t find it, then I suggest using green cardamom pods, but then, use about four, since they’re smaller and not as powerful. Black cardamom is entirely unique; uncooked, it kinda smells like turpentine. But trust me, you want it in this dish!) This is what black cardamom looks like:

I understand that aloo keema is a favorite dish in Pakistan, a “mom” food. Comfort food. “Aloo” means potato, and “keema” means meat, particularly minced or ground meat, as in beef (or possibly veal, mutton, goat, or lamb—think red meat here). So it’s meat ’n’ potatoes! The “matar” I mention in this post’s title is green peas—an optional addition that I like. Aloo keema matar: Potatoes, meat, and peas.

It’s the spices, of course, that set it apart from drab old American chow. The cinnamon is distinctive, but Sahar told me the key ingredient in her recipe is the black cardamom, and I think she’s right. Looking at other recipes for this dish online, few seem to include it. I encourage you to get some and use it. It imparts an unusual (and perfectly wonderful) flavor!

Again: This is adapted from a recipe from Mrs. Sahar Khan. Thank you Mrs. Khan! (Teach me more and more!)

T. = tablespoon
t. = teaspoon
Adjust all chilis to taste.


Aloo Keema (+ Matar)
Potatoes, Ground Beef (+ Peas)

1 T. oil
1 medium onion, chopped

2 cinnamon sticks
2 black cardamom pods (I carefully pierce them once with the point of a knife)
2 bay leaves

1½ lb. ground chuck, lean (“ground beef” is just scary)

3 T. fresh ginger, grated
2 T. garlic, minced or pressed

1 t. crushed red chilis
1 t. ground red chilis
2 t. turmeric
3 t. ground coriander seed
3/4 t. salt (or to taste; check at end and add more if necessary)

2¼ cups water, divided (¼ cup + 2 cups)

2-3 medium potatoes, ½ inch dice (about 2½ cups) (I suggest Yukon Gold)
15-oz. can diced tomatoes (I like fire-roasted)
2 t. tomato paste (I’ve found this is optional)

1 cup frozen green peas, thawed (optional)
½ cup fresh cilantro, chopped
2 green chilis, chopped

Step one: Read through recipe and measure and set out all ingredients beforehand. Don’t be daunted by the number of ingredients. This recipe is easy and goes pretty quickly! The extra line spaces in my ingredients list represent things that can be added all together. Organization is good!

In a large, heavy, wide-mouth cooking pan that has a lid, heat the oil, add the onion, and cook on medium-high heat, stirring, until it starts to brown. Add cinnamon sticks, black cardamom pods, and bay leaves, and fry for about a minute. (It will start to smell really good!) Add the meat, stirring to break up the chunks, and cook until the water mostly evaporates. (If at any point it starts sticking, just sprinkle a little water in the pan to loosen it up.)

Add the ginger and garlic; stir and cook a few minutes; then add the spices: crushed red chilis, ground red chilis, turmeric, ground coriander, and salt. Add a ¼ cup of water, now, too. Cook this for about three or four minutes, to meld the flavors and form the “masala.”

Add the potato, tomatoes, and tomato paste, stir to combine, then add 2 more cups of water. Cover and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the potatoes are just done (don’t overcook potatoes; there’s still about 5-10 minutes of cooking left). (Cooking with the lid on is probably optional, but it makes the potatoes cook faster. But then you have to cook off the extra water; read on.)

When the potatoes are just done, uncover and cook to evaporate the moisture in the pan. You want it to be moist and still rather bubbly, but it shouldn’t be soupy. When it’s no longer watery, stir in the peas, cilantro, and green chilis. Cover again and cook about four minutes, to heat through. Taste and adjust salt.

(If your guests aren’t accustomed to having whole spices in their food, then fish out the cinnamon sticks, black cardamom pods, and bay leaves before serving.) Serve and enjoy!


Suggested accompaniments are raita and naan.

Raita is a lot like a Greek tzatziki sauce. It complements hot, spicy food with its cool creaminess. You can make some very quickly: plain yogurt plus grated cucumber, pressed garlic or sliced green onion, cumin, and a pinch of salt. Good raita recipes abound. . . . Or you could just use plain Greek yogurt.

Naan is a lot like pita bread, a warm, soft, rather puffy flatbread. (It’s not like that dried-out “pocket” stuff some groceries carry.) Alternatively, you can approximate another traditional flatbread, chapati, by using whole wheat tortillas (heated up, of course).

I like cilantro or mint chutney as a relish, too. And I don’t think anyone would throw a fit if you served this with white rice, either.


Cooking with fresh ginger: make it easy on yourself; prepare a bunch of it and freeze it ahead in zip bags. Click here for more tips on "convenient Grated Ginger" (Plus a recipe for cantaloupe-ginger sorbet!)