Not Your Mother’s Sloppy Joes
These may not be your mother’s sloppy Joes, but they remind me of happy childhood lunches, all the same. Bell peppers (capsicum), some ginger and garlic, and a teaspoon of mixed spices for more savoriness make Indian turkey sloppy Joes something you will want to serve even for dinner. Essentially a saucy Indian keema, it can be kept as mild and kid-friendly as you wish, or use more Serrano chili pepper for additional zing.
I lead by using ground turkey in this recipe and have kept the oil to a minimum, and despite these tweaks, you will have an unexpectedly soul-satisfying sloppy Joe. Besides turkey, feel free to use any lean ground meat you prefer or have on hand. Firm tofu crumbles will also be transformed into a bright, warming sandwich.
Keema pav is a popular street food in India. Pav means bread and keema is any minced meat, though beef or lamb is usually used. One easy improvement is to toast your buns in some oil, butter, or ghee in a large frying pan. Or place them inside up on a sheet tray, brush with oil or softened butter, and then pop under the broiler for a couple of minutes. Something my mother never did, but this elevates the sandwich to a whole new level. Serve Indian sloppy Joes the day you make it, and it is even better the next day.
The inspiration for this dish is from the lovely Aarti Sequeira’s Sloppy Bombay Joes recipe which was posted on the Food Network’s website. If you would like some other ground meat ideas, take a look at my Indian-ish tacos, kebabs, keema, and a juicy turkey burger.
See the Notes below before you cook.
Indian Turkey Sloppy Joes
- 2 teaspoons oil
- 1 tablespoon fresh ginger ~ Puréed, or finely minced
- 2 teaspoons garlic ~ About 2 cloves, puréed, or finely minced
- 1/2 Serrano chili ~ Save other half for the meat, or a small Indian chili, finely minced,
- 1 teaspoon garam masala ~ See Notes below for suggestions
- 1 teaspoon Kashmiri ground red chili ~ Or paprika
- 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper ~ More or less to taste
- 1 cup tomato purée ~ Or tomato sauce
- 1 cup water
- 2 teaspoons oil
- 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
- 1/2 cup onions ~ Chopped
- 1/2 to 1 bell pepper (capsicum) ~ I prefer red or yellow
- 1/2 Serrano chili ~ Finely minced, less or more to taste
- 1 pound ground turkey ~ Or other low-fat ground meat or tofu
- 1 1/4 teaspoon sea or table salt ~ Divided, and about other salts
- 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce ~ Optional, or 1 tsp Dijon mustard, or 1/2 tsp vinegar, or 1 tsp lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon sugar ~ Or honey
- 1/4 cup half and half ~ Half cream or single cream, see Notes below
Optional Ingredients for Serving
- chopped cilantro, curry leaves, or parsley
- red onion, chopped
- wedges of lime
- 6 hamburger buns
- Gather the sauce ingredients and place a glass with a couple of tablespoons of water by the stove.
- In a saucepan over medium heat, add the oil. When the oil is hot, add the ginger, garlic, and chili. Sauté for a minute or two until they no longer smell raw.
- Add the garam masala, Kashmiri chili powder or paprika, and black pepper. Cook for 30 to 60 seconds to bloom the spices. If they begin to stick, add a tablespoon or two of water.
- Stir in the tomato sauce and water. Over medium-high heat, bring the sauce to a boil, then turn down to medium-low. Simmer uncovered for 15 minutes so the mixture thickens.
Cook the Meat
- Gather the ingredients for the ground meat or tofu.
- While the sauce is cooking, in a large skillet over medium heat, add the oil. When the oil is hot, add the cumin seeds and allow them to sizzle for a minute or two until they are fragrant and a shade darker. Stir in the onions, bell pepper, and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Cook for 6 to 8 minutes, until the onions, begin to brown along the edges. Add the Serrano chili and cook for a minute.
- Add the turkey, and the remaining 1 teaspoon of salt. Stir to break the meat into crumbles and brown evenly. It will take about 5 minutes to sauté the meat until it is cooked through.
- Pour the tomato sauce and Worcestershire sauce (if using) into the ground meat mixture and stir together. Turn the heat to medium-high and bring to a boil. Immediately turn down the heat to medium-low and simmer for about 10 minutes, so the flavors meld together and the sauce thickens.
- Add the sugar, and taste the sloppy Joes for enough salt, pepper, and possibly a bit of acid from lemon juice or vinegar. You are looking for a balance of flavors. Heavily spiced food tends to need more salt; don't oversalt, but don't under salt or the flavor will be flat.
- Garnish with any or all of the suggestions above and enjoy! The turkey sloppy Joes will be good on the day it is made, but it will be even better the next day
- Garam masala can be either the usual North Indian garam masala or Kerala garam masala or your favorite curry powder. You can also do a quick substitute with this combination: 1/2 tsp coriander, 1/4 teaspoon cumin, 1/4 ground cardamom, 1/8 tsp cinnamon, and a big pinch of cloves.
- I have kept the amount of oil in the recipe to a minimum. To keep the spices or meat from sticking to the bottom of the pan, keep a glass of water by the stove, and add a tablespoon as needed.
- If you want flavor from green chili but not too much heat, make two 1-inch slits down either side of the chili and add in as suggested. The slits keep the chili from bursting open while cooking and scattering the seeds. Remove before serving.
- If you don't have half and half, use half heavy cream and half milk.
- If you want a vegetarian dish, use tofu and replace the half and half with coconut milk.