Indian Ground Meat Curry
I am obsessed with keema curry. Why? Because you can do so many things with it. Perfect for meat lovers or vegetarians: using ground meat, poultry, mushrooms, or tofu. Indian bolognese, sloppy joes, chili, tacos, or pizza, are just a few ways to use this intensely flavorful dish. Keema makes a good weeknight meal with some rice and naan, and you don't need any time for marination. If you are looking for a good vegetarian recipe see Meera Sodha's vegetarian keema in The Guardian.
While the word keema simply means ground or minced meat, when you see a traditional keema recipe, it refers to a curry with ground meat. Of North Indian Mughal origin, today keema is popular throughout India, with each region putting its stamp. The variations of deliciousness are endless, as are the spices and flavorings combinations.
Enjoy this quick, weeknight, "gotta get dinner on the table quick" recipe from the Sri Rao's cookbook Bollywood Kitchen. Pairing Bollywood musicals with his mother's home-cooked meals is a fun way Mr. Rao presents his favorite dishes. I hope you will try this full-flavored keema curry and play with your favorite flavoring and ways to use it.
Why is keema so popular?
- Layered with vibrant Indian flavors
- Versatile and can solve your dinner dilemma
- It freezes well for a rainy day
- It is inexpensive
- Easily made vegetarian or vegan using firm tofu or mushrooms
- A perfect way to add excitement to a weekday meal
Your protein: Ground lamb, beef, turkey, chicken, mushrooms, or tofu all make a great keema. I have found that it is even better when I have a mix of meats. I made my last keema with what I had on hand: one pound of ground turkey, some mild Italian sausage, and pork, and it was especially flavorful.
Spices: Besides the Indian pantry basic like Kashmiri chili powder, this recipe uses spices that you probably already have in your cupboard. Ground cinnamon, cloves, and coriander all come together to make this beautifully spiced curry.
Aromatics: Minced, browned onions provide a sweet flavor base, and the ever-popular duos of ginger and garlic add their unique flavors.
Tomato: You will only need 1/2 a cup of some sort of tomato. I like to use tomato purée because it is convenient and perfect when tomatoes are not in season. Certainly use fresh tomatoes if you have them, and there is no need to peel or deseed them.
Final flourishes: A couple of teaspoons of the juice of lemon or lime brightens up the whole affair. Some chopped cilantro adds freshness and color and using mint instead would be perfect if you are using ground lamb.
How to Make Keema
In a pan over medium heat, add 1 1/2 teaspoons oil, and when hot, add the ground meat/poultry or extra-firm tofu crumbles. Sprinkle with the turmeric and mash the meat into crumbles. Stir occasionally for about 7 to 9 minutes or until thoroughly browned. Remove it with a slotted spoon.
Using the same pan, heat another 1 1/2 teaspoons of oil over medium heat and add the onion, salt, and curry leaves, if using. Cook until the onions are golden, about 8 minutes.
Add the ginger garlic paste and stir for 1 to 2 minutes until it no longer smells raw. Stir in the chili powder, cloves, cinnamon, and coriander. Cook the spices for another minute, then add the tomato sauce or minced tomatoes. Simmer for 6 minutes or until the mixture has darkened and the oil separates along the edges.
Return meat and add peas (if using), to the pan, stirring well. Cook for another 8 more minutes.
Garnish keema curry as you wish with cilantro, mint and fried curry leaves.
FAQ: Keema questions
No, but I recommend a good quality protein since there aren't many other ingredients to hide behind. More flavorful meat stands up well to the spices.
I suggest you make my recipe once and then tinker with your favorite flavors. Instead of tomato, use coconut milk or yogurt. Especially with lamb, consider swapping the tomato with orange juice.
Adding vegetables to keema is very common. Peas (keema matar) and potatoes (keema aloo) are favorites, but mushrooms, carrots, and cauliflower (keema gobi) also work well. The advantage of adding vegetables is the added texture and nutrition, making the dish more economical.
Mix in a minced green chili with your ginger and garlic, leaving the seeds in if you want even more heat. Kashmiri ground chili isn't a very hot chili powder, so you could add more or use a hotter red chili.
Be sure to keep your spices in balance, but star anise, green/black cardamom, black peppercorns, fennel, and cumin are all fair game. Keep in mind what flavors pair well with the protein you are using.
14 Ways to use Keema
Keema curry is endlessly customizable and impossible to mess up. It works so well as a filling, stuffing, and topping because this keema is intensely flavored. Here are some ideas:
- Stuffed flatbreads: keema roti, or see Whisk Affair's keema naan
- Shepherd's pie (beef); cottage pie (lamb)
- Samosa filling
- Pizza topping
- Breakfast: on toast topped with a fried egg and a crumble of paneer, or feta
- Toasted cheese sandwiches with keema and mint and cilantro chutney
- Dosa filling
- With pasta like Indian spaghetti bolognese
- Indian turkey sloppy Joes
- A topping for a bed of hummus and a dollop of yogurt
- Make keema buns—take a peek at Shashi at Savory Spin's keema bun recipe
- Taco salad
A simple and satisfying way to serve keema curry is with a side of rice and flatbread. Chopped onion, some fresh herbs, wedges of lime, and fresh chilies are also welcome garnishes.
Like most highly spiced dishes, keema keeps well in the refrigerator for several days. It is even better on Day Two, making it a great make-ahead dish. It also freezes well. I like to take meal-sized portions and pop it into ziplock bags so that I can defrost it for that rainy day when I am out of "what is for dinner" juice.
Here are my favorite ways to use keema
Recipe Card 📖
Weeknight Beef Keema Curry
- 1 tablespoon oil
- 2 pounds ground meat ~ See first Note below
- 1 teaspoon turmeric
- 2 cups onions ~ Finely chopped
- 2 teaspoons table or sea salt ~ Substitutions
- 1/4 cup ginger garlic paste ~ 50/50 ginger & garlic puree; homemade or buy
- 1/2 teaspoon Kashmiri ground red chili ~ Or 1/4 teaspoon cayenne, to your taste; substitutions
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 2 teaspoons ground coriander
- 10 curry leaves ~ Optional; coarsely chopped. More for garnishing.
- 1/2 cup tomato puree ~ Or a chopped medium tomato
- 1/4 cup cilantro ~ Chopped. Mint if using lamb.
- 2 teaspoons lemon juice ~ Or lime; more to taste
- 1 cup peas ~ Optional, fresh or frozen. See Notes below.
- 2 tablespoons cilantro, mint, or fried curry leaves ~ Chopped
- Gather your ingredients.
- In a pan over medium heat, add 1 1/2 teaspoons oil, and when hot, add the ground meat/poultry, or extra-firm tofu crumbles. Sprinkle with the turmeric and mash the meat into crumbles. Stir occasionally for about 7 to 9 minutes, or until completely browned. Remove the protein with a slotted spoon and discard any remaining fat. If using tofu, this step is not necessary.
- Using the same pan, heat another 1 1/2 teaspoons of oil over medium heat and add the onion, salt, and curry leaves, if using. Cook until the onions are golden, about 8 minutes. Reduce heat if necessary to keep the onions from sticking, and/or add a tablespoon of water.
- Add the ginger garlic paste and stir for 1 to 2 minutes until it no longer smells raw. Stir in the chili powder, cloves, cinnamon, and coriander. Cook the spices for another minute, then add the tomato sauce or minced tomatoes. Simmer for 6 minutes if using a puree or sauce. If using fresh tomatoes, add another 5 minutes or until the tomatoes are completely cooked down. Cook the mixture until it has darkened and the oil separates along the edges.
- Return meat and add peas (or other vegetables half-cooked), to the pan, stirring well, and cook for another 7 to 10 more minutes, making sure the vegetables you use are completely cooked. Stirring several times, continuing to break down the meat. You are typically looking for a dry curry; simmer for a few more minutes if necessary. Or leave some liquid, depending on your preference and how you are using the keema.
- Garnish keema curry as you wish with cilantro, mint and/or fried curry leaves. Use for sandwiches (aka sloppy joes), saucy over rice, with flatbread, or as a topping for Indian pizza.
- Feel free to use any ground meat you prefer or go vegetarian using crumbled firm tofu or mushrooms.
- To streamline this recipe you can use a store-bought ginger garlic paste and canned tomato puree. Feel free to use fresh tomatoes and make your own ginger garlic paste.
- Other vegetables: Besides peas, you could add half-cooked cubes of potatoes, carrots, or cauliflower florets.
- If you find this keema curry to be too intensely flavored, Mr. Rao recommends adding a tablespoon of ground, unsweetened coconut to the dish. Or I like to add some yogurt or coconut milk.
- Keema curry can be eaten the same day, but like many Indian dishes, it is even better the next day.