Keema Matar (Lamb Mince with Peas)
It was a long time ago, but if I close my eyes, screw up my face and concentrate, I can still almost taste it. I was about 9 years old and lived with my parents and brother in rented accommodation in Ghaziabad, a city around 30 kilometers outside of the Indian capital, New Delhi. It was a two-storeyed house – we rented the first floor and the ground floor was occupied by a single dad, his little daughter and their Nepali housekeeper, Narayan Das. To get to the staircase to go up to our house, we had to walk up the driveway from the front gate and pass the window of their kitchen. Coming home ravenous from school after a 20-minutes’ walk, I would smell Das’ cooking and my salivary glands would jump into hyperactivity. Das was an excellent cook and would often share samples of his day’s work in the kitchen with us. We loved all of them but the one I remember to this day is his Lamb* Mince with Peas. (* It is actually likely to have been mutton, which is more widely eaten than lamb in India, but I have stuck to the word lamb to avoid confusion). I wasn’t a huge fan of lamb back then and yet, I wasn’t short of any enthusiasm for this dish. It was not only delicious but also smelled amazing. I wish I could say that it is the recipe I am sharing with you here, but no, sadly not. Mum never did ask for it, so like an elusive scent, that recipe has faded into the mists of time.
Over the years, as I got older and life took me farther and farther away from that city and my country, the best I could do was hold the memory of the dish close to my heart and try to translate it into a tangible form. The secret, I realised, seems to lie in the mix of spices which is the hardest thing to do for someone reverse-engineering any recipe, let alone one from decades ago. This then, is the version that is almost there but not quite. If my memory is as faithful as I think it is. However, the Kitchen King masala feels like the closest I can get to Das’ special mix, but obviously use garam masala or meat masala if you don’t have it.
All these years later, I am still not a big fan of lamb and neither are the other two in my family of four. So why cook it then? Because of the fourth member, my daughter, who seems to live permanently in the ‘I heart lamb’ camp. Years ago, when we were on holiday in Florida, I suddenly developed a strong, most unusual craving for lamb, meatballs and sausages. And soon after, I discovered I was pregnant with my daughter. Was her love for lamb the cause or the result of my pregnancy cravings? Or completely unrelated? If you can tell me, I’d be grateful. And also if you happen to be Narayan Das who looked after a little girl called Manasi in Nehru Nagar, Ghaziabad, please get in touch – I need your recipe for Keema Matar so I can die happy.
You may have heard that culinarily speaking, fatty lamb mince is better than its lean counterpart. This is true, but only in the case of burgers and meatballs where the fat lends juiciness to the finished product. In the UK, supermarket mince comes in two levels of fat : 10% and 20%. For this dish, I would recommend lean mince (10% or lower) because a greasy Keema Matar is not palatable. However, if you have what you have, please don’t worry about the extra fat. We can render it off after cooking.
Also, I add the sugar for a couple of reasons : 1) to stay as close to Das’ slightly sweet & sour dish as possible 2) it helps caramelise the onions, which lends additional flavour, but you can omit it if you so wish or add extra lemon at the end to compensate.
Keema Matar (Lamb Mince with Peas)
- 500 g minced lamb
- 2 ½ tbsp oil you need this much to fry the onions, but we'll be getting rid of excess oil towards the end.
- 2 very large onions, finely chopped about 250g peeled weight, 5 cups of chopped volume
- 1 tsp sugar optional
- 2 fat cloves garlic grated
- 1 tsp finely grated ginger
- 0 - 4 green chillies sliced
- 1 medium ripe tomato, chopped finely About 100 g
- 1/2 tsp turmeric powder
- 1/2 - 1 tsp Kashmiri chilli powder Or use extra - hot if you so prefer
- 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh coriander stems included
- 2 tsp Kitchen King Masala or use 1 tsp garam masala or meat masala if you don't have it
- 1 cup peas 150g, defrosted if frozen
- lemon juice to taste
- In a medium frying pan, heat the oil over a high heat and add the onions. Fry for about 5 minutes, stirring frequently, until the onions start to change colour.
- Lower heat to medium, then add the sugar, if using, and fry gently for 2-3 minutes until the onion is golden brown. Add the garlic, ginger and green chillies, if using. Fry for a minute or two more until the garlic no longer smells raw.
- Now add the tomato, turmeric, chilli powder, half of the chopped coriander and ½ tsp salt. Mix well & fry, stirring frequently until the tomatoes disintegrate completely. Add the Kitchen King masala or garam masala.
- Add the peas and fry for about 6 - 8 minutes, then add the mince and another ½ tsp salt. Fry, stirring and breaking up the mince as you go for about 6 - 10 minutes until done and you can see the oil oozing. In the meantime, set a metal mesh sieve (large enough to hold the mince) over a suitably -sized bowl.
- Turn off the heat, then transfer the mince to the sieve, pressing down to remove the excess fat. Transfer back to the frying pan, then blot with kitchen towels to remove any lingering fat. Taste for seasoning, then add salt and lemon juice to taste, mix well. Transfer to a serving dish and garnish with the remaining chopped coriander leaves.