I didn’t make kima for years. To be truthful, I didn’t make it at all. Ever. The thinking went . . . who needs to make some Indian variation of ground meat hash when there’s so much other stuff to cook? I ignored the kima completely but little did I realize that others were making kima, making it well, and creating converts right underneath my nose. Which is how I came to be blindsided by the question, “How come you never make kima? It’s really delicious!” Everyone in the room agreed that kima was delicious. My sister said thank you and smiled the modest smile of turncoat masquerading as chef par excellence. And then everyone in the room said, “You never make kima? Really?”
Thus began my slow perhaps reluctant transformation. Because it happens to be a favorite of many, I have warmed up to it. Kima can be delicious but it is also one of those dishes that swings wide along the spectrum from very bad to very good, from packing foam dry to wet newspaper mushy. Making a good kima is pretty easy: the key is to start with a high quality ground meat.
Ground lamb is traditional, but ground chicken, turkey, and beef are all excellent for kima, especially if the lamb is too fatty or not very fresh. A good rule of thumb: kima should be savory and spicy, and however minimal or brothy the sauce, its richness is designed to elevate the humble ground meat. This is how kima becomes comforting and elegant all at once. It needs little else except rice or roti, and whether we make it studded with dried chilies or with green peas, every bite fills us with warmth and reminds us that hospitality need not be complicated, and that simple foods are sometimes more endearing.
I seldom make kima the same way twice because I don’t follow a particular recipe. The version below was made with potatoes and peas, because I was in a “the kima needs veggies” kind of mood.
Kima with Peas and Potatoes
Several tablespoons unflavored oil
½ teaspoon cumin seeds
2-4 green cardamom pods, lightly smashed
1-2 tej leaves, optional
1-4 green/red chilies, optional
2-4 cloves garlic, minced
1 inch ginger, finely grated
1 cup finely diced onion
1.5 pounds of ground chicken (or lamb or beef )
1 large (Yukon Gold) potato, cut into ½-inch dice
Generous ½ cup peas
1/2 teaspoon each of ground cumin, coriander and turmeric
¼ teaspoon each of ground cinnamon and clove, or ½ teaspoon of garam masala
¼ cup diced tomato or 1 tbsp tomato paste
¼-1/2 cup liquid: either broth or water
Handful of fresh, chopped cilantro
Salt to taste
Sugar to balance
Warm the oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pan and add the tej leaves, chilies, cardamom and cumin seeds. Heat the oil until the spices become fragrant. Saute onion, garlic and ginger until onions are translucent.
Add the ground meat, season and brown. After browning, add the remaining ground spices (cumin, coriander, turmeric, garam masala) and tomato.
In a separate pan, fry the potatoes with oil and salt. Alternately, the potatoes may be added to the meat mixture at this stage but the texture will be slightly different.
Add liquid if needed, adjust seasoning, turn heat to low and simmer for about 20 minutes. Just when the dish is close to done, add the peas and cook to tenderness. Remove from heat, add fresh cilantro and serve with rice or roti.