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Chicken keema is Pakistani comfort food at its best. Both healthy and delicious, it's perfect for an everyday weeknight dish or as part of a larger spread for sharing with friends.
Keema (قیمہ ) maybe my favorite Pakistani dish, and so I was thrilled when my friend, Kulsoom, offered to make it as one of the first recipes for the blog.
Although you will rarely find it on a restaurant menu, keema a household staple that sits deep into your desi subconscious. I always break it out when I have had a tough week, and need reinforcements.
It comes in many forms. Spell it with a Q or a K. Make it with minced chicken, goat, beef or even turkey. Have it with rice, roti or sandwich it in between white bread. Throw in peas, potatoes or green bell peppers. Fold it in soup (such as here) or layer it in khichri (such as here), keema is your weeknight workhorse.
I used my friend, Kulsoom's original recipe as a template, and built it out to give the keema a more granular texture, and sharper flavor.
- Neutral oil: I normally use canola oil but sunflower or vegetable oil works well too.
- Small red or yellow onions: I find both varieties work well. In Philippines, small red onions are more widely available so I used them in the recipe. If you are in the US where the produce is bigger, go for 1 medium-sized onion.
- Crushed garlic: You can buy this at the store or just crush it yourself using a food processor or mortar and pestle.
- Crushed ginger: You can again, buy this at the store or make it at home. Peel roughly 1-inch piece of fresh ginger, and mince it in a food processor.
- 1 bird’s eye chili: If you want to add some extra heat to your keema, throw in a fresh chili. We typically use a fresh green bird's eye chili in Pakistani dishes but feel free to substitute it with a locally available variety - just remember to adjust for your preferred level of heat.
- Cloves: Use whole cloves to infuse the keema with a lovely aroma. Don't substitute them with clove powder.
- 1 black cardamom pod: It helps temper the smell of meat, and imparts the dish with a smoky flavor. If you don't have black cardamom, don't swap it out for green cardamom (they are very different). Just leave it out if you can't find it in your pantry.
- Turmeric powder
- Red chili powder: I always like to use Kashmiri red chili powder because of its beautiful color. If you don't have the Kashmiri variety on hand, you can use cayenne red pepper - just remember to lower the amount to adjust for heat (cayenne is hotter than Kashmiri red chili powder).
- Coriander powder
- Cumin powder
- Ground chicken: You can substitute ground chicken with any ground meat of your choice. If you are however, going to use red meat like beef or lamb, I would recommend cooking it for longer (up to 30 - 40 minutes).
- Salt: I normally use 1 teaspoon of table salt for roughly 1 pound of ground meat - adjust to taste!
- Roma tomatoes: We traditionally use roma tomatoes in Pakistani dishes since they are on the tart side, and release less water. If you are using bigger tomatoes, just make sure their weight is roughly the same as the onion.
- Garam masala powder: I love how the garam masala powder gives the keema a tangy finish.
- Cilantro: It's always nice to garnish the dish with finely diced cilantro to give the keema some freshness, and color.
How to Make It
Brown onions: Heat oil in a medium-sized heavy bottom pot. Add chopped onion, and brown on medium-low heat until evenly brown.
Sauté ginger, garlic, and chili: Lower heat, and add crushed ginger and garlic. Sauté for 30 seconds to 1 minute until fragrant. Add chopped bird’s eye chili, and sauté for another 30 seconds.
Fry spices: Add whole and ground spices, and fry on low heat for roughly 1 minute until fragrant. Add a splash of water to deglaze the pan if necessary.
Cook the ground chicken: Increase heat to high, and add ground chicken and salt. Crumble with spatula, and fry until no longer pink. Add 1 cup water, and bring to boil. Cover pot with tightfitting lid, and simmer on low heat for roughly 10 minutes.
Fold in tomatoes, and fry on high heat: Remove lid, increase heat to high, and add chopped tomatoes. Fry the tomatoes, stirring frequently until the oil begins to separate. This process is called "bhuna."
Garnish with cilantro, and serve: Remove from heat, and place in serving bowl. Dust with garam masala powder, and garnish with cilantro if using.
The process of "bhuna" is critical. Shanaz Ramzi, author of the Pakistani cookbook, "Food Prints", defines the technique as frying ingredients in an uncovered utensil on high heat while stirring constantly. A key feature of Pakistani and north Indian cooking, "bhuna" deepens the flavor of the food by melding the spices, deepening their color and flavor. Stirring the meat constantly on high heat also tenderizes it, infusing the keema with a much richer texture.
What to Serve It With
Paratha: Keema and paratha is my happy place!
Nimbu soda: This summer cooler is the perfect complement to the keema's rich flavor.
Chicken Keema Recipe
- 1 Heavy bottom pot
- 2 tablespoon neutral oil canola, sunflower or vegetable
- 2 small red or yellow onions thinly sliced in half rings
- 1 teaspoon crushed garlic
- 1 teaspoon crushed ginger
- 1 bird’s eye chili finely chopped
- 2 cloves
- 1 black cardamom pod
- ¼ teaspoon turmeric powder
- 1 teaspoon red chili powder preferably Kashmiri red chili powder. Less if using cayenne red pepper.
- 1 teaspoon coriander powder
- ½ teaspoon cumin powder
- 1 pound (~450 grams) ground chicken
- 1 teaspoon salt or to taste
- 4 roma tomatoes roughly chopped
- ¼ teaspoon garam masala powder (optional)
- 1 tablespoon cilantro finely diced (optional)
- Heat oil in a medium-sized heavy bottom pot. Add chopped onion, and brown on medium-low heat until evenly brown, about 7-10 minutes.
- Lower heat, and add crushed ginger and garlic. Sauté for 30 seconds to 1 minute until fragrant.
- Add chopped bird’s eye chili, and sauté for another 30 seconds.
- Add whole and ground spices, and fry on low heat for roughly 1 minute until fragrant. Add a splash of water to deglaze the pan if necessary.
- Increase heat to high, and add ground chicken and salt. Crumble with spatula, and fry until no longer pink.
- Add 1 cup water, and bring to boil. Cover pot with tight fitting lid, and simmer on low heat for roughly 10 minutes.
- Remove lid, increase heat to high, and add chopped tomatoes. Fry the tomatoes, stirring frequently until the oil begins to separate.
- Remove from heat, and place in serving bowl. Dust with garam masala powder, and garnish with cilantro if using.