November 29, 2011


I love Indian food. My husband loves it. My son loves it. But I hardly ever cook it. 

Why? Because if I make a dish and it doesn't taste exactly the way it does when my mom or mother-in-law make it, then I'm disappointed.

My husband finds this frustrating. He'd rather eat perfectly good (but not perfectly authentic!) Indian food than no Indian food.

So I've tried to uncover the secrets. I've stood in the kitchen with both my mom and mother-in-law, measuring out the exact amounts of spices they use, taking copious notes on technique, asking tons and tons of questions to make sure I get every nuance. But does my final dish taste like theirs? No.

So I've decided to take a different approach. I'll take a little bit from my mom's recipe, a little bit from my mother-in-law's recipe, a little bit from a good cookbook, and a little bit from my own experience. That way I won't have a clear expectation of what the final product should taste like.

That's what I did with this kheema recipe. Kheema is a traditional Indian preparation of minced meat. I've tried (and failed) to make it exactly the way my mom and mother-in-law do. So now I go a third way. My way.

And it turns out my husband is right — perfectly good kheema really is better than no kheema at all.

Add red chili powder, ginger paste, turmeric, cumin/coriander powder and salt to the ground turkey.

Mix thoroughly and set aside. (I keep the turkey on the counter while I prep the rest of my ingredients, to take the chill off the meat.)

Keep your whole spices ready -- cloves, cinnamon stick, cardamom and peppercorns.

Heat the oil in a large pot. When it's shimmering, add the whole spices.

Once the oil is fragrant with the spices, add the chopped onions.

Cook the onions until they are deep golden brown. Be patient. This may take 15 or 20 minutes or even longer. Don't rush this step or you will end up with flavorless kheema.

When the onions are ready, add the turkey mixture to the pot.

Cook the meat, breaking it up into small pieces.

Add warm water and let the turkey cook for 30 minutes.

Add peas and cook for a few more minutes.

Now ready your garam masala. Garam masala is a mixture of ground spices. Recipes vary but usually contain some combination of coriander seeds, cloves, cinnamon, cumin seeds, fennel seeds, bay leaves, peppercorns and cardamom. It's intensely flavorful, but not spicy.

Add the garam masala and lime juice to the kheema and stir. Taste the kheema and add more salt and red chili powder if needed.

Serve with naan, flatbread or rice.


1.3 pounds ground turkey (or ground chicken, beef or lamb)
1 1/2 tsp red chili powder (you can start with less and add more later)
2 Tbsp ginger paste
1 tsp turmeric
2 tsp cumin/coriander powder (or use 1 tsp of each)
2 tsp salt
3 Tbsp canola oil
3 cloves
4 small pieces of cinnamon stick
1 brown cardamom pod
5 black peppercorns
2 medium onions, chopped
2 1/4 cups water, heated
1 cup frozen peas, defrosted
1 tsp garam masala
1 Tbsp lime juice

1.      Put the ground turkey in a large bowl. Add the red chili powder, ginger paste, turmeric, cumin/coriander powder, and salt. Mix well with your hands. Set aside.

2.      Heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat. When the oil is shimmering, add the cloves, cinnamon, cardamom and peppercorns. Heat for minute or two until the oil becomes fragrant.

3.      Add the onions to the oil and heat until the onions turn a deep brown. Don't rush this step or your kheema will turn out thin and flavorless.

4.      Add the turkey mixture and heat for about 8 minutes until the meat is cooked. Break up the meat into little bits as it cooks. You don't want large lumps of meat in your kheema

5.      Add the warm water to the pot and gently simmer the meat for 30 minutes.

6.      Add the peas and cook for about 7 more minutes.

7.      Turn off the heat and add the garam masala and lime juice. Taste and add more salt and red chili powder if needed.

Serves 4


  1. looks great! I will definitely try this. - Roshni

  2. Perfect kheema recipe! Not only do I enjoy reading your recipes and trying them, but I also love the story with every recipe. There are many recipes on Internet but they don't come with such good story and detail photos. Looking forward to many more of these.

  3. Looks so delicious and perfectly authentic, even to an Indian eye.

  4. So I have this thing where as Thanksgiving approaches, I get anxiety. I don't like turkey. It's not that I hate it (I'll eat it), but I can't stand turkey leftovers. Without fail, every year, I get leftovers, and I'm stuck eating them by myself, and I loathe it. This year, I put all my turkey in the freezer on Friday; I said no to the leftovers and tucked them away. Today, I pulled out my leftover turkey, and I used it in this dish. It changes the texture and the dynamic, but the flavor's still quite awesome. You know what? I ate turkey, and I loved it. :) Thank you for this. :) I *will* be using this recipe again next year. The flavors from this kheema go very well with the Moroccan flavor over here: I served both of them together over scented rice.

  5. I'm not a fan of turkey leftovers either, so I'm glad they worked for you in this dish! I'll have to try it myself next year.


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