This is definitely not a Valentine’s Day dish. It’s not special and it’s completely and utterly pedestrian, at least in Pakistani households. Regardless, I wanted to share it with you today because it’s the first dish I ever cooked for my husband. Way back when, five years ago, in April, I met my husband through my sister. She met him and put him in touch with me, he was in grad school in Toronto and I was in grad school in Montreal and in my sister’s mind that was enough reason for us to get along. We started talking and then one day on a whim he decided to visit me in Montreal. As you can imagine, I was nervous. In our conversations I told him I enjoyed cooking, though at the time I didn’t do much being a busy grad student. So when he arrived and when we got over the initial awkwardness we both went grocery shopping together.
It’s not exactly the first date most of us imagine, but that is what happened with us. The premise of the grocery shopping was that I would cook lunch for us. I had no clue what to make, we were wandering through the aisles and I said that I would make keema (ground beef). It was a dish I was comfortable making and my now husband was pretty laid back about the whole thing. He told me he liked it with green bell peppers, in my mind I thought, “ew,” but I put some green bell peppers into our cart and also picked up some spinach to make aloo palak, a dish I had never made before. Back then, I was polite and didn’t say anything about the bell peppers, if it was today, it would be an entirely different story.
We got back to my apartment and I started cooking in my tiny kitchen with very little proper kitchen equipment. We began talking and pretty soon we were more comfortable and it felt as though we knew each other for ages. I made the keema, aloo palak (it turned out good), basmati rice, salad, and chutney. My husband stuck with me after that meal and it’s safe to say he was a fan of my cooking. After eating lunch we explored Montreal, which in of itself is a very romantic city, and then later had some late night bites at a restaurant, a “proper” date, if you will.
My husband’s favorite Pakistani dish besides channay is keema. I don’t know if he liked it before or if his love for it blossomed after I made it that first time. He now requests it on a weekly basis. He was just away for three weeks on medical residency interviews and whenever he would get a few days in the middle to come home, he would ask me to make aloo keema. Luckily for me it’s an easy dish and I also enjoy it.
I know this isn’t a gorgeous Valentine’s dessert of gooey chocolate, but it is one of “our” dishes. Since my husband and I consider food a big part of what we have in common, it doesn’t matter if it’s simple Pakistani home cooking or some form of haute cuisine, we always enjoy it in each other’s company. Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone!
serves 3 as a main, 4 if served with a side dish
Canola oil, or any neutral vegetable oil
1 pound ground beef (chicken, lamb, goat) It’s also up to you if you want to use lean or not. I like to wash and drain it in a colander.
1 red onion, thinly sliced into half moons
2 heaping tablespoons ginger-garlic paste (2 inch piece of ginger and 5-6 cloves of garlic blended together with a little water)
1 potato, peeled and cut into large chunks (you can also use peas, peppers, cauliflower, or any vegetable you choose, just adjust cooking times)
2 tomatoes, puréed (canned are alright, if they are out of season)
1 teaspoon roasted cumin powder
1 teaspoon coriander powder
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon red chili powder/cayenne pepper, or to taste
1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
3-4 whole black peppercorns
2-3 green chilies, julienned, seeds removed if you like
nice handful of cilantro, chopped
3 scallions, chopped, optional
garam masala, optional
limes, for garnish, optional
Heat a large saucepan on medium heat and add in some oil, to your taste. Let the oil heat up and add the onions and fry them for a few minutes until they start to almost turn light golden brown.
Add in the meat and ginger-garlic paste and keep stirring it until the ground beef is all broken up and in very small pieces. Once the meat is slightly browned add in all the spices except the garam masala and keep mixing until everything is combined and the rawness is cooked out the spices.
Next, add in the tomato purée and mix it into the meat. I also add in half a cup of water at this point. Lower the heat to medium low and cover the pan and allow it to cook for 15 minutes or so.
After fifteen minutes, check the meat and mix it. Cover and let it cook for fifteen more minutes. After fifteen minutes, add in the potatoes and mix everything together a few times. You should no longer see individual pieces of onion (it should have melted into the “masala,” and the oil should start to separate from the meat. If necessary, add a little water (1/4 cup) to help the potatoes cook.
Once the potatoes are cooked, add in the green chilies, cilantro, scallions, and a sprinkling of garam masala and cook for another few minutes. Serve with rice, chapati/roti, or naan and green chutney, limes, spicy pickles (achaar), and salad.
*Leftovers taste even better!