Tomato Kheema

Kheema, the Indian version of “chili”, is one of the most common non-vegetarian dishes cooked in India. It can be eaten with rice, bread (chapati) and as a treat, puri (deep fried bread).

There is also variation of kheema without the tomato – it more of a dry dish and uses similar ingredients. Depending on your menu or preference either one can be made, see note below.

I prefer to use lean ground beef, but in India, goat meat is used in all meat preparations. It is leaner than chicken but is a good choice for kheema because it can be a little on the tough side depending on the cut of meat.

You can also use Veggie Crumbles as a substitute for meat.




1 pound lean ground beef (93%)

1-2 tablespoon oil

1 small onion, finely chopped

1 teaspoon cumin seeds

3 cloves, 2″ cinnamon stick, 2 cardamom (1/8 tsp of each in powdered form)

1 teaspoon garlic paste

1 teaspoon ginger paste

1 teaspoon cayenne or to taste

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder

3 tablespoon tomato paste

1/4 cup yogurt

1 teaspoon coriander powder

1/2 teaspoon garam masala

3/4 cup frozen peas

2 tablespoon chopped cilantro

lemon to taste


Heat oil in a medium saucepan, add onions and stir fry till the onions are medium brown about 3-4 minutes.

Add the cumin seeds, cloves, cinnamon and cardamon. Stir for 30 seconds. Add the ginger, garlic,cayenne, salt, turmeric to the pan and stir till the spices are blended.

Add 2 tablespoon water to the pan, and when the water evaporates, add the tomato paste with about 1/2 cup more water. Stir until the sauce is smooth and bring to a simmer.

When you see the oil rise to the top, add the yogurt and continue to cook for another minute. Add the ground beef and stir constantly making sure that there are no big clumps. Cover and continue to cook for 10 minutes on low heat stirring occasionally.

Uncover the pan, add the coriander powder, garam masala and the frozen peas. Simmer for another 5 minutes. Add the cilantro and a squeeze of lime.


Variation: Sookha (dry) Kheema

Follow the above directions omitting the tomato paste and water.

When cooking the ground beef, sauté on low heat (uncovered) until the meat is dark brown in color (you may need to cook for an additional 5 minutes). Stir in the coriander powder, garam masala and peas. Add cilantro and lime, if desired.



Introduction to Indian Spices

IMG_1360Traditional Masala Box (Indian Spice Box)

Turmeric, Black Mustard seeds, Coriander powder, Cumin seeds, Cumin powder, Chili powder (cayenne pepper), Garam masala (in the center)

Indian recipes use a variety of spices – whole, chopped, ground, roasted, sautéed, fried and as topping. Below are the most common spices used in most recipes. All of these spices can be found at your local Indian grocery stores, and many can be found at Whole Foods (check the bulk section for lower prices) or other natural food markets.

The NY Times also has a great short video on how to toast and grind your own spices using a spice (coffee) grinder or mortar/pestle.


IMG_1364Turmeric is a root of a plant from the ginger family. It is dried and ground to fine powder and is bright yellow in color. It should be used in very small amounts in cooking as it has a slight bitter taste.  It is also called curcumin, and it is known to have health benefits for arthritis and anti inflammatory conditions.

Black Mustard Seeds

IMG_1362Black mustard seeds are the small seeds of mustard plants, and available at Indian grocery stores.  These seeds release a pungent flavor when added to hot oil and they “pop”.


Coriander SeedsCoriander also known as cilantro, is an annual herb. The dried seed of the coriander plant (above) is used whole, crushed (below) or ground finely.

Corinader Powder Coriander or cilantro leaves can be used as a garnish or added to various dishes in recipes.

Coriander leaves (Cilanthro)


IMG_1363Cumin is used as the seed or as a powder, and occasionally roasted as well.

Cummin Powder

Chili Powder/Dry Red Chilies

IMG_1365Chili powder is ground from dry cayenne peppers – it is different from Mexican “chili powder’. The intensity of heat can vary depending on the brand, so start with a minimum amount and adjust according to taste.

IMG_1387Cayenne peppers are dried in the sun and are used to flavor recipes with a touch of heat by frying them.


IMG_1381These are pods containing tiny seeds, from a plant of the ginger family.  It can be used whole or the seeds can be removed and powdered. It is used to flavor desserts and other dishes.

Garam Masala

IMG_1366Garam Masala is a blend of various Indian spices and typically consists of: Coriander, Cloves, Cinnamon, Cumin, and Cardamom. It is generally used in meat or chicken recipes.



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