Lamb keema matar the epitome of curry — hot, spicy, and moreish. It’s a hugely popular, mostly home-cooked, family style dish from India and Pakistan that doesn’t often feature in restaurants. As an embodiment of curry, it’s a natural-born winner.
And I like mine hot. As in habanero hot. But our lamb keema matar is every bit as good with the chilies turned right down to a pleasant whisper in the background.
Keema means minced and matar means peas. Our recipe uses minced leg of lamb because it’s so full of flavor. And although simple green peas make the headlines, there’s a lot more — a lot more — going on here.
Why lamb keema matar?
Well, if I was pressed to choose only one type of meat for a curry, there’d just be no question — lamb.
Now, I adore curries. I have eaten a great many of them — both homemade and at eateries — and definitely plan to keep on doing so. And if in the future they only feature lamb, I will gladly have no problem at all with that.
That’s because lamb has an earthy, animal richness that pairs fabulously well with the boldness of chili pepper and the spices that typify a curry. In our keema matar those are cumin, cilantro, ginger, turmeric, cardamom, black pepper, and cinnamon. And they are all showcased in a smooth, rich sauce of tomatoes, onions, and garlic.
And then, far less exotically, there’s the potatoes. I reckon there is no other vegetable that cooks so well in a curry’s sauce. Especially if you use something not too floury like Yukon Golds or Russets. They’ll draw right into themselves the colors and aromatic smokiness of the sauce’s spices and yet still hold their own body and distinctive taste.
At the same time, they will absorb just enough of the flavors that really define the unmistakable taste of lamb — its fat. And, along with the bright, just barely cooked peas, they’ll add more layers of texture and color to your keema matar.
Max the flavors with flatbreads and cucumber raita — kheera raita.
Kheera raita is a delight with all sorts of hot and spicy foods. And it goes together with this curry like yin goes with yang.
It’s a soothing, creamy, half-half mix of finely diced cucumber and plain yoghurt that’s spiced with fresh cilantro, plus a very little cayenne pepper, salt, and ground cumin. No oil, no lemon, no garlic.
Warmed flatbreads like pita or naan — generously brushed with melted butter, for me, please — make fabulously edible scoops to spoon up your keema matar. Simple breads like these are a fine counterweight to our curry’s richness both in terms of their slightly chewy texture and subtle flavor. Rice or some form of lentils as side dishes? No. They’re just not necessary when this keema matar is served with raita and flatbreads.
A word about the habanero
I was prompted to make this dish when a good pal gave me a dozen or so of his homegrown habanero peppers. They were a lovely, innocent-looking pale orange and averaged about two-thirds the size of a golf ball. My mate assured me these were, ‘Sweet habaneros. Really not that hot at all.’ Curious, I bit off barely a quarter of one. Instantly, I was dementedly reacting to waves of seriously alarming heat.
Happily, my chili-growing buddy had chomped down on a whole one. For several joyful minutes, I was thrilled to watch him totally outdo me with his speechless, teary-eyed, hand-waving, walk-in-little-circles routine.
For our lamb keema matar — that amply serves four hot-curry lovers — I used just one of his little beauties.
Lamb Keema Matar
For the cucumber raita – kheera raita
- 1 English cucumber medium-sized, peeled and very finely diced seeds and all. Ideally, that should weigh about 16 ounces when diced.
- 16 ounces whole milk yogurt
- 1/2 ounce fresh cilantro finely chopped, stalks and all
- 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon ground sea salt
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
For the lamb keema matar
- 1 habanero pepper finely chopped, seeds and all. By all means, for less fiery heat, swap the habanero for some milder chilies – perhaps serranos or cayennes.
- 1 pound finely minced lamb I used a boneless leg steak that my butcher kindly minced for me – just perfect. You want to be looking for a fat content of at least 15%, but not much more than 20%.
- 2 yellow onions medium-sized, peeled, and very finely chopped
- 6 cloves garlic peeled and very finely chopped
- 1 tablespoon fresh ginger grated. I keep my ginger in the freezer and it grates really easily from frozen, skin and all.
- 1 can chopped peeled tomatoes 14-ounce can
- 4 medium-sized potatoes peeled and roughly cut into 1 inch chunks. A not too floury variety like Yukon Gold or Russet would be a grand choice.
- 4 ounces frozen green peas
- 2 bay leaves
- 6 green cardamom pods lightly crushed
- 1/2 ounce fresh cilantro roughly chopped, stalks and all
- 2 heaped teaspoons ground cumin
- 1 heaped teaspoon ground cilantro
- 1 heaped teaspoon ground turmeric
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 heaped teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1 heaped teaspoon brown sugar
- 1 heaped teaspoon ground sea salt
- 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
- 1 cup water
- 3 tablespoons coconut oil – the odorless cooking variety
- 2 tablespoons salted butter
Making the raita
- This is really easy. Just thoroughly combine all the ingredients in a suitably sized serving bowl and pop it in the refrigerator. Let people help themselves to the raita when you serve the keema matar.
Making the keema mata
- On a medium heat, melt the coconut oil and butter in a saucepan big enough to hold all the ingredients for your keema matar. As soon as the buttery oil starts to foam, add the chili, onions, garlic, ginger, cardamom pods, fresh cilantro, and bay leaves. Stir well and let the mix slowly fry on a low-medium heat for about five minutes with the occasional stir. You’re aiming here for the onions to completely soften and just begin to pick up a little golden color.
- Once that happens, drop the heat to low and add the ground cilantro, cumin, turmeric, cinnamon, black pepper, and salt. Continue to cook on that low heat with a few stirs for another five minutes. If the mix starts catching on the bottom of the pan, add a few teaspoons of water – just barely enough to stop it catching. Time now to brown the lamb mince.
- Turn the heat to medium-high and thoroughly mix in the minced lamb. Use a spatula to break the mince apart so there are no clumps. Keep on stirring so all the lamb begins to brown a little but doesn’t get a chance to stick to the bottom. About five minutes or so of that slow stir-frying on medium-high heat should do the trick with the lamb.
- Now add the canned tomatoes, sugar, and water. Stir well, let the pan come up to a slow simmer, and then drop the heat to low. Cover the pan with the lid just slightly ajar, and let it simmer away for 30 minutes with a few good stirs.
- Add the potatoes and continue to simmer with the lid ajar for about another 20 minutes – so that the potatoes are just cooked through. When they are, taste for salt. The potatoes will absorb quite a bit of the saltiness, so you may well need to add more to your taste. Good. Almost finished.
- Stir in the frozen peas together with the lemon juice, and cook on low for a final five minutes. Done – ready to serve with your kheera raita and warm flatbreads.
I like to make this first because the flavors develop nicely as it sits in the refrigerator while you make your keema matar. It also keeps really well for at least three days – chilled – in a well-sealed container. So, I tend to make more than enough at one go – using one cucumber and a matching amount of yoghurt to get that half-half ratio. A word about the flatbreads
I like mine generously buttered and then warmed through on a plate for about 45 seconds on high in the microwave. To drink?
A light, crisp beer – very cold – is rightly popular with curry. Otherwise, a fruity cordial mixed with sparkling water is a grand choice. My favorite is a large glass of lime cordial and soda water, with plenty of ice and lemon.