Warm fragrant spices. Creamy flavorful curries. Cool fresh Raita. Samosas. Tandoori Chicken. Aaah, Indian Food. My family loves it. But we’ve never cooked it. So how, does one even consider venturing into a completely new cuisine? Food Network’s Aarti Sequeira. Seriously.
Aarti was featured in, and eventually won Season Six of The Next Food Network Star. From the first episode we fell in love with her and knew she’d win. And we were fortunate enough to meet her a few weeks ago at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books here in Los Angeles. Being the food geeks that we are, we purchased her new cookbook, Aarti Paarti, An American Kitchen with an Indian Soul, so she could sign it for us. Usually when you stand in a line for a book signing you are hustled along with such speed that the ink doesn’t have the chance to dry before you are scurried away. Not so with Aarti. She was so genuine and gracious. We told her we had never ventured into this type of culinary endeavor before and she actually opened the book to the recipe we should try first. It was her favorite growing up, she told us. She signed the book, took a picture and wished us well. We just love her!
The more stories I read in her book, the more I love her. We have a lot in common her and I. Aarti graduated from Northwestern University with a goal to enter the field of journalism. I wanted to go to Northwestern, but alas I do have the “J” degree (from CSUN). She came to a crossroads in her journalism career after leaving CNN and discovered her love for food. I went into Public Relations, had some kids and then at that crossroads in my life, decided that the world of food is where my heart is. We both realize that the stories and the memories that are derived from our cultural upbringings is what ties us to our ancestors. Her book is full of these stories. I highly recommend checking it out if you have ever been curious about the food of India.
So like I said, she told us to try Kheema. Her ground beef recipe, she told us, is traditionally made with ground lamb. I happened to have a boat load of ground turkey and so there you have it. The meat is not what makes this dish. It is the glorious spices that permeate your kitchen that make this dish the amazing thing that it is. And yet, it’s so simple.
(recipe printed with permission from Aarti Sequeira)
3 Tbl. Sunflower Oil
1 medium onion, finely diced (about 1/2 cup)
4 cloves garlic, minced (about 4 tsp)
1 (1 inch) piece fresh ginger, peeled and minced (about 1 Tbl.)
2 tsp. ground coriander
1 tsp. paprika
1/2 tsp. garam masala
1/2 tsp. ground cumin
1/4 to 1/2 tsp. cayenne
1 pound ground beef ( Aarti recommended lamb and we used ground turkey)
2 medium ripe tomatoes, chopped (about 1 cup) or 1 cup canned, diced fire-roasted tomatoes, drained
1/4 cup water
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup frozen peas
2 tsp. malt vinegar or apple cider vinegar
1/4 chopped fresh cilantro leaves and soft stems
In a large skillet, warm the oil over medium high heat until it shimmers. Add the onions and sauté until their golden brown, about 5 minutes. (her time was 5…it took me closer to 10/15 minutes to get them the brown that she talks about). Add the garlic and ginger, cook, stirring often, for another minute, then add the coriander, paprika, garam masala, cumin and cayenne. Sauté, stirring often to keep the spices from burning, for about 30 seconds.Add the beef, breaking up any lumps with a spoon, and cook until the meat is no longer pink and all the liquid has been absorbed, 6 to 7 minutes. Stir in the tomatoes and water and season with salt and pepper. Partially cover the pan and simmer for about 10 minutes. Add the peas and cook for 5 minutes more. Stir in the vinegar and cilantro. Taste for salt and pepper, and serve.
*some of these harder to find spices can be located at Indian, Ethnic stores or online