A Story of Food, Friendship, and Finicky Eaters
When we lived in Westport, CT one of our dearest and closest friends were from India. We spent countless evenings talking, laughing, dancing, drinking, and mainly eating. Some gatherings were planned and others were very spontaneous. We would telephone each other and the next thing we knew we would have planned a feast of Indian, Colombian, and/or American foods with whatever ingredients were in our houses. The beauty of having friends from different cultures is that as we get to know each other we come to the realization that we have much more in common than we think. As my girlfriend and I cooked together we realized how similar Colombian and Indian food was. Sure, there were differences, but more often than not, she would identify a Colombian dish I’d make with an equivalent Indian dish and visa versa.
My children were finicky eaters when they were young. There was a New York Times Article in 2007 that explained how being a picky eater was a “genetic” trait. My children took after my husband who had also been a picky eater as a child and had outgrown this trait. At the time, my children’s main diet consisted of pasta with white sauce (no red sauce), chicken nuggets, and mac-n-cheese with a limited selection of vegetables. Being the foodies and cooks that both my husband and I are, we made countless attempts to try to get the children to sample new foods and to eat what we cooked for the adults at home but these efforts were in vain. Then one day my friend made Kheema matar, which is an Indian ground meat and pea dish. It is typically made with ground lamb but she had used ground beef that evening. She used beef because she knew I was not very fond of lamb. (who’s the finicky eater now!) The dish is beautifully seasoned with onion, garlic, ginger, hot pepper, cumin, ground coriander, cayenne pepper, and garam masala (more on this later).
To my surprise, my children ate the Kheema at her house that night. I don’t know why they ate it since it was so different to what they typically liked, was it that food always tastes better at other people’s houses, were they being polite and obedient and doing as they were told, or was it the magic combination of flavors that woke up their taste buds. Whatever it was, that Kheema dish was a turning point for our family. It marked the beginning of the changes in our home cooking and my children’s eating habits. I looked up my Madhur Jaffrey Indian cook book, made some adjustments to her Kheema Matar recipe, and made it a family staple. It opened up a whole new world of adventurous eating for my children and a gradual farewell to their culinary finickiness. It also made my life easier. I could now cook one meal for the whole family. And as many of you know, this is HUGE!! Sure, I initially hid some of the ingredients by blending or food processing them, something I no longer need to do. But even today, I have kept some of these techniques out of convenience. I prefer to food process a bunch of onion, garlic, and ginger than dice it.
We moved from Westport, CT to West Chester, PA and missed our friends terribly. We have visited each other over the years. We now live in London so it’s even harder to get together. The thing we missed the most was the spontaneity of our gatherings and the culinary experiences we shared.
So below I share my version of Kheema Matar. It is a recipe of delicious comfort food that brings back wonderful memories of our friends in Westport. It is a recipe of a meal that marked a pivotal moment for our family cooking and of the triumphant accomplishment of a mother who finally got her children to move beyond “white pasta”. Today, our 14 and 13-year-old children are foodies-in-training developing amazingly sophisticated palates. This makes my husband and I very happy because now the whole family can share and enjoy exciting culinary adventures together.
Kheema Matar by a Colombian
My cooking technique reflects more of an American/Colombian style. This dish is relatively mild but you can add more spice and more heat as you like. If you have never cooked “Indian”, this is a great introductory recipe.
Serves 6 – 8 (great as left overs)
- ½ Large Onion (4 – 6 oz)
- 7 – 8 garlic cloves
- 1” – 1 ½“ of fresh ginger, peeled cut into 4 pieces
- ½ to 1 hot green or red pepper
- 2 oz. of water
- 2 Tbs Canola Oil
- 1 tsp ground coriander
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- ⅛ to ¼ tsp cayenne pepper
- 4 oz. of water
- 2 lbs of Ground Meat (you can mix ground beef with ground chicken or turkey)
- 10 oz. frozen peas defrosted ( I like to be generous with the peas)
- ½ cup chopped cilantro
- 1 ½ tsp salt
- 1 tsp garam masala
- 1 – 2 lemons juiced (or limes if that is all you have)
- Begin by making a paste with the first five ingredients.
- Then heat the oil, and stir fry the paste for 2 – 3 minutes.
- Add the ground coriander, cumin, cayenne pepper, and sauté for 1 -2 minutes.
- Add the additional 4 oz. of water and the ground meat. Stir, bring to a boil, lower the temperature, cover, and simmer for 30 minutes.
- Add the remaining ingredients, stir, and simmer for 10 more minutes.
- Adjust salt if needed.
- Serve with white or Basmati rice.
Ginger: I like to buy fresh ginger. With the skin on I cut the ginger into 1 ½ “ pieces. I wrap the individual pieces in plastic wrap, I place the pieces in a small freezer plastic bag and freeze them. When I am ready to use, I pull out however many pieces I need, I defrost them for a couple of minutes, peel, and prepare as needed. I always have fresh ginger available for use.
Cilantro: I buy a fresh bouquet of cilantro. I place it in a container with water as soon as I get home. I store it in the refrigerator. It keeps for up to two weeks. Remember to check the water level in the container.
Seasonings: You should be able to find ground cumin, cayenne pepper, and ground coriander at a regular food store. However, garam masala is a special indian blend of spices that you may only find in an Indian store or specialty store. There are many types of garam masalas. A typical garam masala is a blend of spices like cardamom, cinnamon, cumin seeds, cloves, peppercorns, and nutmeg. If you live in a big city you’ll have ample access to these more exotic ingredients. But do not fret, if you live in the US you can order spices from Penzey’s online. http://www.penzeys.com/
Rice: We eat a lot of rice in our home. I love to use a rice cooker because I get perfect rice each time. I put the rice in the pot, add water, and salt and program the cooker for when I need my rice.
About picky eaters being a genetic trait: