Curried beef with peas and fenugreek leaves (methi matar keema)
Posted by fourclankitchen on February 5, 2011
This dish is loosely (very loosely) inspired by a traditional North Indian dish, methi matar malai (fenugreek, peas and cream). But other than the methi and matar, they really don’t have a whole lot in common.
First, a word about Methi or Fenugreek (Latin: Greek Hay). A lot of you are familiar with it, because it is the stuff that fake vanilla and maple syrup are made out of. It is also the strongest flavor in store bought Indian curry powder. Fenugreek seed is used in traditional (Chinese, Indian) Medicine to increase milk production (it really can do this in both cattle and humans) and as an antiviral and cold medicine. In other words, this little seed packs a micro-nutrient punch and is used by many traditional cuisines.
Both the seeds and the leaves are used for cooking. The fresh leaves are mixed into batter for flat breads and they taste heavenly. The fresh leaves like cool weather and here in the South are available January-March. After that the fresh stuff disappears and it is better to use dry fenugreek leaves (sold in Indian grocery stores as kasoori methi) because the frozen stuff is really pretty tasteless.
In this recipe, I have used both fresh fenugreek leaves and seeds. Instead of adding only fenugreek seeds, I have used panch phoran, which is a five seed mix made up of equal parts of fenugreek, fennel, cumin, Nigella/kalonji (onion) and mustard. It is used to temper curries in the eastern part of India (Bengal, Orissa) and imparts an amazing flavor to any dish. To make the flavors even bolder, I added ground fennel seeds to the curry. This dish has a lot of ingredients, but it is delicious and will easily last you a couple of meals.
2 small sweet onions, diced small
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
1/2 inch ginger, peeled and minced fine
5 small roma tomatoes (or 2 large, vine-ripened ones)
2 bunches fenugreek leaves, stemmed (or a handful of the dried leaves. if you can’t find either, use spinach or leave out entirely)
1 1/2 lbs, 96% lean ground beef (goat is better, but ground lamb is too fatty for this dish)
1 1/2 cup frozen peas, thawed
2 tbs. oil
1 1/2 tsp panch phoran (available at Indian grocery stores)
1/2 tsp ground cardamom
3 bay leaves
3/4 tsp. fennel seeds, ground
1/2 tsp. turmeric
1 tsp. Hungarian paprika (cayenne, if you prefer it hotter)
2 heaping tbs. of whole milk yogurt
1/2 tbs. butter
Salt to taste
cilantro leaves for garnish, optional
Heat the oil in a large pot (a thin-walled cast-iron pan works best). When the oil is shimmering, add the panchphoran, ginger, garlic, cardamom and bay leaves and fry till fragrant. The Nigella seeds burn very quickly, so don’t dawdle here. Add the onions and saute until they are beginning to brown. Then add the tomatoes and continue to saute until they lose shape and form a uniform paste with the onions. In festive/restaurant style Indian cooking, you would continue to fry until the onion-tomato paste releases oil, essentially deep frying the paste. But that would require a lot more oil than I have suggested here. Now add 1/2 tsp salt.
Add the fenugreek leaves and saute until the leaves soften (about 10 min). Then add all the remaining spices (except the cinnamon) and a little more salt. Saute for another 2 min. till all the spices are incorporated into the mix. Now add the yogurt, a tbs. at a time until it is also fully incorporated. Now add the ground beef and break it up so that no lumps remain. Once the beef is fully cooked, add the peas. Add a quarter cup of water and continue to cook till the beef softens and the peas are fully cooked. Taste and adjust the salt. Now add the cinnamon and the butter. I have used cinnamon in place of the more traditional garam masala, so that the ground fennel and fenugreek stand out without competition. Cook for another 10 min on low heat. until the ground beef gets a stir-fried/fried feel (having a thin-walled wok helps here). Garnish with cilantro if desired and serve with brown basmati rice or any flat bread. The beef is also great in a sandwich with lettuce and cheddar cheese the next day for lunch.