Celebrating পয়লা বৈশাখ/ নববর্ষ/Bengali New Year with Keema/Minced Lamb Curry



Today is the Bengali new year 'poila baishak'. According to the traditional Hindu calender today we start the year 1421. Am in a rather nostalgic mood today thinking about poila boishaks of my childhood. While the autumn festivals like Durga Pujo & Kali Pujo were grand, this was more a family affair. The schools were generally closed during this time, the offices were also closed, so everyone would be  home. By the time new year rolled around it used to get really hot in Kolkata. So the day was mostly spent indoors, while the evenings were reserved for social visits and a visit to the fair.
I remember the first thing that my parents used to say was that "on new year's day there can be no fights, no tantrums, no sulks, because if you behave badly today, you have to spend the rest of the year on a bad note". In retrospect it sounds like a foolish idea yet as kids we used to follow it so diligently. On poila baishak we would pray to God for long life, health & peace, drink milk like good children {a sore point for me since I hated milk} and be nice to everyone {including brother, no flying off the handle even if you kid brother does something  horrible to your prized toy, not that my brother was that kind} and behave properly {essentially listen to the elders}.
I remember getting up early, all excited because poila baishak was another occassion when we used to get new clothes apart from durga pujo. There used to be a pujo at home, and after that you seek blessings of all the elders. Lunch used to be grand. Ma used to cook some delicacy or the other like 'misti polao' (traditional bengali sweet rice) and 'kosha mangsho' (goat meat slow cooked over a long time with spices and big chunks of potato) or 'rui macher kalia' (rohu fish curry either in mustard sauce or with in a yogurt sauce), or keema (minced meat with potatoes and peas) and of course some kind of desert like 'payesh' (rice pudding made the Bengali way with jaggery).
In the evenings we used to go to the 'choroker mela' ( spring fair) which is held generally every year at this time. Now choroker mela was a very interesting & exciting event for us. My brother and me, we loved going there because dad always used to pamper us no end. I remember buying handfull of glass bangles, terracotta toys, my brother used to go for musical instruments which make an awful lot of noise. Usually some cousins allways used to accompany us. Oh what a lovely time we had getting on those merry-go-rounds, eating 'telebhaja' (pakodas/fritters).
Then we used to go visit some relatives or freinds and have nice dinner either their place or back at home.
Before long poila baishak used to be over. I remember that as a kid before going to bed we used to do a check whether we have been on our perfect behaviour. Otherwise there was that dread that whatever wrong we had done would get repeated throughout the year. And who likes to be scolded throughout the year?
Poila boishak always used to be the harbinger of mangoes. The mangoes before poila baishak never taste as good as those which come after the new year. That was another reason why we used to wait for poila baishak with so much excitement. Soon after the markets used to be flooded with sweet mangoes from all over Bengal and sometimes they would come all the way from Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra. Ah the taste of those mangoes. 
The recipe I am going to share today is a popular Bengali dish--minced lamb. Like everything else, we cook the minced meat with spices over a couple of hours. So this recipe is not for the faint hearted or the impatient sorts. But when you taste the dish, you will realise that all that effort has been totally worth it and then some.
Preparation time: 1 hour
Cooking time: 2 hours
Serves: 6 people generously
Ingredients:
1. 900 grams minced lamb
2. 3 large potatoes, peeled & chopped into little cubes
3. 1 cup of peas
4. 2 medium red onions finely sliced
5. 1 medium red onion paste
6. 3 heaped tea spoons of ginger & garlic paste
7. 4 tea spoons of tomato puree or 3 to 4 medium sized ripe tomatoes diced up
8. 2 to 4 green chillies, seeded or deeded, according to taste
9. Whole garam masalas-- 3 green cardamoms, 3 cloves, half an inch of cinnamon, 2 bay leaves
10. Dry masala powders:
i. 1 tea spoon of turmeric/haldi
ii. 1 tea spoon of red chilli powder
iii. 1 tea spoon of cumin powder {heaped}
iv. 1 tea spoon of coriander powder {heaped}
11. Flavourings:
i. Half a tea spoon of sugar
ii. Salt to taste
12. 4 table spoons of sunflower/vegetable or any odourless oil
13. Garnish:
i. Chopped cilantro
ii. One tea spoon of ghee heated {optional}
iii. Squeeze of lime juice

How to make Keema:
1. Finish all the peeling, chopping & dicing
2. In a heavy bottomed pan, add the oil, while the oil is heating up on medium heat, add the whole garam masalas. If you add the masalas at this stage, they will flavour the oil as it heats up.
3. Once the oil is hot, add the sliced onion and the sugar. The sugar will help caramelise the onions while they fry and also bring a balance to the taste of the dish. {Adding sugar to savoury dishes is a speciality of West Bengali cuisine}
4. Once the onion has turned light brown, add the dry masala powders {turmeric, chilli, cumin & coriander} and fry till the oil starts to separate and bubble on the sides. On medium heat should take about 5 minutes.
5. Once the oil starts to separate add the ginger, garlic and onion paste and the tomato puree. If adding diced tomato, do not add at this stage, cos tomato has a lot of juice/water and will dilute the frying process.
6. After 3 to 4 minutes of frying the oil will start separating again, add the minced meat. Mix well and continue frying on low medium heat. If it gets too dry add a few drop of water at a time. This process will need at least 20 to 30 mins. Yes browning the meat with Indian masalas is a matter of infinite patience. But overcome this and you have the best minced meat curry you have ever eaten.
7. In the next step add the cubed potato pieces and continue frying for 10 to 15 minutes more.
8. Add the peas and chopped tomatoes, mix well.
9. Next comes the green chillies and salt according to taste.
10. Add about 2 to 3 cups of water, cover the pot and let it come to a boil.
11. After 10 minutes or so, take off the cover, it must be bubbling by now, mix well and continue cooking for 5 minutes more. By now the dish will look semi dry and not a lot of moisture should be left in the pot. Switch off the heat now.
12. Let it rest for 10 minutes or so.
13. Garnish with cilantro, ghee and lime juice. Serve with rotis, naan, parathas or pulao rice or even pao (buns smeared with butter).

3 comments :

  1. We used to also go for 'halkhata' to shops.. and bring back food packets.. we used to compare between us kids who got the best packet! :-) choroker mela for me used to be before poila boishakh and I used to love the different types of piggy banks there.. I still have few of those :-D .. with the coins in them... as my mom is too nostalgic to let me break ... they usually were a gift from.my moms aunt who passed away really young!

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  2. ahaha! This keema is similar to what my ma makes, and now I want to make it too! Thank you for writing down the recipe - will try it your way.

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  3. omg can i come in....lamb or mutton keema are my fav................i love t cooked this way

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