I cannot take credit for the Sloppy Yousefs witty title, my friend MAR suggested it- many thanks to him.
My Nani Ami used to make a humble ‘meat and potatoes’ dish- fragranced with notes of spicy ginger and black cardamom, it was cooked slowly, over a low flame. It wasn’t like that posh ‘meat and potatoes’ dish you have at Sassafraz– that perfectly scarlet-from-the-inside beef tenderloin you eat alongside a rectangular tower of a crispy, butter-slicked potato galette. The dish in which you glide your knife through the galette, sweep it through that glob of Dijon mustard and then impale a slice of beef on your fork, before washing it all down with a deep, earthy Malbec.
No, this dish, aloo keema, was better than any medium-rare steak served alongside a potato galette. It was a humble preparation of mince meat with soft, butter-like potatoes served in my grandmother’s home during lunch time, eaten with feather-light chapatis prepared by my Nani Ami’s ‘sous chef’, Irfan. Irfan would prepare each chapati with his bare hands over a gas flame, till it swelled up like an inflated balloon, and then transfer each one onto a linen-lined serving plate. When you tore into it, the steam would escape, burning your fingers.
I loved scooping up aloo keema with a chapati and dipping it into the cool yoghurt Nani Ami prepared every night- tart, creamy and thick. As we ate, Nani Ami would pass around a plate of finger-thin cucumbers and moolis; Pakistani radishes, dusted with crunchy salt flakes to cleanse the palate between each bite. When she wasnt looking, my little hands stealthily reached for that verboten jar of lime pickle, but in vain. I had to settle for the minimally spiced cucumber and mooli.
In the end, platters of fruit with individual butter knives would be brought to table, laden with sindhri mango, chausa mango, the Anwar Ratole mango, and my favourite, the parrot green langra– egg-yolk yellow from the inside. With the ceiling fan lazily slicing through the air above us, it was a typical summer meal at my grandparents’ home before the bamboo shutters came down and we all had a siesta, sheltered in our home from the scorching 40C Lahore heat.
The next morning, the aloo keema was perfect for sandwiching between a bun, slathered with a spicy garlic-chili sauce- an Aloo Keema Bun, just like an American Sloppy Joe.
Aloo keema is neatly encased in these little sliders- spicy meat, carbs and more carbs- a delicious bite to have with that bottle of Chimay.
Makes 12 Sloppy Joe sliders or serves 4 with basmati or bread
*500g (approx 1 lb) mince beef (I would recommend you buy medium-lean and not 99% lean)
*1cm (approx ½ in) thick piece of ginger, minced
*2 cloves garlic
*½ a medium-large onion, roughly chopped
*250ml (approx 8oz) can tomato sauce/stewed or crushed tomatoes
*salt to taste
*½ tsp chili pepper (or more, to taste)
*¼ tsp turmeric
*1 black cardamom pod
*2 medium potatoes (preferably the red variety) diced into 1cm (approx ½ in)
*500ml water, divided into two portions (approx 2 cups)
*Finely chopped fresh cilantro (leaves and stems) or herb of your choice for garnishing
*12 slider buns, split and warmed in the oven
*In a heavy-bottomed pot, add meat, ginger, garlic, onion, tomato sauce, salt, chili pepper, turmeric, black cardamom pod and 250ml (1 cup) water. Stir, cover and leave to cook on a low-medium flame for one hour. *Stir/check every 20 minutes to make sure the meat is not sticking to the bottom of the pot.
*After an hour you will note that the liquid would have reduced significantly and the oil has floated to the top of the meat. Skim this oil off with a spoon.
*Turn the heat to medium-high / high. Stir the meat rigorously for 10 minutes (in Urdu, this procedure is called ‘bhun-na’) till the liquid has completely evaporated and the meat turns darker. The onions and garlic cloves will be completely soft and incorporated into the mince meat by this point. Be careful not to let the mince meat stick to the bottom of the pan, if it does, lower the heat.
*After ten minutes of stirring, add 250ml (approx 1 cup) of water and potatoes and reduce heat to medium.
*Cover and allow potatoes to cook for 15-20 minutes. Check potatoes for doneness after 10 minutes by inserting a knife. When potatoes are done, remove lid, turn heat to medium-high and allow liquid to evaporate.
*Mix in fresh chopped coriander or desired herb.
*Spoon approximately 2tbsp of mince meat onto bun, add your favourite condiment and eat immediately.
*Alternatively, enjoy with basmati rice, chapati, naan or even a baguette when that’s all you have in the house.