I don’t know about you, but the day I found out my dad knew how to cook was a day of revelation. My mom was the one who cooked on a daily basis and I guess in my innocence it never occurred to me that my parents had lives before I was born and that at some point in the past my dad must have needed to cook before he married my mom.
It’s very rarely that my dad cooks, but when he does, we always make a big deal out of it. The last few times I’ve been home, he insists on making pancakes and we make it into a huge production, breaking out the griddle, watching as he mixes up the batter (nothing fancy, just Bisquick!), then waiting for the pancakes to cook, with my mom worrying that he’s burning them the whole time (never has).
The dish I remember the most is his “famous” beef curry. I only remember him making it a few times, but was always intrigued by his secret ingredient — taco seasoning! How did taco seasoning end up in beef curry? Well, for the simple reason that it contained some of the spices used in curries — cumin and chili powder. There’s a certain logic to it — Mexican and Indian cuisine do use some of the same spices, so why couldn’t you mix and match the two? Heck, we eat tortillas with curries all the time, who has time to make roti from scratch and cook it when you can just nuke a tortilla? And aren’t samosas and empanadas culinary kissing cousins?
Don’t worry, the beef curry didn’t taste weird. I don’t think you could even tell it was taco seasoning.
It was only a matter of time that, inspired by my dad’s resourcefulness, I would make a similar leap.
When I make chili, I use the packaged chili seasoning from the store. I know, it doesn’t take that much longer to measure out the spices, but I’m lazy (I think this may have been my dad’s original reason for using the taco seasoning? Like father, like daughter?). So to atone for the fact that I’m using prepackaged seasonings, I doctor up my chili with additional chili and cumin powder, which makes me wonder why I even bother using the mix since I’m already halfway there. Then one day I thought it’d be fun to see what happened if I cooked the ground beef with Indian spices and then made the chili the way I normally did. Get it? Keema is spicy ground meat. Chili con carne is chili with meat, sooooo see how I came up with chili con keema?
You know what? It turned out great! In addition to using Indian spices in the beef, I started off as if I was making keema, which meant I did the whole onion-garlic-ginger trinity, then added the spices, and then added the meat. Once that was done, I then proceeded to make chili per the instructions on the back of the seasoning packet.
I loved the added depth of flavor from layering the different spices. I think that by taking the time to cook the onions, garlic, ginger, and spices before I added the beef, there was already a good base in place, so that by the time I added the chili seasoning it just blended in. My other trick was to let everything simmer for about 30 minutes over low heat, so that you get further away from the “instant” taste and are heading more into “homemade” territory.
We like our chili on the hot side, so if you want to tone down the heat, you can skip the chili powder and chili peppers and make sure to use unseasoned diced tomatoes and mild chili seasoning. It’ll still taste good, I promise!
Chili Con Keema
2 tbsp. canola oil
1 small onion, diced
1 tsp. garlic paste
1 tsp. ginger paste
1 tbsp. ground cumin
1 tbsp. ground coriander
1 tsp. garam masala
1 tsp. chili powder
1 tsp. dried fenugreek leaves (optional)
1 dried bay leaf
3 thai chilis (optional, or use 1 jalapeno)
1 lb. lean ground beef
1 packet chili seasoning
2 14.5 oz. cans diced tomatoes, undrained
1 14.5 oz. can kidney beans, undrained
Salt, to taste
1. Heat oil in a dutch oven or deep saucepan over medium-high heat. Add onions and cook until they start to soften, about 5 minutes. Then add garlic and ginger, continuing to cook a couple more minutes.
2. Now add in cumin, coriander, garam masala, chili powder, dried fenugreek leaves, bay leaf, and chilies if using. Begin adding water a few drops at a time, until you have a thick spice paste.
3. Now add in the ground beef and immediately start breaking it up and mixing into spice mixture.
4. Once beef has been browned and mixed into the spices, add the chili seasoning packet and continue to mix into beef.
5. Add in the tomatoes and beans, including the liquid. Stir to combine, then bring pan to a boil. Let it boil for a couple minutes, then turn heat down to medium-low, cover, and simmer for about 25-30 minutes.
6. Taste for salt and add to taste.