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Indian Chili


Recipes, cookbooks, and kitchen inspiration from celebrated author Scott Hocker


Indian Chili

Scott Hocker

Get those onions soft and well-browned

Get those onions soft and well-browned

The New Year has come and gone and, as it left, in swooped an epic blizzard across the Midwest and northeastern United States.

Here in New York City, Hercules—that there storm's official name—mounted nearly a foot of snow. 

I was on lockdown, homebound and needing to feed me and Brandon. I already had a batch of homemade dhana jiru (a spice blend heavy with cumin and coriander) made and a pound of ground beef in the freezer. Time to cook some Indian chili, otherwise known as keema or khima.

During the apex of summer—or if I stumbled on semi-decent tomatoes at the supermarket any ole day—I'd use fresh tomatoes. But all I had was tomato paste. So it goes with cooking, especially in the middle of a blizzard: Use what is on-hand.

The two of us plowed through the chili over the course of a few days, as the snow plows scraped the streets free. The chili made enough to feed four, and we ate it as if we were the pair of us squared. 

A papad, if you have any, is a great edible scoop

A papad, if you have any, is a great edible scoop

Indian Chili

I used beef for my most recent version of this dish. You could use any other ground meat of your choosing. Many of the components in the dish are optional: I simply used what I had lying around. (Yes, I have a ridiculously overstocked pantry.) What is critical is some onion; some tomato; some dried or fresh chiles; garlic and/or ginger; and a few spices, ideally turmeric and at least coriander and cumin.

  • A few tablespoons neutral oil, such as canola or grapeseed
  • A handful of fresh curry leaves (way optional)
  • A couple dried red chiles
  • An onion, coarsely chopped
  • A few cloves of garlic
  • A small knob of ginger
  • About 1 teaspoon dhana jiru or ½ teaspoon of ground coriander & ½ teaspoon ground cumin (toasted then freshly ground is best)
  • About 1 teaspoon ground chile, such as cayenne
  • About ½ teaspoon turmeric
  • About 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • About 1 pound ground beef
  • Salt
  • A handful of cilantro leaves, coarsely chopped

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. When the oil begins rippling, toss in the curry leaves and the chiles. Stir for about 30 seconds until the chiles toast and smell fragrant. Add the onion and reduce the heat to medium. Stir every so often, adding a little water if the onion begins to stick to the skillet. Cook until the onion is completely soft and a little golden around the edges. 

Peel the garlic and grate it into the skillet. Grate the ginger into the skillet. Cook for about a minute, until the garlic and ginger smell like intense versions of themselves. Add the dhana jiru, ground chile, turmeric and tomato paste. Cook until the tomato paste begins to disperse, about a minute. Add the beef and cook, stirring, until the beef sheds its pinkness. Add a cup of water or so and a teaspoon of salt. Stir, then bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook until the oil floats on the surface and the meat is tender, about 30 minutes. (If the chili begins to dry out, add more water. The chili should be somewhat soupy.)

Taste. Add more salt, if needed. Toss in the cilantro. Eat in bowls with your choice of scoops, whether that's a spoon or a papad—or both.