FAMILY: Minced meat magic


Dharm Navaratnam offers one of his favourite, and most versatile, recipes

THIS is not only one of my all-time favourite dishes but it also has a long history to it. When I was younger, mum used to make her own version of it with minced beef and diced potato. She called it minced meat curry.

We would all enjoy eating it with rice. The next day, we’d fill slices of bread with the leftover curry and wipe the plate clean.

Needless to say, when I went off to university, this was one dish that I often cooked. I changed the recipe a little and added tomato as well as frozen mixed vegetables instead of using potato. I also added red capsicum for colour and a tinge of sweetness. I loved it so much that almost whenever it was my turn to cook, this would be the dish I made. As a result, my flatmates called me the Mince Meat Man although they enjoyed the dish as much as I did!   

I remember one cold winter night when we were all studying for our exams.  It was almost past midnight when my flatmate knocked on my door and announced that he was hungry.  I admitted that I was too. He grinned and announced:

“There’s mince and frozen vege in the freezer, Dei!”  

So I cooked a batch of curry while he made rice and we indulged in hot, spicy minced meat curry in the wee hours of the morning while reminiscing the past and contemplating our future. That was our comfort food then.

It was only later on in life that I learnt that the Hindi word for minced meat is kheema, a word that has become the generic term for minced meat curry served in restaurants.

The beauty of this dish is that it is an all-in-one dish with meat and vegetables. Even better is the fact that, except for capsicum, the vegetables come from a frozen pack.

Cutting the capsicum is my wife’s chore as her dainty fingers do a good job of getting them all the same size. That’s something my pudgy fingers can’t do well although that’s just an excuse as I’m too darned lazy!

I prefer to use minced beef but this dish is just as lovely when made with lamb or even chicken! You can vary the amount of chilli powder to suit your tastebuds. Just remember to fry the curry and chilli powder well as too much uncooked powder can lead to an irritated tummy.

This dish is also extremely versatile as you can eat it with rice, bread or noodles. When there is leftover kheema in the fridge, I will add a spoonful of it to curry-flavoured instant noodles for a quick meal!

Although kheema is lovely with white rice, it truly becomes comfort food when served with yellow rice.

Fools Rice
Saffron rice or yellow rice is traditionally served during festivals and special occasions. Somehow, a meal takes on an expensive and exotic flavour when yellow rice is served.

I call this dish “fools saffron rice” because it is an easy way to make yellow rice in a rice cooker that can pass off as saffron rice, fooling most people!

To round up the meal, my wife will usually make pomegranate raita. This mixture of cucumber, yoghurt and pomegranate complements the kheema extremely well.  

My daughter Sarah loves yoghurt and she and her brother Michael enjoy  breaking open the pomegranate fruit to scoop out the little seeds. There will be shrieks and giggles as accusations of “cheating” and “not fair” fill the kitchen as both compete to see who can get more seeds out in the fastest time.  They then help their mother to mix all the ingredients together while secretly popping handfuls of pomegranate into their mouths!

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1 tsp ground black pepper
2cm ginger, pounded
1 large onion, sliced
6 cloves
600g mince beef or mutton
4 large tomatoes, quartered
2-3 tbsp curry powder
3/4 tbsp chilli powder
300g frozen mixed vegetables (peas, carrots, corn)
2 medium-sized red capsicum
2 tbsp cooking oil
Salt to taste

1. In a large pot, heat the cooking oil till hot. Lightly fry pepper, ginger and onions with cloves until onions are soft.
2. Add curry powder, chilli powder and fry till fragrant. Be careful not to burn the mixture.
3. Add tomatoes and mix well. Mixture will be dry at this stage, so pour in 1/4 cup water and continue cooking to get a nice paste.
4. Add minced meat and continue stirring till well cooked.
5. Add capsicum and frozen vegetables. Continue cooking, stirring frequently. Add one cup water and cover, allowing to simmer for 10-15 minutes.
6. Remove cover and stir well till most of the liquid has evaporated.



3 cups rice
4½ cups water
1-2 tbsp butter
2 handfuls raisins and cashew nuts (optional)
6 cloves
2 tsp turmeric powder

1. Wash the rice and put in the rice cooker. Add water, butter, cloves, turmeric powder, raisins and nuts to the rice.
2. Stir lightly, cover and switch on the rice cooker. When  cooked, quickly stir the hot rice to ensure all ingredients are mixed well.

The writer’s children, Michael and Sarah, help to scoop out pomegranate seeds.

Pomegranate raita


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