Questions raised with Keema: India, what’s your beef?

skip to recipe
My formal training is in software engineering and a lot of times when it comes to food and  identity, I end up translating the experiences I’m living with the concepts I’m learning. Pointers are one of the cruxes of programming languages such as C and C++ and are also conceptualized in other languages that may not have them explicitly, but also helped me put personal issues into words. Its a concept I struggled with, almost as much as wondering what community is and how do I fit in it as a first generation who has also become a part of a diasporic community of desis homogenized under a white gaze into a sea of brown.

Pointers at their base are a reference to an object, they hold the address of that object in memory. So that when you change the pointer, you don’t change the object but its reference address. In many ways, I think I realized I was a pointer in terms of politics that are ongoing in south asian spaces. I’m a reference point to my ancestry, and the address point I have in memory is a cache but not necessarily the dynamic ever changing lived experience of people of the community that are indigenous to the lands I come from. However, much like a pointer can not change an object, I don’t want to lead this discussion as if I am the main focus of it and know exactly what the solution is. Instead, I want to explain this under a lens of the sociopolitical context I’m I seeing these effects within the states alongside a Trump presidency in reference to the climate that is dynamically changing in India.

As contexts go, keema with a bowl of rice became synonymous with warmth and earthiness that I could dive into for comfort. Although it wasn’t a staple as I grew up, it was a pleasant encounter whenever my aunt would ladle me some made with mutton. It was delicious but it wasn’t special. A lot of these associations were rewritten with my partner because the exchange that happens in our kitchen a testament to us thriving even while being pointers to two regions that are very much in tension. I couldn’t stop smiling when we figured out we were from the same mountain range, mountain people who found themselves in the hills of california. As northern mountain range recipes go, we had a lot in common with flavors, cooking techniques, even the seasons in which one dish was more popular. But why was I nervous that I had never made keema with beef before?

Because our contexts shape our identities much more as we remain complacent within forced interpretations. A lot of the cuisine I grew up was cooked by my mom so it was dominated by the local  region of being in Bihar, Jharkand. Having come from multiple heritage points, I observed being ‘Indian’ as a product of hundreds of foreign influence, conquers, and assimilation. Still region becomes a huge factor of what is taboo and eating beef was made a crime. These bans called to another evolution of friction.

Across the seas at age 5, internally feeling my roots I was losing. Externally, my roots were homogenized as people’s xenophobia characterized us as snake charmer, child marriages, and my favorite, “cow worshiper” . There isn’t imminently wrong with being a so called “cow worshiper”, but homogenizing the brown you see results into an interpretations of Indians that are solely representative of its Hindu population. Because as mixed as these regions are, upholding more than 3000 years of civilization; the country of India is new and does leads to a simplification of the plethora of lineages, cultures, religions and identities that make it up. It was both a chilling and telling moment when Trump looked into the camera to say, “I am a big fan of Hindu and I am a big fan of India”. These two are not synonymous. However, watching polices under Modi, this assumption can be traced to a development of ‘Indian’ becoming an ethnonationalistic identity. Its a pity, our cultures are too vibrant for that.

n Modi’s hometown Gujurat, a muslim man was killed due to rumors of the family having consumed beef. Hindu nationalists poured in citing the “beef ban” which still remains vague in these states. Conveniently erasing his son’s participation in the Indian army, all his sacrifices forgotten. Cow vigilantes as they called themselves, continue to boast about restoring the glory of “Hindustan” (land for Hindus) and this rhetoric is all too familiar. America’s color caste system has affected every point of life, for families escaping caste persecution in their homelands, the parallels create a new empathy.

Let’s take a minute to explore where these assumptions are being derived. In vedic times, cows were seen as the all giving mother. From the milk to its dung, these products were used to set up life within the indus valley. However male calves were known to be slaughtered and this has largely been omitted from the conversation when enforcing hindu ways within the country. Romanticization of the deity Krishna who was a cow herder and avid ghee consumer adds to making these seem like the moral superior choice. But in this choice is the death and criminalization of dalit and muslim indian cuisine.

However there remain glaring hypocrisies within the conversation rationalizing the beef ban and as both non residential and indigenous desis, we need to understand and intervene. The oneness behind hinduism which makes it a sin to kill “gau mata” or mother cow also prohibits the unnatural death of  all living things and not just ones arbitrarily selected. This means seafood, poultry, eggs, etc. Even in ancient practices, calves were sacrificed. The most contradicting aspect of this is the fact that India is one of the world’s biggest exporter of beef. As much as they tout the sacredness of cow’s milk for ghee in yagna (fire) worship, these same Indians have made a profit of the slaughter of cows. In a year, the country will export over 2000 metric tons. Again these questions echo, what does it mean to be desi within these borders?

As desis of a globalized generation, our address in memory and our current residence have parallels that can’t be ignored. Our food is not so simple anymore, its time our politics realized the complexity of the table we’re eating from.


1 medium potato diced in large cubes
1 cup peas frozen or fresh
1 pound ground meat
6 cloves of garlic diced
1 tbsp ginger diced
1 large onion chopped
2 tomatoes
1 can of tomatoes
handful cilantro chopped

1 bay leaf
1/2 tsp turmeric
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp coriander
1 tsb garam masala
1/2 tsp chili powder
pinch of asofoetida/ajwain
1 tsp pepper
1 tbsp salt

Prep work: chop up your veggies, gather your spices, and puree the mix of fresh tomatoes and can of stewed tomatoes. Although stewed tomatoes are not necessarily traditional (some will have just fresh tomatoes or add tomato sauce), I like it for the sweetness that cuts down the usual acidity.

Start by browning the meat with the bay leaf and pepper, we’ll use the fat from the meat later to brown the onions.

Now add the onions, garlic, and ginger. Add a tablespoon of oil to help them caramelize. You’re probably loving the smells that are coming out of your kitchen right now!

Let this mixture cook for about 2 minutes before adding the potatoes and peas. Saute for another 2-3 minutes. Add salt.

I think this is where the transformation begins. Add the tomato puree, cilantro and spices, cover with a lid and keep it on low. Fun fact, the British referred to Hing or ajwain as devil’s dung, jokes on them because its flavor combination will constantly keep people guessing exactly how you achieved this range of depth. The tomato combining with the caramelized onions adjusted with spices gives keema its rich color that foreshadows the pop of flavors this dish is known for. You can sneak in finely chopped spinach at this point if you are looking for ways to incorporate more servings of vegetables but don’t want to know you’re eating them. Keep covered for 10-15 minutes.

Take off the lid and let the mixture get thicker, turning the heat to a medium high. Stir it every once in a while so things don’t stick to the bottom and burn. After about 10-12 minutes, you’re ready to  serve and eat! Pair with rice, naan, paratha, squash, the possibilities are endless. You could even make this paleo without the peas or potatoes. Depending on your mood, get yourself some comfort no matter what choice of meat you’re cooking it with.

Leave a Reply

One Comment

Leave a Reply