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Tuesday, March 28, 2023
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Tuesday, March 28, 2023
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    Turn Indian street food into a spicy, sloppy-Joe-style sandwich

    Ann Maloney

    THE WASHINGTON POST – When I taste something for the first time, my brain can’t help but compare it to what’s familiar. It’s only natural. In her cookbook, Mindful Indian Meals, Shivangi Rao recalled eating her first sloppy Joe at a summer camp in northern Michigan.

    “I loved every bite, despite the mess,” she wrote before explaining that the dish reminded her of kheema pav, a popular street food in Mumbai. She created her own recipe for it and even nicknamed the dish a Bombay Sloppy Joe.

    Kheema is spiced ground meat – traditionally lamb or goat, but Rao notes that you can use just about any meat you like, including beef, chicken or turkey. (You also could use plant-based meat crumbles).

    While the sandwich is indeed sloppy meat piled on a bun, that meat is spiced quite differently from the mild sandwiches of my youth. Along with tomato and onion, Rao uses fresh garlic and ginger as well as teaspoons and sprinkles of cumin, garam masala, coriander, turmeric, chilli powder and cinnamon.

    Don’t be intimidated by that longish list of spices. Embrace them, and you’ll fill your kitchen with a delicious scent and turn out a spiced-just-right finish.

    Kheema pav sandwich. PHOTO: THE WASHINGTON POST

    To complete the sandwiches, Rao brushes the buns with ghee and toasts them in a skillet. Then, she piles on the meat and tops it with fresh cilantro and crisp sliced red onion and jalapeño to create a sandwich I now crave.

    The author was born to parents who immigrated to the United States (US) from Maharashtra, India, and noted that in her family “food became an easy shared language” among them and with their American neighbours. When health issues made Rao adopt a paleo and gluten-free diet, she was pained by the loss of connection to the foods of her youth – dishes her mother made not only to feed her family but to show her love for them.

    So she worked to adapt Indian recipes to her new way of eating and find a way back to her delicious food memories. To help others do the same, her cookbook provides a guide for setting up a paleo kitchen and recipes for each meal of the day.

    Because Rao’s cookbook focusses on paleo and gluten-free recipes, she uses grain-free buns for this sandwich. We ate the meat mixture that way but also piled it on buttery brioche, so feel free to experiment. The meat also is great over rice or other grains, or wrapped in lettuce leaves.

    In other words, it’s as versatile and adaptable as Rao intended it to be – and delicious, too.


    Kheema pav, a popular street food in Mumbai, is the Indian equivalent of the American sloppy joe, Shivangi Rao says in her cookbook, Mindful Indian Meals. Spiced ground meat, or kheema, is piled on toasted and buttered buns. Because the cookbook is dedicated to paleo and gluten-free dishes, Rao uses grain-free buns, but feel free to use any style you like.

    Rao’s suggestions of cilantro, red onion and jalapeño toppings go beautifully with her spicing, but feel free to eat it plain with just a bit of fresh lime or to substitute your favourite fresh herbs, vegetables or peppers.


    For the meat
    – Two tablespoons ghee or unsalted butter
    – One tablespoon cumin seeds or one-and-a-half teaspoons ground cumin
    – One medium yellow onion, diced
    – One cup diced tomatoes, fresh or canned
    – Five cloves garlic, minced or finely grated
    – One piece fresh ginger, minced or finely grated
    – One bay leaf
    – One pound lean ground beef (90 per cent lean or higher), or lamb, chicken or turkey
    – Two teaspoons garam masala
    – One teaspoon ground coriander
    – One teaspoon fine salt, or to taste
    – Half teaspoon ground turmeric
    – Half teaspoon red chilli powder
    – Half teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
    – Half teaspoon ground cinnamon

    – One tablespoon ghee or unsalted butter
    – Four buns, preferably grain-free
    – Half cup fresh cilantro leaves and tender stems
    – Half cup thinly sliced red onion
    – One jalapeño pepper, sliced
    – Lime wedges, for serving


    In a large skillet with a tightfitting lid over medium-high heat, warm the ghee or butter until just shimmering. Add the cumin seeds or ground cumin, and warm until fragrant, 15 to 30 seconds. Add the onions and saute until translucent, about five minutes. Add the tomato, garlic, ginger and bay leaf, and saute until cooked down and fragrant, about five minutes. Add the meat, garam masala, coriander, salt, turmeric, red chilli powder, black pepper and cinnamon, and saute until the meat is browned, about five minutes.

    Reduce the heat to medium-low, cover and steam, stirring occasionally, until fully cooked, about 15 minutes. Adjust the heat as needed if the mixture starts to stick to the bottom of the pot. Remove from the heat and discard the bay leaf.

    About five minutes before the meat is ready, in a medium skillet over medium-high heat, melt the ghee or butter. Place the buns cut side down in the skillet and toast until golden brown, about three minutes. Remove from the heat.

    Divide the buns among the serving plates. Pile the meat on the bun bottoms and top with cilantro leaves, red onion, jalapeño pepper slices and bun tops. Serve with lime wedges.

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