Last year, one fine day in February, I declared myself ‘Pseudo non-vegetarian’. You will see why shortly. It was not an overnight decision. It was not a new-year resolution. It was definitely not health based. I think there are many other ‘vices’ I can give up before giving up on meat for health. My decision was mainly based on reading and watching videos on how animals are treated and slaughtered. I was on the fence for a long time. But all those times when a deep fried piece of spicy chicken was in front of me, I’d eat with no qualms. Somehow over time that urge dulled and now I think I can resist!! At least most of the time.
So I declared my decision to my husband, who was not surprised. He knew me being on the fence for a long time. My sister was a bit more surprised, but said jokingly the real test is when she makes Chili Chicken, one of my favorites. My mom was sort of surprised and probably saddened because I am giving up on chicken. To be honest, I never liked to handle raw meat anyway. People would be surprised that I never touched raw chicken to date—my husband would clean/chop/cube the already pre-cleaned chicken we get from the store. I would even make him add the meat to the cooking pot, if there was any need to touch it in the process. After he cleaned up, I would clean the counters again. If it was a chicken curry of some sort I eat the gravy and not the meat. So it was not a drastic or overnight transition for me. All said, I know I will make exceptions now and then…as long as that now involves something like Chicken 65 of Hyderabad or Kababs of Lucknow. I think anything less is not worth yielding to temptation. I still eat seafood, and even meat gravies. One thing I will never give up for any cause is Hyderabadi Biryani made with chicken or goat. Of course it is not the meat in Biryani that makes my mouth water, but everything else around it does—the masala, the onions cooked in the marinade and the divinely flavorful rice. So there is that—why I call myself a pseudo non-vegetarian.
In honor of my pseudo non-vegetarian status, I present you a vegetarian dish which is uncannily close to a popular curry my mom makes with minced goat meat, locally called Khaima (Khai pronounced as Tai in Tai-Chi). Technically Khaima means minced meat in Urdu, but since goat meat is the most popular and abundant red meat in Hyderabad, Khaima became synonymous to minced goat meat. Khaima has a chunkier texture than ground meat you get in US, because it is chopped and minced by hand with a cleaver on a wooden block, which is usually a sawed off tree trunk. That’s how it is even today in many meat shops in Hyderabad.
This curry comes together very quickly with my vegetarian substitute. In case you want to make it with real meat, account for the cooking time of the meat. My main ingredient is plant based protein crumbles (see picture–no affiliations). It is not soy based and has the right look, color and texture. When it comes to taste, of course it does not taste like meat….but I’d say its 90% there. Good enough for me to eat and not feel guilty about.
What do you need?
3 cups meat substitute of your choice. Crumbled to the consistency of browned ground meat
1 Medium onion
2 green chilies slit lengthwise
½ cup frozen peas
1 tbsp ginger-garlic paste
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp red chili powder (or to taste)
1 in cinnamon stick
½ tsp fennel seeds
½ tsp Garam Masala
1 tsp salt to taste
2-3 tbsp oil for cooking
Mint & cilantro (for garnish)
How to make it?
- Add oil in a wide pan set on medium high heat. Add onions, and fry until translucent. Add green chilies and sauté for 2 minutes.
- In the meantime, make a fine powder of cloves, cinnamon and fennel seeds.
- Add the spice powder to onions and stir until you get a nice aroma
- Add ginger-garlic paste and sauté for another minute
- Add the meat substitute, frozen peas, and Garam Masala and mix well, cover and cook on medium-low for 4-5 minutes until the flavors meld and peas are cooked. If needed, add 2-3 tbsp of water.
- Check seasoning and adjust to taste.
- Garnish with torn mint and cilantro and a wedge of lime or lemon.
- Serve hot with rice or rotis.