Turn kheema pav into a spicy, sloppy-Joe-style sandwich

Kheema Pav Sandwich (Bombay Sloppy Joe). MUST CREDIT: Photo by Rey Lopez for 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 recalls eating her first sloppy Joe at a summer camp in northern Michigan.

“I loved every bite, despite the mess,” she writes 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, turkey or pork. (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, chili 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.

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 from Maharashtra, India, and notes that in her family “food became an easy shared language” among them and with their American neighbors. 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 focuses 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.

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Kheema Pav Sandwich (Bombay Sloppy Joe)

25 minutes

4 servings

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 favorite fresh herbs, vegetables or peppers.

Embrace the longish list of dried spices and turn your chosen protein into a flavor powerhouse. MUST CREDIT: Photo by Rey Lopez for The Washington Post.

Storage Notes: Refrigerate the meat for up to 4 days.



2 tablespoons ghee or unsalted butter

1 tablespoon cumin seeds or 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin

1 medium yellow onion (about 8 ounces), diced

1 cup diced tomatoes, fresh or canned

5 cloves garlic, minced or finely grated

One (1-inch) piece fresh ginger, minced or finely grated

1 bay leaf

1 pound lean ground beef (90 percent lean or higher), or lamb, chicken, turkey or pork

2 teaspoons garam masala

1 teaspoon ground coriander

1 teaspoon fine salt, or to taste

1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric

1/2 teaspoon red chili powder

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon


1 tablespoon ghee or unsalted butter

4 buns, preferably grain-free

1/2 cup fresh cilantro leaves and tender stems

1/2 cup thinly sliced red onion

1 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 5 minutes. Add the tomato, garlic, ginger and bay leaf, and saute until cooked down and fragrant, about 5 minutes.

Add the meat, garam masala, coriander, salt, turmeric, red chili powder, black pepper and cinnamon, and saute until the meat is browned, about 5 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 5 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 3 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.

Nutrition information per serving (1 sandwich with wheat buns and lean beef) | Calories: 464; Total Fat: 21 g; Saturated Fat: 11 g; Cholesterol: 94 mg; Sodium: 885 mg; Carbohydrates: 38 g; Dietary Fiber: 4 g; Sugar: 9 g; Protein: 26 g

This analysis is an estimate based on available ingredients and this preparation. It should not substitute for a dietitian’s or nutritionist’s advice.

Adapted from “Mindful Indian Meals” by Shivangi Rao (Self-published, 2021).



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