Rajma, a spicy stew of red kidney beans, has always been on my mind. I’ve encountered delicious ones here and there – for instance one that my friend Shalini makes. When I ask her how and what, she says “It’s easy!” Armed with those words, along with a recipe in a tattered cookbook that calls rajma, “a favourable from Punjab,” an internet search and newfound confidence after making Antara’s kala chana, I embark on my quest for good rajma. I piece together insights from here and there, and the dish that results is wholesome and hearty and elicits warm praise from my husband. Of course I don’t like to reveal that his praise matters, but I have to confess that it does light up my insides as does watching my family consume a pot of home cooked beans with enthusiasm (leftovers pictured above).
Key learnings: plenty of boiled tomato, use a bay leaf and some cinnamon stick, use dry spices sparingly, pressure cook entire dish with 1-2 whistles at end for a well-seasoned, smooth flavor.
1 cup dried red kidney beans, soaked in water overnight
1 inch piece of whole cinnamon stick
1 bay leaf
1 tsp cumin seeds, called jeera
1 cup onions, chopped
1 tbsp ginger, finely chopped
1 tbsp garlic, finely chopped
2 cups tomato puree, made by boiling tomatoes in water for a few minutes and pureeing
1/2 – 1 tsp dried mango powder, called amchur (add cautiously, as much may not be needed if tomatoes are sour)
1/2 tsp cumin powder
1 tsp coriander powder
1/2 tsp garam masala
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper powder, very optional
1. Soak the rajma overnight (6-12 hours). Discard the water, and place in the pressure cooker. Fill with water that is a 1/2 inch above the rajma. Cook until soft. Usually takes 4 whistles on medium heat or 2 whistles on medium heat, combined with 15-20 minutes thereafter on low heat. Drain the rajma, and save the liquid for cooking.
2. Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large saucepan on medium heat. Add the bay leaf, cinnamon stick and jeera first, and then the onions. Cook until the onions are golden-brown, stirring frequently. Next, add the chopped ginger and garlic and fry for a few minutes, taking care that the ginger and garlic don’t burn.
3. Add the cooked tomato puree along with all the dry spices. Mix well and cook until the oil floats on top, stirring frequently. This takes a while.
4. Add the boiled rajma and some (or all) of the reserved liquid. Simmer on low heat for 10-15 minutes or pressure cook for 1-2 whistles on medium heat. Serve hot with rice or rotis.