We are in the grip of winter here in Delhi. Not quite freezing but close; cold enough for a hearty dish of beans and rice.
Our hills are home to an amazing variety of beans. If you remember I mentioned that on one of my visits I found 200 kinds of beans on display at Dilli Haat! I bought two varieties that time – one was chitre rajma, very similar to cranberry beans I received from a friend in the US, and another was a smooth tan-colour.
My absolutely favourite way to prepare kidney beans is the Punjabi way. If any of you have ever traveled to Srinagar by road, you might have stopped for a lunch of rajma-chaval, simply put – beans and rice. No matter how road sick we may have been traveling on the ever winding ‘highway’, a lunch of rajma-chaval always made us feel better. The beans were sourced from the hills of Kashmir, and the fragrant basmati from the plains of Jammu, and the dish an all-pleaser for people traveling in between.
Kashmiri rajma is almost as well known as Kashmiri mirch is. These small red kidney beans are delicious and cook fast. Then there is the thool razma (egg-beans!) in Kashmir that cook up round and plump; vaarya muth (moo-th – ‘th’ as in Thames) or black beans. Beans and rice are a favourite meal all over the Himalayas and its foothills. On our way to the Valley of Flowers last year, I spotted beans drying outside many a village house.
Rajma-chaval is also a favourite of Punjabis who are otherwise primarily consumers of wheat in the form of roti/chapatti or paranthas. The best way to eat roti is naturally by tearing with your hands, which is how most of India eats. But rice is not easy to eat using your fingers; it takes practice and skill to eat rice elegantly with fingers. Yet rajma-chaval can be fully appreciated only when the sense of touch is also involved. No one knew this better than my Punjabi friend and neighbour whose father was a strict disciplinarian and would never allow her to eat rice without the use of a spoon. I was glad we had no such rules. Rice eaters are trained to make sure not much more than the first digits of our fingers are wet while eating, and that the other hand is always kept ‘clean’ to serve. Whenever I let an implement come between me and my rice, it is somehow a less fulfilling meal. Touching the rice I eat is part of deriving satiation from a meal; there is no other way for me.
Here is a simple recipe for rajma, tried and much tested, from my kitchen. I have been asked for the recipe many times, and doubted for holding back some secret ingredient. But there is none. The taste lies in the beans, and there is no need to overwhelm them with heavy spicing. While it shares the bhuno-adrak-pyaaz-tamatar (fry-ginger-onion-tomato) step with chhole, it has none of the powerful knock-out punch of spices that add ‘masala’ to the chana-masala. This satisfies at an entirely different level, and is a personal favourite, over and above chhole.
I have prepared this using red kidney beans (both the Kashmiri rajma, and the other larger varieties), chitre rajma, and also the tan-coloured pahari (from the hills) ones I purchased at Dilli Haat. It turned out great every time with minor variations in the colour of the final dish.
3 C kidney beans, soaked overnight
1 T oil
1 t ghee
½ t cumin
1” piece of ginger, grated
2 large onions, chopped fine
2-3 tomatoes, chopped fine or pureed (I used 6 desi ones that are much smaller, but more juicy and tart)
1 ½ T coriander powder
1 t red chilli powder (or to taste)
½ t turmeric
Cover the beans with water (3″ above the beans), and soak overnight. Drain and rinse.
In the pan of your pressure cooker heat the oil and ghee. Add cumin seeds, followed by grated ginger. Stir till fragrant. Add the chopped onion and fry till golden. Add the tomato puree and cook till a rich red in colour. If it starts to stick to the bottom, add some salt to help sweat the onions without needing more oil. When the masala is done it will come together (like this); if we were using more oil or fat, the oil would separate. Add the spices and continue to brown for a couple of minutes. Remove this masala paste to a dish (which you may later use to serve the rajma in).
Add the rinsed beans to the pan. Cover them with enough fresh water and cook till very tender. I use a pressure cooker for this; cooking time varies depending on the bean variety, with the smaller Kashmiri rajma usually taking 20-30 minutes. Wait for the pressure to subside.
Add the onion-tomato masala to the cooked beans with salt, stir to mix, and pressure cook again for an additional 10 minutes, or simmer, stirring occasionally, for a further 20-30 minutes. Garnish with coriander leaves and serve over rice, with a small dollop of ghee, maybe just half a spoon. Ghee is amazing with rajma prepared this way, really incredible. Or, add a smaller dollop of ghee towards the last half of your rajma-chaval and revel in the indulgence.
I love this dish of beans with Goan brown rice. I have finally arrived at a formula to get them to be soft – soak the rice in hot water for an hour before pressure cooking for 20 minutes. Beautiful grains of brown rice that are soft to the touch!