When mom declares Sunday lunch as Rajma-Chawal – you know the mood she is creating for her home. Shawl is rice and sloshed over it is rajma, a kidney bean stew, that starts with a sauté and flows on to a lazy simmer. It is North India’s ultimate comfort dish and almost always eaten at Sunday lunch. Why? You might ask. Because rajma for dinner is a work out for the system to digest and to have stew for lunch any day other than Sunday is indulgent.
I have yet to meet a person (young and old alike) who dislikes rajma. But why would it meet resistance when the beans become buttery and soft surrendering themselves to the gravy they are bathed in. Ginger, garlic, sautéed onion and cumin contribute to the light and soupy gravy and together with the beans, they are poured over rice.
Kidney beans are not indigenous to India and made their way to Kashmir through sailors by way of Central America. Yet somehow the assimilation of this ingredient makes it hard to imagine a North India without it’s Sunday ritual of rajma-chawal.
When moms makes this dish, it is one of the few times they will make a dish without other sides. This bowl of comfort is served up with some rice and a rustically sliced onion sprinkled with chili powder and salt. Whilst it can be made with canned kidney beans, don’t expect the blessings of a mom to make it this way. After all, like any stock, the goodness of the beans enriches the water it is cooked in. It also adds a light starchy base to the soup, giving the soup a velvety texture.
Kidney beans require some forward planning by soaking the night before and whilst many will throw it in a pressure cooker for a more rapid result, I like to cook mine on a low simmer for a couple of hours. It is a lazy Sunday afterall and once you get it on the stove, it will gently do it’s work.
Recipe For Rajma
Red kidney beans, 1 ½ cups soaked in double the volume of water overnight
Salt to taste
2 tbsp. grapeseed oil
1 ½ tsp. cumin
2 cups onions, finely diced
1 heaped tbsp. grated ginger
1 tsp. grated garlic
1 x 12 oz. can of crushed tomatoes
10 cups water
1/2 tsp. red chili powder
1 tsp. coriander powder
Handful of chopped cilantro
1) Soak kidney beans overnight. Drain. Bring to a boil in a large pan (so the beans can swell) with10 cups of water and reduce to a gentle simmer. Cook covered for 2 hours until beans are tender
2) Heat oil in a large pan, add cumin seeds. Within a few seconds, the seeds will fizz in the pan; add the onions and sauté until they get browned from the sides. Add ginger, garlic and fresh chili and powder and continue to sauté. Add the salt and crushed tomatoes and cook until oil separates. Add the sauce to the cooked kidney beans an simmer fro another 10 minutes to let beans absorbs the flavors. Sprinkle the coriander powder and serve hot with boiled rice and garnished with fresh cilantro
Saira Malhotra, is of British–Indian descent and is a chef, food writer and cooking instructor based in New York City. Raised in Hounslow, U.K, or rather ‘Little India’, where the air is aromatic with roasted spices, little did Saira know these moments would follow her from being a student in France and Italy to residing in NYC with her husband and kids and parlay themselves unexpectedly in to a culinary career. She is a graduate of the International Culinary Center in New York City. Come visit her at her food blog: www.passportpantry.com where she shares approachable and international recipes