What is Raajma??? Kidney beans like you never imagined! One of my most favorite, satisfying comfort foods… rich, smoothly spicy, and luscious over rice. Here it is right after it was done:
I couldn’t resist serving myself a small bowl over some basmati rice! You can make raajma very simply (like this) or dress it up with chopped cilantro and onions. So deelish!!
My earliest memories of raajma are from my very first trip to India in 1984. While visiting Fatehgahr Sahib in the Punjab, my traveling group stayed at the beautiful Gurdwara (Sikh temple and guest house) there. It is out in the middle of farmland near a small village… so tranquil and healing… The afternoon meal was always some kind of dal (spicy bean soup) served with rice or chapatis and perhaps sabjee (curried vegetables). I remember the raajma sizzling hot, with freshly chopped cilantro mixed in. It was like heaven on rice.
Making raajma is pretty straightforward and takes about 30 minutes of prep and cooking time (and about 8 hours of bean soaking time). When I make it, I either set the beans to soak overnight, or first thing in the morning. The same time I set the beans to soak I also prep my ginger and garlic. Sometimes, if I know I will be pressed for time later, I will prep the onions then too (but onions are really best chopped right before using). Then, when it’s time to cook, it only takes 20-25 minutes. I put the beans in the pressure cooker with enough water to cover by at least an inch and cook them at high pressure for 15 minutes. If I feel like it, I might add a little piece of cinnamon stick, a bay leaf and a black cardamom pod to the pot. As soon as I’ve got the beans on the stove I start cooking my masala. A good masala will take at least 15-20 minutes of cooking time. This way the beans and masala are done at the same time. All you have to do is mix them together, and presto! You have amazing raajma ready to go.
How do you make a masala? (This is pronounced MuhSAAla and means spice mixture, btw) First you heat your oil or ghee in a kadahi, wok or skillet. My masala in the picture is being cooked in a kadahi (karDAAhee), which is basically an Indian wok; the sides are steeper and the bottom more bowl shaped than a regular wok or skillet. I always prefer the cast iron or steel type because they get well seasoned with use for a natural non stick surface. A kadahi is great for masalas, curries, deep frying, and sauteing… anything that needs to be stirred while it’s cooked. The steep bowled sides keep returning whatever you are stirring toward the center. Also, if you need to sizzle spices in oil, you can easily make a little pool of oil in the bowled bottom to do that. I have had this kadahi for so many years. It has gotten very well seasoned!!
The first step is to get the oil or ghee hot over high heat. Then add any whole spices (here I added cumin seeds, black cardamom, and a little kala jeera). Once the whole spices have sizzled (about 20 seconds) then you add the chopped onions and let them get nice and lightly browned. Adding a half teaspoon of salt will help speed this up a little (it draws the water out of the onions). Then add the chopped ginger and garlic (or ginger-garlic paste). You have to stir almost constantly because you are doing this over high or medium-high heat and using minimal oil. If you use more oil, maybe then you don’t have to stir so much, but who wants all that oil?
Once all that is nicely browned push the fried onions etc a little out from the center to create space for a little pool of oil to form (it should drain down from the cooking onions). If you don’t have enough collecting there, add a teaspoon of oil. Then add your turmeric and cayenne or red chiles. You don’t want to add ground spices for frying until after the onions have browned. When your turmeric has sizzled for a little bit, then add tomatoes.
For raajma, tomatoes are optional but I really encourage you to use them if you have handy. Two medium tomatoes will be about the same as a can of diced or crushed tomatoes.. You can use fresh or canned. I didn’t have fresh or canned crushed/diced tomatoes on hand when I made this raajma, but I did have some tomato sauce. It worked just fine. Because tomato sauce is more concentrated than chopped/diced/crushed tomatoes, don’t use more than a half can (about 1/2 to 3/4 cup).
After I added the tomato sauce it looked too thick to me, so I added about a 1/2 cup of water. The masala needs to cook for a good 10 minutes or so with the tomatoes and you need to add water anyway. I cooked it until all the extra water cooked out. You can see my pressure cooker on the next burner is busy cooking my kidney beans!
Finally the masala is done. You will know your masala is ready when it is very very well cooked into a sort of alloy of all the ingredients, easily pulling away from the sides of the pan. If you used chopped tomatoes, the tomatoes would be almost entirely dissolved and barely distinguishable. You can see that now the beans are also done… exactly at the same time. I love that!
If I am making raajma and rice for my husband’s lunch (the ever good wife, I pack us both homemade lunches just about every day), the night before I set the beans to soak and quickly prep the ginger and garlic. I also put the rice in the rice cooker and set the timer so it will be done at 7:30 AM. Then in the morning all I have to do is take 20 minutes to fry everything up and cook the beans.This is a 3-layer lunch… rice, then raajma, and topped with steamed veggies. Deelish and satisfying.
Oh, I guess that wasn’t really the last step. After you add it to the beans you will notice you still have some “good stuff” stuck in your frying pan. Take a spoonful or two of bean broth from the pot, add it to the frying pan, and swish it around. This will collect all the bits of ginger, garlic, onions and spice that may be clinging to the pan, and then add this back to the cooked beans.
Now you have come to the real last step, which is adjusting flavor with salt, and adding a little last minute herbs (kasoori methi and cilantro) if you wish. Oh, did I just hear a beeping sound?? My rice is done!
Raajma and rice can be served alone as a simple, nourishing meal. Enjoy!!
And, btw, here is the actual recipe…
Yield: 6 generous servings
2 cups dry kidney beans
6 cups water
2 onions, chopped
6 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 inches fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped
1-2 serrano chiles or har mirich, finely chopped
14.5 oz. canned diced tomatoes (or 2-3 chopped fresh tomatoes)
3 Tbsp. ghee or oil
1 tsp. cumin seeds
1 black cardamom pod
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. turmeric
1 rounded Tbsp. ground coriander
¼ tsp. cayenne
⅛ tsp. asafetida powder(hing)(optional)
1 Tbsp. kasoori methi (dried fenugreek leaves) (optional)
½ cup chopped cilantro
Soak the Beans: Remove any debris from dry beans. Rinse in cold water. Place in 2-quart container and add 6 cups water. If on hand, add 1 Tbsp. of vinegar. Let soak overnight, or at least 8 hours.
Cook the Beans: Drain soaked beans and discard water. Place beans in pressure cooker and add enough water to cover beans by at least 1 inch. Bring to pressure and cook for 15 minutes until soft. (For regular pot, use same amount of water; cooking time will be 60-90 minutes.) Remove from heat and release pressure with the quick release method. Taste a bean. It should be soft through and through. If there is any “chew” to the beans, pressure cook for another 3-5 minutes or until done.
Prep the Vegetables: Chop onions, garlic, ginger and green chile.
If you want a smooth gravy, pulse tomatoes a few times in food processor to coarsely chop. Have necessary spices handy by stove.
Make the Masala: Heat oil in kadahi or skillet over high heat. Add cumin seeds and 1 black cardamom pod and let sizzle 30 seconds until toasted. Now add chopped onions and sprinkle with salt. Stir onions, cooking over medium-high heat, about 8 minutes until they are soft and barely browned. Stir frequently to avoid getting too browned. Make a little pool in the center of onions, adding a little more ghee or oil if necessary. Add turmeric and let it sizzle few moments. Now add chopped ginger, garlic and chili, cooking and stirring another 3-5 minutes. Add tomatoes, and then coriander and asafetida. Keep cooking, stirring frequently and adding a little water as necessary, over medium high heat 5-10 more minutes (longer if using fresh tomatoes), until the mixture becomes unified and pulls away from the edges of the pan as stirred. Then the “masala” is done.
Complete the Dish: Add masala to cooked kidney beans. Use slotted spoon to mash some of the beans against the side of the pot to help thicken sauce. Simmer for 5-10 minutes. Remove from heat. Add salt to taste. Whiz kasoori methi (optional) in spice grinder to make powder or rub between hands to crush. Pull out any long or tough stems. Add methi and chopped cilantro to your Raajma. Ready to serve!