Archive for February 2008

Spicy Red Kidney Beans (Rajma)

February 27, 2008

Many common types of beans are served in my kitchen in one form or another. Beans are highly versatile foods and can easily be served as a side dish, appetizer, main dish and even a dessert. Given that we’re in the middle of winter, I like to return to my comfort foods, which includes hearty dark red kidney bean stew. Nothing is more satisfying to me than a big bowl of hot rajma on a blustery winter day. However you define them – legumes, dried beans, pulses or dals (in my nani’s kitchen) – they are an essential and nutritious part of many ethnic cuisines around the world.

Today I wanted to share a simple recipe using dried red kidney beans which can be prepared with any combination of roots or your choice of vegetables and spices. Bean dishes are generally served with chapati, nan, or simply over plain boiled rice (my preference!). Spicy red kidney beans or rajma (really Indian version of chili without meat) is one of my childhood comfort foods and remains so to this day. Enjoy!

1/2 pound dried red kidney beans, soaked overnight
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 1/2 tablespoons ginger-garlic paste
1/4 teaspoon turmeric and salt to taste
1/2 tablespoon ground coriander-cumin
1 teaspoon mild chili powder or to taste
2 medium tomatoes, chopped or canned crushed tomatoes
1 teaspoon garam masala – optional
Coriander leaves for garnishing

1) Wash and drain the red kidney beans thoroughly. Place beans in a heavy-bottomed 3-quart saucepan and add 3 to 3 1/2 cups water. Bring to a full boil over high heat and skim off any foam that rises to the top. At this stage I like to add 1 teaspoon salt, 2 large crushed garlic cloves, 1-inch crushed ginger slice, 1 bay leaf, 1 2-inch cinnamon stick and 1 teaspoon oil. Cover partially with a tight-fitting lid and reduce the heat to medium. Simmer beans for approximately 50 to 55 minutes or until kidney beans are fork tender. Or if you like to use drained canned red kidney beans omit the step # 1 and simply follow the step # 2 except use a larger saucepan rather than a skillet.
2) Meanwhile in a large skillet, heat 1 tablespoon oil and sauté the onion until lightly brown. Add the remaining ingredients except garam masala and coriander leaves. Cover and cook for approximately 8 to 10 minutes or until tomatoes are softened. Cool the onion-tomato mixture and puree until smooth. I omit this step.
3) Add the onion-tomato puree and garam masala to simmering beans and mix thoroughly. Cover; turn heat to very, very low and cook for 15 to 20 minutes. Remove the crushed garlic, ginger, bay leaf and cinnamon stick. At this stage mash about 1/8 cup of beans to make the bean dish thicker if needed. Again I omit this step. Adjust the consistency of the dish by adding more liquid as needed. Taste and add extra seasonings. Remove the whole spices and discard. Before serving allow beans to rest for at least 30 minutes so that the flavors have a chance to blend. Serve the spicy red kidney beans garnished with freshly chopped coriander leaves and lemon wedges on the side.
Yield: approximately 6-8 servings

Note: Most bean dishes are best tasting if prepared in advance and some varieties freeze quite well. Traditionally ghee (clarified butter) was used in this dish and asafetida (and a bunch of whole spices – cumin seeds, whole black peppercorns, red chili and black cardamom pods and acidic ingredients – cider vinegar, dried mango powder or tamarind etc.) is a must-have seasoning. Depending upon the consistency of the dish use about 1 teaspoon flour while sautéing the onion. When it comes to these dishes there are as many variations as there are cooks. My favorite bean dishes (whole beans – kidney beans, soybeans, chickpeas or whole urad) are always cooked in the pressure cooker without soaking.