Manisha Pandit, creator of the popular food blog Indian Food Rocks, is a master behind the stove and camera lens. In her monthly column, she shares Indian recipes and cooking techniques that are as pleasurable to see as they are to swallow.
Today, Manisha plates up a northern Indian take on red beans and rice.
Once we are well into fall, our meals slowly transition from light and flavorful to hearty yet healthy, providing that much-needed dose of comfort in quickly shortening days. Sunset comes early to us because of the Rocky Mountains immediately to our west. The sun dips behind the Flatirons of Boulder before 4:00 p.m. There is an unspoken need to return home to a meal that will fill the belly and warm the soul. That's true of me on most weekdays. As locally grown vegetables become scarce, I find myself turning to beans and legumes to fill this need.
One of our favorite meals is rajma-chawal, or red kidney beans with rice. Rajma (rahj-mah) is used to describe both dried red kidney beans as well as the cooked dish. I usually cook rajma with dark red kidney beans as they are meatier and rather satisfying. However, I had scored organic kidney beans -- locally grown by Stonebridge Farm of Lyons, Colorado -- at my very first food swap earlier this year that were begging to be used.
Cooking with dried beans usually translates into longer prep time or lead time for the dish as it is always a good idea to soak the beans before cooking. Not only does soaking the beans reduce the actual cook time, and therefore fuel costs, but it also helps to reduce some of the flatulence that beans are known to cause. Some of the chemicals that cause this discomfort dissolve in the water as the beans rehydrate, making it a good idea to discard the water that the beans were soaked in and cook them in a fresh change of water. If I have enough time, I soak my dried beans in cold water either overnight or for at least 8 hours. If I am short on time, I use the quick-soak method and bring the beans to a boil in about 4 to 5 times as much water, take the pot off the stove, cover it tightly, and let it soak for at least an hour.
I must admit that I used to take an even bigger shortcut to the quick-soak method: canned beans. Unfortunately, since there is no guarantee that the BPA in the lining of some cans does not leach into the food, I feel like I have come full circle as I return to my old habits of using dried beans and peas over canned foods. And therein lies why rajma-chawal cannot be a meal cooked on an impulse; it must be planned ahead of time.
I live at an altitude of 5,320 feet. Things take longer to cook here as water boils at a lower temperature. I prefer to use a pressure cooker to cook my beans, but they can be cooked in a pot on the stove, too. It just takes much longer: 25 minutes as opposed to 2 to 3 hours in a pot.
My recipe for rajma uses a basic onion-tomato-ginger-garlic masala, but I also add some chopped fresh mint for a brighter flavor. This tip came to me from a dear friend who knows how much I love mint. My recipe also relies on garam masala instead of whole spices. I also like to add tejpatta, a leaf that is often confused with bay leaves. If you cannot find tejpatta, consider adding a small one-inch stick of cassia and a whole clove. When I didn't know better, I often substituted tejpatta with bay leaves and was left wondering what spice I had forgotten to add. It imparts a very subtle but desirable flavor to the dish.
Rajma is considered to be comfort food in northern India. From my perspective, they couldn't have it more right because this bean dish warms the cockles of my heart, especially on days when the mercury starts dipping and the blusterous winds bring in a storm that we hope will blanket our parched soil with a pristine coat of white.
Serves 6-8 as a side
2 cups dried kidney beans, rehydrated and cooked
3 tablespoons cooking oil
1/2 large onion, sliced thin
1 tejpatta leaf
2 cups diced tomatoes
1 tablespoon grated ginger
1/2 tablespoon grated garlic
2 hot green chiles, sliced vertically into two
2 teaspoons garam masala
1/3 cup chopped mint leaves
1/2 - 1 teaspoon red chile powder (optional)
2 teaspoons salt
3 cups water
1/3 cup chopped cilantro
Lemon wedges for serving (optional)
Like this post? See Manisha's previous topic: Karanji.
Photos by Manisha Pandit.
Manisha writes the food blog Indian Food Rocks, spiced with eclectic Indian food and entertaining anecdotes.