Indian Food Rocks

December 12, 2012

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.

rajma kidney beans


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.

red kidney beans

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. 

soaked beans

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.

onion tomato mint

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.

red kidney bean rajma


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)

See the full recipe (and save and print it) here.

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. 


11 Comments Add a Comment
  • Missing_avatar

    emcsull says: Just for information, indianfoodrocks (and indeed it DOES !) what do you mean by "chili powder" ? thanks emcsull

    about 1 year ago Reply to this »
  • Missing_avatar

    gyan gupta says: Cayenne pepper powder. I use chopped green Serrano peppers while frying the onions and some Cayenne pepper power for extra kick. GG

    about 1 year ago
  • 20120510-sq-1986

    indianfoodrocks says: @emcsull, you can use cayenne like Gyan suggested. Red chile powder is powdered dried red chiles and can be found in Indian grocery stores. Depending on the type of chiles (or chillies as it is spelled in the subcontinent) used, the powder could be very high on the Scoville scale or mild. You may or may not need to add this, depending on how hot your green chiles are as well as how spice level of your garam masala.

    about 1 year ago
  • Missing_avatar

    emcsull says: I get confused sometimes, chili powder in India is just chilis but otherwise when you say "chili powder" it might mean Mexican and there can be all kinds of stuff mixed into that. Looking so much forward to these beans ! emcsull

    about 1 year ago
  • 20120510-sq-1986

    indianfoodrocks says: @emcsull: I get it! Which is why I now make sure I write "chile" which is the accepted spelling for fresh chile peppers as well as dried chile peppers in the US. I don't use chili unless I am talking about American chili (the dish). Chillies, on the other hand, has two ls, an i and an e! Oy! It can get very confusing indeed! I have folders in my head for each word that can be spelled differently, depending on where you live / grew up / etc :-D

    about 1 year ago
  • Missing_avatar

    gyan gupta says: Hi, This is my favorite food to make, eat and share. Nothing like a bowl of Rajma with some Basmati rice or Paratha. This is about the same receipt that have been using for last 30 years except Mint. Now I will add some mint. Thanks for sharing it with the world. With best wishes, Gyan

    about 1 year ago Reply to this »
  • 20120510-sq-1986

    indianfoodrocks says: Thanks, Gyan! Try it with mint! It adds a new twist to the flavor profile.

    about 1 year ago
  • Stringio

    pasher says: Looks great!

    about 1 year ago Reply to this »
  • 20120510-sq-1986

    indianfoodrocks says: @pasher, thanks! Let me know if you try it. Or come over and I'll make it for you!

    about 1 year ago
  • Dsc_0122

    panfusine says: The Ultimate comfort food!

    about 1 year ago Reply to this »
  • 20120510-sq-1986

    indianfoodrocks says: Isn't that the truth! :-)

    about 1 year ago

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