I am going to say this out loud, declare it on the internet and probably get brickbats. But I am feeling reckless this evening, probably because I am a bit sleep deprived. Also, because I have been itching to say this for too long. I think the Indian dish rajma is the ancestor of the Mexican dish chilli. The resemblance is too uncanny. Apart from the heavy use of oregano in one and the garam masala in the other, that is. But cumin? In both. Tomato? In both. Onions? Check. Garlic? Check. Kidney beans? Check. I have to say that as an Indian, or rather a “North Indian” to be more specific, I am so used to cumin that whenever I taste some dish from another country, my brain screams, “Indian!” I might be wrong of course. Wikipedia says that cumin is native to East Mediterranean as well as India. But pray tell me, why were the Europeans so desperate for Indian spices if cumin was growing right in their backyards? OK, OK, I know, they didn’t have pepper, cardamom or cinnamon.
Anyway, this evening I made some rajma. A lot of stuff goes into it, if you want to go the restaurant way. As my friend Nithya rightly pointed out, the home cook keeps things much simpler. But I made it the Minimalist Indian way. Which is to say with half the ingredients and some shortcuts. And then just because I am crazy that way, I made it utterly unpalatable for the saffron brigade by adding beef to the portion meant for the two men in my family. Despicable! I know. But then by their definition, I have probably stopped being a Hindu the day I married a non-Hindu, non-Indian man. Oh well, I could live with that. Because my husband and son slurped their way through dinner. The son who came home today without eating lunch at school. Why? Because it was not to his taste. I never thought I would meet such a picky and hardy seven year-old who can survive an entire day of school without eating.
THE MINIMALIST INDIAN RAJMA WITH A HERETIC TWIST
Red kidney beans 1 cup
1 small onion sliced
1 small piece of cinnamon
1 small bay leaf
1 tsp cumin powder
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp grated ginger
Two medium tomatoes or half a can of tomatoes
1 tsp oil
Note: I made mine without garlic or chilli, but feel free to use some if you wish.
Basic Process with a tiny bit of handholding – Soak the beans in water overnight. Or if you are cooking in the evening, soak it first thing in the morning, so that it gets a good soak for 8 hours or so. Drain from water and rinse. In your pot of choice, heat the oil, add cinnamon and bay leaf. When the air becomes aromatic, add the onion and after a minute add the tomatoes. Add the powders, mix well and saute till the water from the tomatoes have almost evaporated and the mixture looks brownish. Add ginger, stir and a few seconds later add the beans and enough water to cover the beans. For me it was about two and a half cups. Bring to a boil, add salt to taste (check a droplet on your tongue, it should taste seasoned) and then simmer until beans are soft. Here is a fun fact. If you are the lucky owner of a pressure cooker, then all you need is about 15-20 minutes before the beans are cooked. Otherwise, get yourself something else to do for 45 minutes to one hour. You will know when the beans are done by pressing one between your fingers. It should get squashed easily. I just stopped at this point and didn’t go through the trouble of pureeing a portion of it to make it creamy. Because I like the chunkiness.
Note: I should say that I tend to sometimes streamline this recipe even further. There are days when I don’t add bay leaf or skip the onion. What I would not skip is the tomato, ginger and cumin though. They form the backbone of the dish. And the cinnamon adds a nice sophisticated dimension to the earthy flavour of the beans. Like I have mentioned before, the onion takes the edge out of the ginger and rounds out the dish. But I like it without as well, which you might not. So play around.
If you are going to add meat (any kind) – brown small chunks with the spices and then let the meat cook with the beans. Or do it like me. I put aside a portion for me and to the rest, just added some left-over meat from a beef broth I had made for the little boy the other day. The meat was falling apart already, so I just added it to the rajma once it was ready. Here is a picture:
Accompaniment – Traditionally one eats rice with it. But you could eat it with any grain of choice. I made some pearl millet. It is part of the traditional diet in many parts of India. It’s healthy and I love the texture and taste. Cooking directions are usually given on the package and are fairly simple, like rice. I don’t know if you can get it at a store near you but where there is a will there is internet!