Indian red bean curry – rajmah
Installment 2 in the series – we can feed another…
My very good friend Amit was born and raised in Delhi, India. He tells me how much time he would spend outdoors as a boy, running long distances, playing hard with his friends and his brothers, from morning until the hot sun was nearly down. Here he is, on the left, with his mother Anjana and his middle brother Moni, resting in a field of nasturiums at the end of a long day of play.
But something else was happening while Amit was growing up a boy in India. He was paying close attention to what his mother was doing in the kitchen. I know, because to eat at Amit’s house today is a treat, a sumptuous, sensuous, exotic and deeply satisfying treat! Even the simplest of meals feels like a feast at Amit’s house. He moves around his kitchen with ease and a deep but relaxed concentration, spooning spices from their metal tin, peeling and finely slicing ginger, roasting seeds in a pan on the stove. It takes but a few minutes of watching him at work in the kitchen and smelling the aromas rising before you know that the meal you’re about to be served is well on its way towards being amazing.
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I told Amit that spree was doing a series on beans and rice dishes and the reasons why. (See rice & beans.) I asked if he’d share something his mother had cooked while he was growing up – something he’d loved then and brought with him when he moved to the States. He readily volunteered today’s recipe.
As often happens, we pick up the recipes of our parents and adapt them to our changing tastes and ideas about food and what we expect from it. Amit has made a couple changes to the recipe below, but we have first his mother Anjana to thank. This was a dish she was eating growing up a girl in India (seen here with her brother) – long before it came to be one of Amit’s very favorite dishes.
A pressure cooker was used for this recipe. It makes very short work of cooking with dried beans, and cooking your own dried beans from scratch is always a more flavorful alternative to canned.
No Pressure Cooker? – it can also be made using a simple soup pot, though it will take somewhat longer…or, if you’re in need of getting dinner on the table a bit faster, canned beans (likely pinto) would be a good option. Keep in mind though that cooking the beans with these wonderful spices really is the secret behind a fabulous dish of beans!
See bottom of post for serving suggestions, which include rice and raita (an Indian yogurt sauce)
Red Bean Curry – Rajmah
- 2 cups dried light red beans, preferably soaked overnight in water that covers by 3 inches (See NOTE on variety of beans to use) – if using canned beans, 3 cans should do
- 3 to 4 large ripe tomatoes, diced
- 1 Tablespoon peanut oil (or grapeseed oil – any oil with higher smoking point)
- fresh ginger root (3 thin slices 1-inch x 2-inch each, then cut into narrow strips)
- 2 teaspoons cumin seeds
- 1 teaspoon turmeric
- 1 Tablespoon garam masala (a wonderful Indian spice blend)
- 1 teaspoon ground coriander
- 1 jalapeño pepper coarsely chopped (if you prefer a spicier dish, finely dice it)
- 6 – 8 whole cloves
- 1 to 2 teaspoons tamarind paste – I like 2 (find in Asian section of the market – see photo at bottom – if you absolutely can’t find, add fresh lime juice to taste)
- salt – to taste
- cilantro ½ to 1 whole bunch, washed well and chopped, stems included
- 6 to 8 green onions, sliced
NOTE: You can use a variety of red beans for this recipe: pinto, Anasazi, Borlotti or any other of the “cranberry” beans. You could also use kidney, but they are a bit less “creamy” than others just named, and a bit gummier too.
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Soak beans overnight in enough water to cover by 3 inches. Discard the soaking water.
Cut long thin (longitudinal) strips from the ginger. Add peanut oil to the pressure cooker (or soup pot) on medium or medium-low heat. Add cumin seeds. Amit says to fry until they “chit-chit” which is the sound they’ll make as they approach doneness and are dancing around the bottom of the pan. Turns out, that’s a pretty good guide! Once the cumin has begun to chit-chit, add the julienned ginger and fry until it’s turned a light brown.
Add the diced tomatoes. (I’ve only had this recipe a very short time, and already I’m making my own little changes. I almost always like to add to a dish that has cooked tomatoes, some freshly-cut ones towards the end so that their beautiful color and brightness is present. Therefore, I reserved a 4th medium tomato for that purpose here, cooking for only 2 minutes or less when the dish was nearly ready to serve.) Add the spices – turmeric, garam masala and coriander. Saute for 3 to 5 minutes.
(You will not believe the aromas filling your kitchen! Exquisite I tell you!)
Add very coarsely chopped jalapeño. (If you want the dish more spicy, finely chop the pepper. Want it less spicy? Add it later in the cooking process.)
Add the beans along with 2½ cups of water. (This will create a stew-like consistency. If you’d prefer something a bit soupier, you can add 3 cups of water instead. Turns out that I needed 3.) Add also the whole cloves at this time. Bring the pressure cooker to full pressure and then cook for 15 minutes.
(OK, here’s where a bean dish can go terribly wrong. : ) I cooked for 15 minutes and sampled a couple beans at that time. Not exactly rock-like. Back to the stove. Cooked an additional 7 minutes, figuring they needed at least half again as much time as they were originally given. In the end, my beans required a full 25 – 27 minutes in the pressure cooker. I’ve included a note at the bottom of the post that helps explain. I’d advise that you not take it for granted that your beans will be finished in 15 minutes – though they COULD be!)
Cool down the pressure cooker – then put it back on the burner on medium heat. Add the tamarind paste and stir to mix thoroughly. Add salt to taste. (Be sure NOT to add salt to un-cooked beans! Their tough little skins will never soften if you do!) Heat thoroughly, then remove from the burner and allow it to sit with the lid on while you prepare the rice. (Or keep warm on the lowest possible setting on your stove.)
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This bean dish goes beautifully atop or alongside white or brown basmati rice or your favorite pilaf. Garnish with torn cilantro and sliced green onions.
Also very delicious served with Raita – in fact I consider it a must. It’s just the right amount of cool and fresh to balance the deep aromas and warmth.
Quick how-to: Thin yogurt with a tiny bit of water. Dry-roast cumin seeds in a pan. Grind coarsely. Add to yogurt along with salt. (Especially Himalayan Pink Salt, naturally.)
Amit also suggests a salad of kale, pomegranate seeds and apple slices, tossed in a dressing of olive oil, fresh lime juice and salt. Allow the kale to sit for a while in the dressing in order to soften and for the various flavors to marry.