My girlfriends were coming over for dinner and one of them was vegetarian. I had just arrived back from Europe and had been working like a dog since I had come back, injured myself and was on crutches for a bit and literally had no time to grocery shop for about two weeks. I had peaked through my cabinets to see what I had on-hand to save me a trip to the grocery store: dried red lentils, red kidney beans, basmati rice… I was going to make something Indian. And in an effort to try something new, I had tried my hand at a Punjabi rajma masala.
Now, I cannot claim this as an authentic version of rajma masala – in fact, it is nowhere near authentic! Despite not having any idea what this was supposed to taste like, I think it came out pretty okay. Okay, more than okay. The flavour is vastly different than any other curry I’ve ever made before and the main bulk of it was red kidney beans! The only thing that I’ve had that was remotely similar was the kidney bean curry at Rice ‘n Spice across the street in the food court across from my office. It’s not a bad curry, but it’s nothing to write home about either. But this rajma masala however…
The two main factors in this curry that makes it stand out far from any other curries I have ever made were making your own garlic and ginger paste and toasting the spices beforehand. Huge difference. Total game changer. I ground up my garlic and ginger in a mortar and pestle on live during my cooking show on Instagram and it took me a good 10 minutes. Very repetitive. I would probably recommend a larger mortar and pestle to avoid your ingredients flying around everywhere over your kitchen.
Dry roasting the spices, another step that simply cannot be skipped, really elevates the flavour of the spices and brings out excess moisture. Just be sure to keep your eye on the spices while you roast them – they can burn easily. If you have the opportunity to dry roast whole spices, please take advantage of this and grind them in a spice grinder after it cools.
These two steps are absolutely essential to this recipe. Everything else in the recipe is fairly simple – caramelizing the onions, adding in fresh tomatoes, kidney beans and bringing to a boil and then simmer.
RAJMA MASALA – serves 4
1 cup dried red kidney beans, soaked overnight
2 tsps ground cumin
½ tsp ground turmeric
1 tbsp garam masala
1 tsp red chili powder
1 bay leaf
dash ground cinnamon
5 cloves garlic
1” knob of ginger, peeled
2 tbsp ghee
1 yellow onion, diced
5 roma tomatoes, pureed
1 tbsp kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
½ bunch of cilantro, roughly chopped
Begin by soaking your dried red kidney beans overnight. The beans should double in size to about 3 cups. Transfer to a small pot, cover with water, and bring to a boil. Bring the heat down to low and simmer until cooked, about 20 – 30 minutes. Leave in water and set aside.
In a mortar and pestle, smash and garlic and ginger down until you get a chunky paste. Adding some kosher salt helps here as well and will draw out some of the juices from these aromatics. Set aside.
While your beans are cooking, dry roast the spices (cumin, turmeric, garam masala, chili powder, and cinnamon) in a small pan over medium heat. Keep your eye on the spices – they burn easily. The scent is quite strong when roasted – that’s when you know it is finished, about 4 minutes.
In a medium saucepan, heat your ghee until melted. Add in the onions and ginger and garlic paste and sauté for 3 minutes until the onions get some colour on them. Add in your spices and bay leaf. Add in the tomatoes and stir until well-combined. Add in the kidney beans and depending on how thick you want your curry, add in a bit of the liquid that the beans were cooked in. I added about 1 cup since I prefer my sauce to be thicker. Bring to a boil and lower to simmer. Add salt and pepper to taste.
To serve, eat with basmati rice and stir in freshly chopped cilantro just before serving and additional on top.