Rajma, Take 4

Yes, it’s true that all my rajma recipes are basically variations on each other. You’re welcome.

This is my fourth recipe for rajma, the Punjabi kidney bean dish that has become increasingly iconic in recent years in American foodie circles interested in Indian food (you can find the others here, here and here). This is a good thing. Rajma is a force for good, especially in cold climates. And it is a rather versatile dish, being very compatible with rice, with chapatis, with parathas etc. and also very amenable to being eaten by itself out of a bowl. I make it all the time here in Minnesota, varying—as is my annoying wont—the ratios of spices and other ingredients each time. And whenever I hit upon a version that I particularly like I share it with you. But do you thank me? No. Well, maybe you thank me, but do you send me money? No, you don’t, you shameless, ungrateful swine.

I very rarely make it with kidney beans any more though, choosing instead to use various red beans from Rancho Gordo (let me once again plug the booklet of Indian bean recipes I wrote for them—don’t worry, it’s free). In this case I made it with the Flor de Mayo bean. It’s not in stock right now but really whichever red bean you like from their current inventory—King City Pinks or Santa Maria Pinquitos or Domingo Rojos—will work just fine. Hell, it’ll also be very good with the purple Ayocato Morados or even Yellow Eyes, though I don’t know how comfortable I am calling a non-red bean dish rajma.


  • 1 lb red beans of choice
  • The following whole garam masala: 1 large piece cinnamon or cassia bark, 5 pods green cardamom, 5 cloves
  • 1 large red onion, chopped–about 1.5 cups worth
  • 2 tspns freshly pounded ginger
  • 1 tspn freshly pounded garlic
  • 1 heaped tspn hot chilli powder
  • 3/4 tspn haldi/turmeric powder
  • 1 tspn ginger powder
  • 1/2 tspn amchur/dried mango powder
  • 1/4 tspn hing/asafoetida
  • The following lightly toasted (2-3 minutes on a cast iron pan over medium-low heat), cooled and ground to a fine powder: 1 tspn coriander seed, 1 tspn cumin seed, 1 tspn black peppercorn, 1 tspn fennel seed, 1/2 tspn methi/fenugreek seed
  • 2 cups diced tomato
  • 1 tblspn jaggery or dark brown sugar
  • Salt
  • Oil
  • Water
  • 1 big pinch garam masala
  • 2 tspns chopped dhania/cilantro for garnish


  1. Rinse the beans and place in your bean pot covered by several inches of water. Bring to a boil, hold it there for 10-15 minutes, then reduce to a simmer, cover and cook till the beans are almost done. You’ll need to replenish the water from time to time so the beans stay submerged as they cook—use hot water from a kettle for this.
  2. While the beans are cooking slowly, prepare the masala as follows:
  3. Heat 2-3 tblspns of neutral oil of choice over medium heat in a skillet and when hot add the whole garam masala.
  4. As soon as the cinnamon begins to darken add the onion, stir to mix and reduce the heat to low. Cook the onion on low heat, stirring often, for 20-30 minutes or till nicely darkened. Be careful not to let it burn.
  5. Once the onions have softened and darkened, raise the heat to medium and add the pounded ginger and garlic. Saute for 1-2 minutes or till the raw aroma is gone.
  6. Dump in all the powdered spices, mix in and saute for a minute or two, stirring constantly.
  7. Add the tomatoes, salt and jaggery, mix in and cook till the tomatoes have completely cooked down and the oil separates.
  8. Turn the heat off and let it sit till the beans are almost done.
  9. When the beans are beginning to soften but are still just a bit resistant to the tooth take a ladleful of the bean liquor and use it to loosen up the masala in the skillet and then dump the contents of the skillet into your bean pot.
  10. Stir in and cook over medium heat till the beans are completely done—depending on your beans this could be another 15-30 minutes (go by texture, not time). When done the beans should just be peeking over the surface of the curry.
  11. Add the garam masala, mix in and cook for another minute.
  12. Taste and adjust salt as needed, garnish with the dhania and serve with rice or chapatis/parathas/tortillas or just in a bowl.


  1. This is a dish to make on a leisurely day. Put the beans on first thing in the morning while drinking your cup of tea or coffee and an hour later, once fully awake, you can get started on toasting and cooling the spices and then caramelizing the onions. Time it all well and you’ll have everything ready in 2 hours or so, well in time for a tasty lunch. Well, that’s the stove-top cooking time for most Rancho Gordo red beans. If you’re using beans from some other source it may take a lot longer; if you use a pressure cooker it will be a lot faster.
  2. You could, if you like, mash a ladle or so’s worth of beans against the side of the pot at the end. With Rancho Gordo beans I’d only do this if the consistency of the curry is too thin when the beans are getting done—they don’t need it for flavour. Best really to just simmer till at the texture you like.
  3. It will thicken in the fridge but will taste better the next day. This is just how it is for masala-heavy curries.
  4. Since this is made with a lot of tomato I like to use a very hot chilli powder. You should use whatever the hottest is that you can manage.
  5. You could, if you like, swirl in a tablespoon or two of cream at the very end. Me, I don’t bother. You could also garnish it further with some chopped raw red onion and hot green chillies.


2 thoughts on “Rajma, Take 4

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.