It is a truth universally acknowledged that, ahem, Kashmiris make the best Raajma (red kidney beans) ever. Ahem. And this blog post is going to prove it. Ahem.
Let me paint you a picture: Red kidney beans, soaked overnight, slow cooked for hours. With lovely sweet turnips. (And lamb of course. Because we put lamb in everything. And because lamb makes *everything* better. But I’m leaving lamb out for this recipe, if only to prove that this works exceedingly well as a fantastic vegetarian dish.) Its the stuff winter dreams are made of. In Kashmir this would be served with lots of rice – yep, like everything else – but ladle it into a soup bowl and dig in if you want. I promise you it’ll warm your hands, your tummy, your heart and your soul.
500 gms of Red kidney beans – washed and soaked overnight in plenty of water.
5-6 medium turnips – pick the smaller ones out at the grocer’s, they’re sweeter and cook quicker.
4-5 medium tomatoes (optional – Most Kashmiri recipes are tomato free, and this one works brilliantly without, but I like the slight tang that tomatoes bring to this dish).
2-3 shallots, finely sliced.
4-5 fat cloves of garlic. Leave one clove whole and grind the rest.
1 inch root of ginger, ground (optional).
Bunch of coriander for garnish.
Whole Spices —
5 black cardamom pods.
1-2 teaspoons of cumin.
1-2 teaspoons of coriander seeds (optional – this is not a very Kashmiri ingredient, but I must confess I love the slightly nutty flavour these give to this dish).
1-2 sticks of cinnamon
Ground spices —
1-2 teaspoons of turmeric powder.
1 teaspoon of Kashmiri red chili powder – You could use whatever chili powder you have to hand, but I should mention here that Kashmiri chilies are the reddest, most aromatic etc. Another truth universally acknowledged. Ahem.
Oil for cooking – You know by now that I cook *everything* in olive oil, but hey, free world.
So first of all drain and rinse your soaked kidney beans. And now do that again. Good. Next, put them in a big thick bottomed pan with plenty of water and one clove of garlic and bring to boil on high heat. Cover and simmer till the beans are melt-in-your-mouth soft – anywhere between 2 – 2.5 hours, maybe even longer (make sure to keep adding water to the pan as and when, and to stir the pot every now and then to prevent scorching. That can happen if your pan isn’t thick bottomed enough, or if its on too high a flame). Alternately put your beans in a pressure cooker, and you’ll be done in 20 mins – gotto love science!
While your beans are doing their thing, pour a good glug and a half of oil into another pan. Add all your whole spices and fry till fragrant – about 2-3 minutes (you could dry roast and grind all of these, except the cinnamon, if you prefer more intense flavours). Now add the shallots, and fry till soft and translucent. Next put the ginger and garlic in. Fry some more. Finally the ground spices. If you don’t want to use tomatoes then your tempering (baghaar) is pretty much done. Otherwise now is the time to add your tomatoes to the pan and cook them down and fry them till all the moisture is gone and you can see oil in the pan.
The next thing you need to sort out are of course the turnips. I love turnips. On their own. With lamb (obviously). In this dish with Raajma. It is, after all, yet another truth universally acknowledged, ahem, that Kashmiris are marked as much by their high foreheads and long noses as they are by their near universal love of turnips. True fact.
And here’s what you need to do to these beauties – wash, peel and chop them into chunks. Heat some oil in a pan. Add the turnips. Slight sprinkle of salt. I do what my mum does, (good thumb of rule in the kitchen – do what your mum does. Seriously) which is to give the turnips a good stir on high heat for a minute or two, then cover and bring the heat right down, and let them cook for a good 20-30 mins. The salt and low heat work together to make the turnips sweat. They cook in their own juices and get fried after they’ve softened. All round best result. Mum’s know *everything*! So basically by the end of this step you’re looking at soft, golden turnips.
Okay, time to check on those beans. Once they are done, use the back of a wooden spoon to smush some of them as you stir. This will make your gravy lovely and thick, and you’ll thank me for it. Obviously.
Now what you need to do is to pour your tempering, with or without tomatoes, into the beans. Add salt, keeping in mind that you’ve already put some in the turnips which are going to make their way into that pot pretty soon as well. Give it a good old stir, bring everything to boil again, cover, simmer. After about 5-10 mins, add the turnips, good old stir again, bring everything to boil again, cover, simmer. Patience. You’re nearly there. 10 more minutes. A bit of coriander scattered all over and you’re done.
Go on. Have a taste. You’re welcome. Also, I told you so.