Friday, December 25, 2009

From the happy place ... DAY 1

Ever since I heard of Nupur's seven-recipe-seven-day-challenge, from my chum Manasi, my mind has been in a maniacal overdrive. Like a spoilt ATM machine that doesn't know what the bejesus to do with all that money. Imagine that! I know exactly what I would do ... Manolos, here I come! No, no ... need PB side-table first. Perhaps not. Cannot do without those fierce, fierce Loboutins, after all. Er ... maybe I spoke too soon. See, how easily I distract. Imagine what a fabulous challenge like this must do to my ADD brain!

To give you an idea. Really, I insist:

"Bake book-marked caramel cake! Nope nope. Feel like the insides need some goood coating of fat, butter and cheese. Pfffft calories! Cheese. Blue cheese, Monterey Jack, Cheddar, Mozzarella. Cheese. Cheese ... Cheese Enchiladas! Damn it! Don't have cheese!! Hmmm ... Ooooh I know! Italian feast of seven fishes in manner of latest Throwdown episode!! A sudden moment of clarity and visions of sweaty, cussy self yelling SHIIT-ake!! (when you have a toddler who bores through new words like caterpillars do apples ... hey, you take inspiration when it comes! Never mind if it's from animated penguins. Thank god she can't read yet).

Deep breath. Calm breath. Happy breath. No time for mushrooms and the like. Warm thoughts. Lit fire. Friends and family. Home. Cozy table of four, six, eight, ten or 20 ... lots of eats, loads of sweets. Soft music, loud banter. Diffused shadows, yellow candlelight. Twinkling white lights on soft, falling snow. Wine and cheese. Ahh ... more like it. Happy place. A recipe from my happy place. That wasn't difficult. Not at all.

One recipe that defines it all ... hmm ... you can see it coming can't you. No, no don't cringe. I won't be spoilt ATM-Y this time. For the time-being at least.

To me, my mother's preparation of rajma-chawal symbolizes all that is warm, golden, and right-in-the-world. Most of our Maharashtrian family give my sister and I quizzical looks, when we are all bated breath over a stew of kidney-beans and rice, rather than modaks, puran-polis and masale-bhaath. They shake their heads from side to side, all the while saying "shya-shya," (kind of the Marathi equivalent of shiit-ake), not comprehending this kind-of worship for something, that first of all, makes most of them flatulent. And second of all, makes them flatulent.

My sister and I are polar opposites, when it comes to most food. At least, that was the case when we were growing up. If she loved her "varan-bhaath" and spinach (sheesh, such kids give others such a bad name), I could eat fish-curry and rice all week, and 365 days of the year. Needless to say, mum got to hear a lot of "you only make what she likes!" But, on days she made rajma, there was absolute bonhomie between the two of us. Even if we'd pulled each others hair, just minutes ago. There was nothing better than kidney-beans and rice to bring us together. And we can sulk, believe me. For days at end. Somehow though, the sight of that silky, deep-red stew -- the kidney-beans, pressure-cooked just right, until some of them lent their inner goodness to the stew -- atop perfectly cooked basmati rice, spelt rainbows, home and everything wonderful.

I think nothing could describe the holidays better!

♣ Not Without My Kidney Bean

My mother got this spectacular rajma recipe from our wonderful Sikh neighbor, Mrs. Walia, while my father was posted in Pathankot. Ever since Mum learnt it, I don't think our family has spent a single week without it.

I have often experimented with it, adding and subtracting ingredients on whim and fancy. But, its hold on me is such that I always meander back to it. Always as home.

Mummy's Rajma

You need:

1 1/4 C rajma or red kidney beans, soaked overnight or pressure-cooked for a good 7-8 whistles (Mum swears by the deep-maroon, Jammu variety, which are smaller and definitely tastier; the canned variety work too, but be fore-warned. It's simply not the same)
1/2 a large red onion, cut into chunks
3 fat garlic cloves
1 tbsp ginger, minced
1- 1 1/2 tomatoes, chopped (vary depending on how much tartness you like)
Tiny pinch of turmeric
2-2 1/2 tsp chilli powder (2 1/2 makes it deliciously spicy. Stick to 1 1/2 - 2 if you prefer a balanced taste)
1/4 - 1/2 tsp garam masala (recipe follows)
2 tbsp vegetable oil
Salt to taste
Handful of cilantro, chopped

Garam masala:

4-5 black cardamom (badi elaichi)
8-10 cloves
1 - 1 1/2 inches of cinnamon stick
4-5 fenugreek seeds
Dry roast on a low flame until the whole-spices are toasty and just a tiny bit smoky. Grind to a powder and store in an air-tight container.


Dump onion chunks, garlic and ginger into the blender, and grind to a smooth paste. Place the pressure-cooker to warm, while you chop the tomatoes. Then, pour oil and spoon in the onion paste, and sauté on a medium flame. Do so, until you see oil leave sides of the pan, and the paste is dry of moisture.

Stir in a pinch of turmeric, tomatoes and continue sautéing until it's one, nice, beautiful-mush. Now, spoon in the chilli powder, garam masala and half-the-salt (I use about half-a-teaspoon), and mix around well.

Depending on whether you remembered to soak the kidney beans, continue as follows:

For the disciplined and canned (beans) lot who always soak their beans, clear the dishwasher every day, dust their furniture, all the while -- not a hair out of place ...

... drain the soaked kidney beans and mix in with the onion-tomato-spice mush, add remaining salt and about half-to-a-cup of water and pressure cook for 5-6 whistles. Let the cooker lid open on it's own accord (no shoving it under cold water, please ... yep, been there. Done that. Not worth it), Your patience will be rewarded. Smell in the goodness, adjust water if you like your stew thinner, taste for salt, sprinkle a handful of chopped cilantro. Breathe in heaven one last time, before you devour it over steamed Basmati rice, or parathas even.

For you other kindred souls ... soaking be darned, dishwasher be double-darned and hair .. oh well .. damn that too.

... remove the onion-tomato paste, and pour in washed kidney beans in the cooker. Pour in about four to five cups of water and give it 6-7 whistles. After the lid opens, spoon in the paste, mix around, adjust water and check for seasoning. Pressure-cook for another two whistles if the beans have been sitting on the shelf for a year or more. Now, we can join those disciplined (losers) .. er, I honestly meant lot ... to breathe in and taste some well-deserved manna.

Other notable mentions: Here are two other recipes that always drop in like old friends for some gossip and a cup of hot-brewed coffee:

The first is from fellow blogger Anita. Her Kashmiri rajma is absolutely divine. And it tastes diviner with home-made ghee.

The other is a legend of sorts, from the acclaimed Gopium, both his writing and recipes are such an inspiration.


Madhu said...

Very wonderful presentation, bowl full of rice and beans along with looks very comforting. Nice start..

Linda said...

Now that's a warming meal on a wintry evening! Beautiful photo!

Nupur said...

Yummy! I love the gopium version but yours looks just as tasty.

sra said...

LOL! Nice post, and love the colour in those beans!

delhibelle said...

Of the three u mentioned, i'm only disciplined about soaking beans,but whenever I cook rajma together with the masala, it's not quite worked, somehow.
Your rajma looks super tasty, so i have to try it your way next time

Sheetal Kiran said...

Madhu, Linda, Nupur, SRA: Thanks :D I always love admiring the enveloping red of this recipe ... very comforting, indeed!

Delhibelle: I think pressure-cooking the beans with the masala makes a difference. When you try it, hope this works out better! :)

notyet100 said...

perfect start for the marathon glad to cee u posting,..

indosungod said...

ooh delicious. My furniture is not dusted daily, neither is my dishwasher unloaded on time but beans those I remember to soak religiously- you got to find a third category for people like me. We eat so much beans that we don't flatulate even :)

I so swear by the pressure cooker method and rajma always with rotis at my home. North Indian curries with bread always, no rice by my book :)

Siri said...

Nice post sheetal.. and that is exactly my mind works when I wanna make something 'nice'.. I mean there is no absolute meaning for a 'nice recipe' right.. I think so much that sometimes.. I end up do nothing ;)..rajma-chawal is a classic recipe. love the pic...


Unpredictable said...

Rajma-Chawal is a staple at my home too.. It is just so comforting and rich at the same time.. Nice recipe..

Mathangi said...

Rajma so warms my otherwise south Indian heart! Thanks for this, I will put it down in my big rajma variant file.

sangeeta said...

enjoyable write write so well Sheetal !!
rajma chawal is a comfort food for us...your's looks absolutely delicious...methi seeds are a new addition for me..

Anonymous said...

I am a kindred soul of the can opening variety unless hit with serious cooking illness(occurs from time to time).I might soak beans someday,I would make a beeline to this recipe.Great write up.

Ashwini said...


First time around here. I must say I like your narrative style and your brush with words and metaphors is too good!

I am stll ogling at the picture..:)