While most of us use kidney beans as a filler ingredient in chillies, stews and salads, this Rajma (Kidney Bean Curry) makes the humble red bean the star of the show. The sauce is deeply aromatic, smooth and robust enough to take the beans from basic to beautiful. This is North Indian comfort food at its best.
Should I use dried kidney beans or canned?
As a busy mum, my preference is always to use canned kidney beans for this dish. I’m not snobbish about tins of basic items — they’re convenient and economical.
Buy the best you can afford and don’t worry about cheating because you cannot tell the difference between canned and dried in the finished dish. Canned beans take Rajma from a plan-ahead meal, to a last-minute weeknight comfort bowl. What’s not to love about that?
How to make Rajma from dried kidney beans
Although canned beans are my favourite, you can of course use dried beans to make Rajma. If you prefer to cook your beans from scratch, soak 300g kidney beans in water for 24 hours. Drain and cook in at least 2L fresh water (do not add salt). Pressure cook for 30 minutes until the beans are tender. Reserve the cooking liquor for adding to the Rajma later.
Why do you use the cooking liquor in the sauce?
The best tip I can give you for a perfect Rajma sauce is to reserve the cooking liquor or juice for the can of beans. Not only are the liquids full of goodness, they also give the final curry a silky, creamy finish without adding additional cream. The bean liquid is known as aquafaba can also be used for making vegan meringues in the absence of egg whites, along with a whole host of other desserts. It’s full of protein and starch which is a welcome ingredient in creamy curries, soups and stews.
Things to consider when using bean liquid from a can
It’s always a good idea to check if the canned beans are in water or brine. If the beans are cooked in brine, remember to reduce the amount of salt you add to the Rajma. I don’t recommend using the canned beans in tomato or chilli sauce for this dish.
How to serve Rajma (Kidney Bean Curry)
Rajma is most commonly served with plain white rice (known as Rajma-Chawal in Hindi). You could also substitute white rice with brown rice if you prefer. Papad or poppadoms are also a popular accompaniment to Rajma but I won’t tell if you cook up some roti or naan to scoop up those tender beans.
No North Indian meal is complete without some sliced onions and green chillies on the side, so make sure you have plenty of those to hand, too. Wash it all down with lemon-lime soda or lassi.
Can I make this Rajma (Kidney Bean Curry) vegan?
Absolutely. Skip the butter for a hearty vegan meal that pairs perfectly with rice.
How do you cook your rice for Rajma-Chawal?
To serve: Wash white basmati rice in cold water 3-4 times until the water is no longer cloudy. Soak in cold water for 30 minutes. Boil the rice in plenty of salted water (as if you are boiling pasta). Add a stick of cinnamon and star anise to the water for added flavour (optional). A slice of lemon in the water will also keep your rice a beautiful white colour.
Ingredients you’ll need to make Rajma (Kidney Bean Curry)
- Tinned/canned kidney beans in water or brine
- Oil (any flavourless with a high smoke point)
- Cumin seeds
- Asafoetida (optional)
- Ajwain (carom seeds)
- Green chillies (fresh)
- Double concentrated tomato puree
- Green cardamom
- Black cardamom
- Kashmiri red chilli powder
- Kasoori methi (dried fenugreek leaves)
- Garam masala
- Lemon juice
- Large cooking pot
For the curry:
- 3 x 400g tins kidney beans in water
- 2 tbsp oil (any flavourless)
- 3 large onions peeled and sliced
- 400 ml water
- 5 cm piece ginger peeled and chopped
- 2 large cloves garlic peeled and chopped
- 1 whole green chilli chopped
- 2 tsp cumin seeds
- 1/2 tsp ajwain
- 1/4 tsp asafoetida (optional)
- 1 dried bay leaf
- 4 green cardamom pods skins removed
- 1 black cardamom
- 2 cloves
- 1/2 tsp turmeric
- 2 tbsp double concentrated tomato purée
- 60 g vegan butter
- 1/2 tsp Kashmiri red chilli powder
- 1/2 tsp kasoori methi
- 1 tsp garam masala
- Juice of 1 large lemon
- 2 tsp sugar
- 2 tsp salt
- Cooked basmati rice
- Sliced red onions
- Green chillies
- Vegan butter
- Lemon wedges
- Heat the oil in a large pan. Add the onions and 1 tsp salt and cook over a medium heat until light golden brown, about 8 minutes. Add the ginger, garlic and green chilli cumin seeds, green chill, ajwain, bay leaf, cloves, green cardamom (seeds only), whole black cardamom, asafoetida and turmeric. Saute for 2-3 minutes. Add the tomato puree and cook for 30-40 seconds before adding 200ml of water. Cook until reduced by half. Allow to cool.
- Blend the onion and spice mixture in a high-powered blender until smooth, about 2 minutes.
- Rinse the same pan used for the sauce and wipe with a paper towel. Heat the butter in the pan and then add the chilli powder, kasoori methi and garam masala. Sizzle for a moment and then add the blended paste. Pour the remaining 200ml water into the blender jar and shake to remove any sauce left inside — pour this into the pan, too.
- Add the beans (along with the cooking liquor) and season with salt, sugar and lemon juice. Bring to the boil and cover with a lid. Simmer over a medium heat for 10 minutes, stirring halfway to prevent the beans sticking to the bottom of the pot. Remove the lid and cook for a further 10 minutes to evaporate excess water and thicken the sauce. Serve with rice, papad (poppadoms), sliced onions, chillies, lemon wedges and butter (optional).