The first cookbook I was gifted was from my best friend when she was a reporter - for some reason she got the book (Rohini Singh's The Wonderful World of Indian Cookery) at a press meet - I imagine it was so she could review it, but I'm not certain. Whatever, when she was done with it, I asked to have a look at it.
It wasnt out of interest in cooking, because I didnt care to spend time in the kitchen at that point in my life. I suppose I was just curious to have a look at the inside of the book. But as I flipped through it, one photo in particular caught my fancy, and that was of a dish of rajmah (red kidney beans). (My camera doesnt do it justice, but it was the only way I could take the photo without obliterating the page with the flash reflection!)
I dont know if it was the hungry look on my face or what, but right there and then my friend scrawled an inscription in the book and handed it over to me. What she had written was: Here's hoping you develop the patience and have the time to cook.
Looking back on that, I dont think I ever, even for one moment, imagined that one day I would find cooking an interesting, pleasurable and rewarding experience. Or that I would have a food blog. But here I am, and I think it was with that rajmah recipe that I made my first proper entry into the kitchen. Of course at that time I doubt I was even aware of the existence of canned food. I'm not sure that tinned food was available in the shops in India. Maybe it was, but I must have walked right past them without their presence ever registering. Tinned food was just NOT done in our home, or in the home of anyone I knew. It's only after coming to the UK that I've actually conceded the usefulness of some tinned food. Sometimes. Mainly beans.
Anyway, the whole recipe was done from scratch - soaking the beans overnight, cooking them in the pressure cooker and so on. The first few times I made rajmah was exactly as per Rohini Singh's recipe, nose pressed to cookbook - ok, not literally, but the liberal stains and dried sauce marks on the page (no, I'm not going to show anybody that page - it's not a pretty sight!) testify to my having the book open to the page and VERY close to my cooking arena!
After all that rambling, let me get to today's recipe. Rajmah made my way, with *gasp* tinned pre-cooked red kidney beans! Let me tell you, it tastes just as good and saves all the trouble of soaking and waiting and checking to see if the rajmah is sitting in the pan like hard little red stones, or whether it's cooked to the right softness.
I've found that the "raw" smell of ground uncooked onions never really disappears from any sauce, unless oodles of oil is poured in to literally fry the paste and thus get rid of the smell. But then I discovered that if you grind other items with the onions - coriander leaves and ginger, for example, the nasty raw smell never appears in the first place. So that's how I made the sauce for the rajmah.
Recipe for: Rajmah with coriander
1 cup fresh coriander leaves, chopped
2 medium onions, roughly chopped
2 large tomatoes, blanched, skinned and chopped fine
1 tin of kidney beans (or one generous cupful)
2" piece of ginger, chopped
5 green chillies (or to taste)
1 tsp coriander powder
1 tsp cumin powder
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp oil
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
1/2 tsp garam masala or 1 tsp chole masala
1/2 cup water
Salt to taste
2 tbsp heavy cream (optional)
Fresh coriander leaves for garnish
Thin matchsticks of ginger, deep-fried, for garnish (optional)
1. Grind the ginger, coriander leaves, green chillies and onions in a mixie.
Add a little water while grinding, if required, to make a smooth paste. Reserve.
2. Blanch the tomatoes in hot water for a few minutes, then peel the skin. It will come off easily.
Chop the skinned tomatoes finely and reserve.
3. Heat the oil in a large pan and fry the minced garlic for 15 seconds or so.
4. Add the reserved onion-coriander paste and fry on high heat, stirring, for about 3 minutes.
5. Add the chopped tomatoes and fry on high heat for 3 minutes. Add 1/2 cup water and lower the heat, stirring once in a while, till the tomatoes cook down to a thick sauce.
6. Now add the coriander powder and cumin powder. Stir well.
7. Let the sauce cook for another 3-4 minutes, then add the kidney beans, reserving a spoonful. Mash this and add to the sauce to thicken the rajmah.
8. Stir in the salt and garam masala/chole masala and let the rajmah bubble for 5 minutes or so. Stir in the cream if using, garnish with coriander leaves, and serve hot with plain boiled rice, papad and pickle for a satisfying meal.