It was largely Bengali cuisine that I grew up on. Clean flavours, austere usage of spices, abundance of vegetables and local greens fresh from the kitchen garden and local farms and a bountiful profusion of freshwater fishes.
And then one sunny morning, a still teen-aged me bade farewell to the pristine life in my lazy time-stops-still hamlet by the river and took the long arduous bus trek via the emerald forests and mist-riddled hills of Meghalaya to Guwahati for further studies.
Guwahati. My home for the next several years. Guwahati introduced me to the seething Brahmaputra, the Lady at Kamakhya, the warm, loving, innocent Assamese people and exposed my palate to Assamese cuisine, simple, rustic yet delectable. In my head, thoroughly understated in the pantheon of Indian cuisines.
Time flew on rosy wings and one day it was time for me to leave Assam and the gorgeous friends I had made for life and move on to Delhi.
Delhi was explosion on my food senses. The decadent world of Mughlai cuisine, unmasked in front of me, left me spellbound and numb. This was a hedonists paradise unlike anything I had experienced before and prodigal indulgence was religion.
And before I had recovered from the frenzied riot on my senses, I was already addicted to the nihari at Karims and a monthly sojourn to the Parathewali Gali to keep me ticking had become a ritual.
Delhi also unveiled before me the diverse spectrum of Punjabi cuisine – the ostentatious butter chicken on one hand, and the delectable rajma masala and blessed soulful langar cuisine on the other.
It’ s while at Delhi that my affair with rajma-chawal started, one that continues unabated to this day.
Here’s the recipe of my rajma masala to go with that piping hot rice on that weekend morning when you are yearning for comfort food. Enjoy !!!!
- 200 g rajma or red kidney beans soaked overnight
- 3 - 4 big onions finely sliced
- 1 tsp garlic chopped
- 2 tsps ginger paste
- 1/2 cup tomato freshly pureed
- 1 - 2 bay leaves
- 2 tsps coriander powder
- 2 tsps turmeric powder
- 2 tsps red chilli powder
- 1/2 tsp aamchur or dried mango powder
- 3-4 tsps rajma masala powder see recipe below
- a pinch asafoetida or hing
- 1 tsp whole cumin seeds
- 2 tbsps oil
- salt to taste
- 5 tsp whole cumin seeds
- 2.5 tsp fennel seeds
- 3 dry whole red chilies
- 2 tsp kasoori methi
- 11/2 inch cinnamon stick
- 1 green cardamom
- 1 clove
- 1 black cardamom
- 5-6 black peppercorns
- 1/4 quarter nutmeg
- 1/4 florets mace
- Wash the rajma, add a sprinkle of salt and pressure cook over a medium to high flame. 3 odd whistles in my reckoning.
- Allow the steam to release on its own. Keep aside.
- Heat oil in a deep bottomed cooking vessel. When smoking hot, add the cumin seeds and bay leaves, allow them to splutter.
- Now add the asafoetida, stir fry for a minute or so. Throw in the sliced onions, fry till golden brown.
- Add the ginger and garlic pastes, turmeric powder, coriander powder, red chilli powder, tomato puree, give it a hearty mix and cook till oil starts to separate from the masala.
- Gently pour in the boiled rajma along with the cooking liquor, cook over a low flame for 10-15 minutes.
- Add the rajma masala and amchur powder, mix well.
- Adjust the seasonings, slow cook for another 15-20 minutes. The consistency should neither be runny nor too thick. (If you want to be indulgent, add a dollop of fresh cream)
- Take off the flame and allow the rajma masala to rest for 20 odd minutes. Serve hot with rice.
Recipe for Rajma Masala
- Dry roast all the ingredients under Rajma Masala for a couple of minutes, allow the spices to release their aroma. Grind to a fine powder. You can store the masala in an airtight container for at least a fortnight.