3 Jun 2009

Cooking Kidney Beans (rajma) in the pressure cooker

After a break from cooking, I have returned from holiday with renewed foodie vigour, determined to cook and learn as much as I can about Indian food whilst I am here. We have guests staying throughout the whole of June so this is the perfect excuse to get in the kitchen as I want to impress them by cooking up an Indian feast (and use them as my guinea pigs).

One of the dishes I have been served most often when eating in friends homes here is Rajma. The ultimate comfort food of spiced kidney beans in a tomato based chilli sauce infused with cinammon and black cardamom – like a Mexican dish with an India twist. The first time I cooked it using an unusual variety of kidney bean that was creamy white with little red splashes, which I ambitiously bought in a local organic shop on one of my food scouting trips. Three months later, I discover it cooks quicker than the common red kidney bean but is not traditional in this Kashmiri dish.

As I mentioned in previous posts, beans and pulses are sold here dried, so attempting this dish meant dragging out my favourite Indian cooking vessel – the pressure cooker. Kidney beans take about 30mins to cook so long as you have soaked them overnight in water. If you are in a rush, you can leave them for 2-3hours in boiling water (ie boiled water poured over the beans) and then cook for 50min in the pressure cooker. Luckily for me and my nerves (yes the spurting still makes me jump) I had remembers to soak my beans.

So, its a pretty simple dish, which I have cooked a couple of times but hasn’t once turned out like the home made versions I have tried so far. The women in my landlord’s family are having a Rajma battle, competing for his preferred dish ... I don’t think I will be entering my version yet, but at least I can now do 30minutes of pressure cooking feeling a little less rattled.

This recipe below comes from my honourable and knowledgeable teacher Amita Koshla (plus a few tweaks of my own) who has been teaching me everything I can absorb about Indian food. She runs fantastic cooking classes in Delhi through Domesteq and I would highly recommend a class if you are ever in Delhi.



1 cups of kidney beans

3 cups of water

2 tbsp cup oil

½ tsp cumin seeds

1” ginger ground to a paste

3 cloves of garlic crushed

1 large onion finely chopped

1 ½ cups tomato puree


2 bay leaves

4 black cardamom

2 sticks of cinnamon

2 tbsp coriander powder

½ tsp turmeric powder

½ tsp garam masala

½ tsp chilli powder (or to taste)

Fresh coriander to garnish


Soak the beans overnight in a pan of water. Drain and pressure cook for 30minutes with salt and 3 cups of water.

Heat the oil in a large heavy based saucepan and fry the cumin seeds until they crackle.

Add the ginger and garlic and fry a little.

Add the onions and fry till they are light brown in colour.

Add the tomato puree with the whole spices (bay leaves, cardamom and cinnamon) and keep cooking till it starts leaving oil on the surface – about 15minutes on a high flame.

Stir in the turmeric, coriander, chilli powder and garam masala.

Add the boiled kidney beans and about two thirds of the cooking water to the masala and mix well.

Cook on a medium flame to simmer for about 20minutes until it thickens.

Garnish with fresh coriander and a sprinkle of garam masala


For the tomato puree, you can use half fresh tomatoes, and half canned puree or all fresh if you have access to them.

If the beans are not sufficiently mushy, break some of them down with a masher or back or a spoon as this will help thicken the sauce.

For a speedy version, use tinned kidney beans.

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