Rajma has always been comfort food to me. It was the one thing I always requested my mother to make for lunch on every birthday! And it invariably made its way into our school lunch boxes at least once a week. Rajma also happens to be one of Ro’s favourite dishes. Probably that explains the fact as to why I revere these tiny shiny kidney shaped beans even more than before. And I definitely need to tell you why it’s taken me so much time to share one of my most special recipes with you. Each time I made it, I felt the need to perfect the recipe more than the last time I made it. After all, it was one of those recipes closest to my heart. But, as I was grinding the spices in my mortar and pestle, something told me that the time had come! The time to share it with you! Although garam masala (store bought or homemade) works perfectly well here, I like to hand pound my spices to make rajma. This not only lends an exotic and earthy touch but is also something that I find extremely therapeutic. As the flavours released from the spices waft through the air when pounded this way, it is magical! Trust me and try it for yourself! This recipe uses a special spice combination with the aromatic and flavourful asafetida or hing. Onions and garlic are also conspicuous by their absence. As discussed before , in the book “Kashmiri Cooking”, Krishna Prasad Dar mentions that basic difference between the two primary schools of Kashmiri cooking Kashmiri “Pandit” and “Muslim” is that the Pandit’s used “hing (asafetida) and curd (yogurt)” and the Muslims used “onions and garlic”. You might be surprised to know that originally, onions and garlic were never used in Kashmiri cooking and its only now that it has been adapted into mainstream cooking as people have acquired a taste for them. For those of you who have never made rajma before, this recipe will pleasantly surprise you and give you everything that you look for in an Indian curry with tangy, mildly spicy and comforting flavours. And for those of you who have been cooking rajma, this recipe will prove to be a nice variation and for all you know, you might not miss the onions and garlic at all! We relish rajma with plain rice , cumin rice  and this exotic saffron rice. This combination of rajma and saffron rice is a great favourite in our household. The Kashmiri saffron  lends such an exotic touch to the rice that it has to be experienced to be believed! Besides it is quite simple and quick to make and will pair well with other Indian curries. Add the eggplant in a yogurt gravy  to this menu of Kashmiri rajma and saffron rice and you have a meal fit for a king! Simple yet exotic, wonderfully flavourful and delicious and so comforting that you would be reminiscing about it, long after you have relished it! It is also one of those menus I love to serve my guests for lunch and dinner. When this is on the cards, you only have to think what you have to serve for dessert !
Kashmiri Rajma With Saffron Rice Recipe
Try and select the smaller variety of rajma (kidney beans) for this recipe although you could substitute it with other varieties.
320 gm (1 1/2 cups) rajma beans or red kidney beans
1 bay leaf
1.25 litres (5 cups) water
300 to 350 gm (3 to 4 tomatoes. depending on size), eyes removed and ground to a puree
3 tbsp mustard oil or any other vegetable oil
1 tsp cumin seeds
3/4 tsp asafetida (or 1/2 tsp if using the stronger brown coloured variety)
1 tbsp freshly grated ginger
4 tsp coriander powder
3/4 tsp red chili powder
2 tbsp fresh coriander leaves or cilantro*
2 1/2 tsp salt or to taste
For the spice powder or garam masala
1 moti elaichi or black cardamom seeds without skin
5 green cardamom, seeds without skin
5 cloves 2 to 3 small pieces of cinnamon
1/2 tsp peppercorns
or 1 tsp garam masala
Wash and soak the rajma beans in water overnight or for 6 to 8 hours. Discard the soaking water and place the beans in a pressure cooker along with the bay leaf and 5 cups of water. Pressure cook until the first whistle and then lower the heat and cook for 10 to 15 minutes more until the beans are properly cooked and some of them split open. The cooking time depends on the quality of the beans. Once the beans are cooked, drain the water over a colander and reserve it. In a wok or kadai, heat the oil over a medium flame. Pop in the cumin seeds and when then change colour, lower the heat a little and add the asafetida and the ginger. Stir for a few seconds and then add in the tomato puree. Mix well with a ladle or cooking spoon and then put in the coriander seed powder and the red chilli powder. Cook until the spices get incorporated into the tomatoes and the oil separated from the tomatoes. Take a ladle full of the drained beans (about 1/2 a cup) and add it into the tomatoes. With the back of a spoon mash the beans well. Put in the remaining beans into the pot and stir well. Add the reserved water, salt and the coriander leaves, raise the heat to medium and bring to a boil. Lower the heat a little and cook stirring in between until the gravy thickens to the desired consistency, about 15 minutes. Assemble all the spices in a mortar and pestle and pound into a powder. Alternatively use a coffee mill or dry spice grinder. Put in the garam masala, stir and serve hot with rice or rotis.
*You can also grind the coriander along with the tomatoes
195 gm (1 1/2 cups) basmati rice 1/8 tsp (2 to 3 generous pinches) saffron strands 2 tbsp milk or water, warmed 1 tbsp ghee or vegetable oil 1 tsp shahi jeera or black cumin seeds 2 small pieces of cinnamon 4 cloves 560 ml (2 1/4 cups) water 1/4 tsp turmeric powder 1 1/2 tsp salt
Wash the rice in 2 to 3 changes of water over a colander in a running stream of water. Place the rice grains in a bowl, cover with water and soak for half an hour. In a small bowl place the saffron with the warmed milk or water. Allow to soak for ten minutes or more. Drain the rice over a colander and remove all the water. Place the saffron and the milk in a mortar and pestle and crush to extract the flavour and beautiful hue of saffron. In a pot with a tight fitting lid, heat the ghee or vegetable oil over a medium flame. Add the cumin seeds, cinnamon and cloves, lower the flame and when the cumin turns golden brown put in the rice. Stir fry for 2 to 3 minutes. Pour the water, saffron mixture and turmeric, raise the heat and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and cook covered for about 15 to 20 minutes or until done. Alternatively, cook in an electric rice cooker by transferring the contents from the pot after adding the water, saffron and turmeric into the electric rice cooker.