Rajma Chawal (Kidney Beans and Rice)

6 May

As Mother’s Day approaches, I’m excited to introduce you to Meeru Dhalwala, an advocate for the simple and loving act of cooking for your kids.

When Meeru, the wife and business partner of Vikram Vij, is not running the kitchen of one of North America’s most acclaimed Indian restaurant, Vij’s,  she’s busy raising daughters Nanaki (14) and Shanik (11).

At work Meeru doesn’t bother with chef’s whites. In fact, she didn’t bother with cooking school either.

“I feed my customers as if they’re coming to my house,” she says. “I cook like a momma and I hope my customers can taste that in my food.”

On May 15, 15 mothers of different cultural heritages will be gathering to cook at an event co-organized by Meeru, Joy of Feeding. Each will make one traditional family-favourite dish and serve it (with the help of their child or grandchild) to hungry Vancouverites at this UBC Farm fundraiser. There will be everything from First Nations Salmon Patties to Turkish Hot Tarsus Hummus to Brazilian Chocolate Balls.

The aim is to inspire people to cook from scratch using fresh, local ingredients to nourish their families. “I hope the food, the generosity and the love oozed by the moms cooking on the day will be contagious,” says Meeru.

The dish Meeru is sharing with us for this blog post today, Rajma Chawal, is comforting, simple to cook and a big favourite with her girls. Meeru describes it as the Indian answer to Mac and Cheese. Packed with protein and iron, it makes a very complete, nutritious and filling vegetarian option–great for Meatless Mondays. And in case you need any more persuading, the ingredients barely cost more than a couple boxes of KD.

Rajma Chawal
(Serves 6)

Ingredients
1/2 cup cooking oil
2 cups chopped onion (1 large)
2 Tbsp finely chopped garlic (6 medium cloves)
2 Tbsp finely chopped ginger
1 & 1/2 cups chopped tomatoes (3 medium)
1 & 1/2 Tbsp mild Mexican chili powder
1 tsp turmeric
1 Tbsp ground cumin
1 Tbsp ground coriander
1 & 1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper (optional)
1 tsp ground cayenne pepper (optional)
1/2 cup plain yoghurt, stirred (optional)
5 to 6 cups water (6 for a soupier curry)
Three 14-oz cans kidney beans, drained and rinsed
5 to 6 cups cooked white or brown basmati rice

Directions
1. Heat oil in a medium pot on medium-high for 30 seconds. Add onion and saute for 8 minutes, or until slightly dark brown. Add garlic and saute for 2 minutes, then stir in ginger and tomatoes. Add chili powder, turmeric, cumin, coriander, salt, black pepper and cayenne, and saute for 5 to 8 minutes, or until oil glistens on top.

2. Place yoghurt in a small bowl. To prevent curdling, spoon about 3 Tbsp of the hot masala into the yoghurt. Stir well, then pour yoghurt into the pot of masala. Saute for 2 minutes, or until oil glistens again.

3. Add water, stir and bring to a boil on high heat. Add kidney beans, stir and bring to a boil again. Reduce the heat to medium and cook for 3 minutes.

Serve with rice.

Meeru has a very flexible approach to Rajma Chawal, and she encourages you to play around with the dish. Here are some of her tips:

– You can use butter instead of oil and adjust the quantities to taste, as long as there’s enough to prevent the onions from sticking to bottom of the pot.

– If you’re short of onions, use less than the recipe requires but just cook them for longer to bring out more of their flavour. You can also use green onions as a substitute.

– Don’t be afraid of the oil in Indian food. The dishes are rich enough that you will be satisfied eating smaller portions.

– Fresh or canned tomotoes work equally well–use what you have at home.

– If you prefer to use soaked, dried kidney beans, just prepare those in the usual way and switch up for the canned beans. You could also substitute kidney beans with navy beans, although they will be a little mushier.

– The finer you chop the garlic, the longer you need to cook it.

– Don’t be surprised by the use of Mexican spice in this dish. It’s not standard, but that’s how my older daughter likes it, and it’s important to adapt your cooking for the ones you love.


Recipe from Vij’s at Home, Relax Honey: The Warmth and Ease of Indian Cooking, by Meeru Dhalwala and Vikram Vij. Douglas and McIntyre.

(Read our interview with Meeru about her new book here.)

2 Responses to “Rajma Chawal (Kidney Beans and Rice)”

  1. mjm7777777@gmail.com May 16th, 2011 at 12:13 PM #

    This recipe is exactly what I need for something vegetarian with flavour and substance to include in buffet style meals for upcoming visitors. Looking forward to trying it.

    Thank you

    • Valerie Howes May 16th, 2011 at 3:52 PM #

      I hope your guests enjoy it!

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