My in laws are Rajasthani Brahmins. Which means it is not only a pure veg preference of food , as in no chicken/mutton/fish/eggs, but also pure veg as in no onion and garlic too. So while they do eat all kinds of lentils and legumes like the chola, rajma, etc., they are prepared in a very simple way. A little ginger here, a little tomato or curd there ... and a wonderfully simple and flavourful dish is born.
My Ma in law is, naturally, an expert when it comes to rustling up such dishes.
Suits me fine. Considering that I've always eaten dishes made with onion+garlic paste fried masala, to which another n number of powdered or wet masalas like the dhania, jeera etc. were added and then again were rounded off with the garam masala, this kind of cooking was not only a welcome change to my palate but also was a huge help to the novice cook in me.
Just after my marraige, I had tried to impress B and his family with my first dish ... the Chola masala or Chana masala. With N didi, my eldest cousin who lived in the same city, on the phone, constantly guiding me from the soaking of the chana the night before to the end grounding of garam masalas, I finally presented the chola masala for dinner with a flourish.
And with rice!
Rice is a huge no-no for Rajasthanis ... at least among the Rajasthanis in my family.
The Chole did not quite look the same ... read as edible ... as N didi's version does. The gravy was not thick, it was yellow water. And the chanas that were supposed to be soft and all wrapped up in masalas and love and each other, were each standing seperately, turning away from the other ... not at all ready to be friends.
And worse ... it smelt strongly of onion, garlic ... even the ginger. Ma in law did not even touch it. Papa took some on the plate and kept chasing the chana pieces around. B could do nothing to save the moment.
And I was ready to cry.
Later B told me that to make a dish good, you don't need too many things, especially masalas.
"A bhindi ki sabzi should taste of bhindi too."
I did not understand it then. But later that one line became my guru mantra when I took to the kitchen.
And have been cooking simple dishes ever since.
But this post is not about Chole ... it is about Rajma.
Simple, flavourful, melt in the mouth Rajma. Rajma that has its own flavour and is not subdued by strong garlic and onions.
The best rajma I have tasted so far was at a small, rickety, half slanted shop sitting on the hills of Dharamshala, Himachal Pradesh.
Right on the meandering highway in the middle of the hills, with nothing but quiet all around,
the simple local man in the shop had served us steaming hot rajma and chawal in much used but shining clean steel plates, that we ate sitting on the grass covered slopes right there beside the road ... with a gentle sun overhead and some cows and goats grazing at a little distance.
Today, I have my Ma in law's very simple Rajma here. I make it on the days when there are no vegetables in the fridge or when I know I'll be too busy or tired to cook the next day. All I need to do is just soak some rajma and enjoy garma garam Rajma chawal.
Pure comfort food.
I use the small sized Kashmiri rajma. They soak real quick and are packed with more flavour.
And it tastes best when eaten the next day, or at least half a day later
... i.e. prepare it in the morning and have it for dinner, or make it at night and have it for lunch the next day.
Rajma - I had 1 coffee cup of already soaked rajma
Tomatoes - 2
Black cardamom / Badi elaichi - 4 to 6 pieces
Fresh green chilles - 2 ... or more if you like it spicy
Red chilli powder - a little
(If you want to you can use a little grated ginger too ... I do, but not in this recipe as I did not have ginger at hand)
Cooking oil - 1 tsp
Ghee - 1 tsp
Water - I used 4 cupfuls of the same cup
How to :
Run the tomatoes + green chillies + elaichi in a mixer together.
Heat oil+ghee in a pressure cooker.
Add the above mixture and fry on high for a while till the raw smell is gone.
Lower heat and add the red chilli powder.
Fry till the masala dries up.
Add the rajma and stir well to mix with the masala.
Add salt and enough water, close the cooker and cook for 6 to 8 whistles, on low heat.
(Remember, the water should last that long ... if you use less water, it will start to burn at the bottom).
Remove from heat and let cooker cool.
Remove cover and check if the rajma is well cooked.
Rajma should always be well cooked ... extra soft and ready to break into mush when pressed.
Seat it on heat again and simmer for a while, gently stirring and mashing a little of the rajma ... it adds to the thickness of the gravy as well as brings out the flavours.
Adjust water till the gravy reaches your desired consistency.
I had enough gravy but by the time I had finished setting up the plate for a photograph, it had soaked up all the water and turned dryish.
Snuggling up on the sofa on a cold, monsoon day or evening, with a plate of hot rajma and chawal soothes you enough to believe all is well with the world.
I do make the garlic+ginger version of the rajma too. Will make a post some day.
But if you ask me, I find this recipe more flavourful and tasty.