North Indian Rajma Masala (Curried Pinto Beans)

June 21, 2021
Indian cooking always eluded me until my mother-in-law took me under her wing. The secret to good Indian food is patience, timing, and a lot more garlic than most people would imagine necessary.

Onion Masala (puréed onion, ginger, garlic, and chilies) is the base for nearly any Indian dish, and this recipe works for making chickpeas, kidney beans, and most other well-loved Indian recipes.

Although most people know what garam masala is, there are tons of different Indian spice mixes for various dishes like beans, vegetables, tea, rice, and soups. My favorite for bean dishes is Everest Chole Masala spice blend. Check out your local Indian/Asian market or favorite online retailer for it .

Lastly, If you're able to, buy whole coriander seeds and grind them into powder at home—it makes a world of difference and the smell is incredible!
Rajma Masala

North Indian Rajma Masala (Curried Pinto Beans)

utensils YIELDS 8 servings
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  • 2-3 Tbsp Sunflower or Soybean Oil
  • 1/3 tsp Cumin Seeds
  • 3 Bay Leaves
  • Pinch Whole Black Peppercorns
  • 3-4 Red Onion
  • 12 cloves (yes, 12!) Garlic
  • 1.5-2 Thumbs of Ginger Ginger
  • 0-3 Thai Green Chili (Jalepeno or Serrano will work as well)
  • 3/4 tsp Turmeric
  • 1/4 tsp Cayenne Pepper
  • 3-4 Medium Tomatoes
  • ~3 tsp Coriander Powder
  • 2-3 Glasses Water
  • ~4 cups cooked/canned beans Pinto Beans
  • To taste or 1 Scant tsp Chole Masala Powder
  • 2 handfuls Cliantro
  • To Taste Salt
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1. To make onion masala, roughly chop onions, garlic, and chilies and place them in a blender. If you don’t like spice, you can omit the chilies altogether. You can cut the ginger as well, but I find grating it with a hand grater before adding it to the blender ensures a smoother finish with no ginger chunks. Blend the ginger, garlic, onion, and chilies into a smooth paste and set aside.

2. In a wok (or large pot) pour in oil and heat on medium high for a minute or two.

3. Once the oil is hot add the bay leaves, cumin, and peppercorns.

4. Stir for about a minute before adding in the blended onion-ginger-garlic paste.

5. Stir occasionally until the paste starts to stick to the bottom of the pan and turn brown.

6. Turn the heat down to medium–medium low so it doesn’t burn while you prep your tomatoes.

7. While the onion masala is cooking blend up your tomatoes and set them aside.

8. At this point the onion masala will likely begin to stick to the pan a lot and you’ll have to stir more quickly, scraping it off the bottom of your pan until the entire paste turns a nice toasty reddish-brown color. It can take a while but don’t give up! This is the most important aspect of getting the color and flavor right for Indian dishes.

9. Once the onion-ginger-garlic paste is browned, add turmeric, cayenne, and stir for about thirty seconds.

10. Add your tomato purée and let cook for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

11. After the tomatoes are cooked, add coriander powder and stir for a minute or so. I really love coriander powder, so I use a lot of it but you don’t have to add as much as I did!

12. Add some water and the cooked beans. Depending on how thick or soupy you want this to be, add more or less water. I like my rajma a little “wet,” and added enough water to cover the beans entirely. Some people like “dry” gravies and add almost no water at all. It’s up to you!

13. Once the water boils, add half your chopped cilantro and the chole masala spice blend. The spice blend does have some salt, so add additional salt to taste after the chole masala spice is incorporated.

14. Let simmer for 15–20 minutes. If you’d like, you can simmer for longer but it isn’t necessary.

15. Turn off the heat and add the other half of your cilantro. Garnish with fresh red onion and tomato. Serve hot with basmati rice and roti!

Also by Jessi: Vegan Tom Kha (Thai Coconut Soup)

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Photo: Jessi Ferguson

Jessica Ferguson
Jessi is an American expat living in India with her husband, child, and animal companions. She has been vegan for close to a decade and cares for sick and injured freely roaming animals with her husband. If she's not chasing after dogs or a toddler, Jessi can usually be found snuggling local cows, doing yoga, or meditating. For glow-ups of cute free roaming animals, check out @Karunya4animals on twitter!


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