Cracking the Spine: Punjabi Curried Kidney Beans (Rajmah)

We’re boldly delving into our ever-growing stacks of cookbooks, seeking out recipes we’ve never made before.

Prepping the ingredients for Punjabi Curried Kidney Beans, or Rajmah, a hearty Northern Indian dish that’s perfect for the slow cooker.

I came late to the slow cooker.

Unlike so many born-in-the-’70s kids with working parents, I didn’t grow up with a Crockpot on the kitchen counter — on busy weeknights, my mom preferred to whip up some pancakes or rifle through our collection of takeout menus. I acquired my first slow cooker just a couple of years ago, when one of my friends pulled an extra one out of her cabinet and gave it to me.

Since then, I’ve made quite a few chilis and stews in the slow cooker, and the Professor uses the device just about every week to prepare a big batch of soup. But we haven’t done much with our Crockpot beyond making those classic comfort foods.

I’m an easily distracted cook who hates attending to a simmering pot of anything for hours, so a slow cooker, with its set-it-and-go simplicity, should be one of my most valued kitchen tools. I just needed the right enticement and the right recipes to encourage me to experiment.

I found both in the form of a cookbook I recently picked up, “The Indian Slow Cooker” by Anupy Singla, the Chicago-based writer behind the blog Indian as Apple Pie. Indian food is another culinary delight I didn’t discover I became an adult, and for years I’ve wanted to learn how to make spicy curries and creamy masalas at home.

“The Indian Slow Cooker” is packed with great recipes for all sorts of Indian dishes, from Chicken Tikka Masala to Goan Black-Eyed Peas. The cookbook also includes a guide to the spices, legumes and other ingredients most often used in Indian cooking.

For my first attempt at making an Indian dish in the slow cooker, I chose Punjabi Curried Kidney Beans, or Rajmah. Singla points out that this dish is considered the quintessential comfort food in Northern India. That sounded ideal to me, since I’ve come to think of my slow cooker as the ultimate comfort-food maker. The recipe for Rajmah couldn’t be simpler: Chop some stuff, drop it all in the slow cooker and crank the heat to high; 11 hours later, give the Rajmah a few whacks with an immersion blender (another kitchen tool I don’t use often enough) and spoon out a rich, satisfying meal.

If you’re looking for the Indian spices called for in this recipe (or any other dish) here in the Tallahassee area, I’d suggest making a stop at Little India, 1350 E. Tennessee St. In addition to spices and packaged goods, the grocery store also sells fresh and frozen Indian breads, including naan and paratha, that make excellent accompaniments to Indian meals.

Punjabi Curried Kidney Beans (Rajmah)
Recipe from “The Indian Slow Cooker” by Anupy Singla

Ingredients
3 cups dried red kidney beans, cleaned and washed thoroughly
1 medium yellow or red onion, peeled and roughly chopped
2 medium tomatoes, diced
1 (2-inch) piece ginger, peeled and chopped or grated
3 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped or grated
4-6 green Thai, serrano, or cayenne chiles, stems removed, chopped
3 whole cloves
1 (2-4 inch) cinnamon stick
1 tablespoon cumin seeds
1 tablespoon red chile powder
2 tablespoons salt
1 teaspoon tumeric powder
1 teaspoon garam masala
9 cups water
½ cup chopped fresh cilantro

Directions
1. Put the kidney beans, onion, tomatoes, ginger, garlic, green chiles, cloves, cinnamon stick, cumin, red chile powder, salt, tumeric, garam masala and water in a 5-quart slow cooker.*

2. Cook on high for 11 hours, until the beans break down and become somewhat creamy.

3. Remove and discard the cloves (if you can find them!) and cinnamon stick. If the Rajmah is not creamy enough, take an immersion blender and press it two or three times to break up some of the beans. If using a blender, take out about 1 cup and process in the blender, then return it to the slow cooker. Be careful not to process all of the beans; most of them should remain whole.

4. Stir in the cilantro. Serve over a bed or basmati or brown rice with a side of raita and an Indian salad.

Try this! After cooking, turn off the slow cooker and add 1 cup plain yogurt. Stir well and let the slow cooker sit with the lid on for about 10 minutes. This adds a unique tang.

* To make this dish in a 3 ½ quart slow cooker, halve all the ingredients and proceed with the recipe. (I would suggest reducing the cooking time to 9 hours on high; that’s how long it took for the the beans to break down and become somewhat creamy in my 3 ½ quart Crockpot).

Rajmah makes a satisfying main dish for lunch or dinner.

Nosh News: It’s Finally Fall Edition

Why, yes, it is decorative gourd season.

Since moving to Tallahassee from the Midwest last year, I’ve had to revise my definition of autumn. Since the thermometer no longer climbs past 85 degrees (at least most days), I’ve decided that it’s officially fall. And that means it’s time to pull out one of my favorite lazy-girl kitchen tools, the slow cooker. Since I’m always on the hunt for great meatless recipes, I’ve put this new cookbook at the top of my must-buy list: “The Vegan Slow Cooker: Simply Set It and Go with 150 Recipes for Intensely Flavorful, Fuss-Free Fare Everyone (Vegan or Not!) Will Devour” by Kathy Hester.

Like many folks who celebrate Thanksgiving, I love the big dinner …  but I enjoy the leftovers even more. This week I’m seeking out fresh ways to use up all that extra turkey, stuffing, potatoes and cranberry sauce over the holiday weekend. Here’s a handful of recipes I want to try: Fetette’s Candied Yam Tartlettes, Three Cocktail Recipes That Use Leftover Cranberry Sauce from Mix Magazine —the Cranberry Jalapeño Margarita looks particularly enticing! — and Martha Stewart’s Turkey Banh Mi.

After you’ve made a visit to Dame Stewart’s corner of the Internet to check out that banh mi recipe, you may require an antidote to those maddeningly perfect visions of  gilded pumpkin placecard holders and crisply folded dinner napkins. (I know I do). Quick, read McSweeney’s deliciously irreverent take on seasonal decorating. (Caution: You might not want to click on this link if a small child or humorless coworker is looking over your shoulder).