North Indian Rajma (Punjab-Style Kidney Bean Masala Stew)

The cuisine of the Northern Indian region of Punjab is often rich and hearty, always bold in every sense: taste, texture, colors, aromas. Rustic yet lavish dishes are cooked in ways that incorporate strong ingredients like onion, ginger and garlic with generous, but precise, amounts of spices to enhance and perfectly balance the flavors.

Among the best-known Punjabi dishes are channa masala, various veg + non-veg versions of tikka korma, and my favoritebaigan bharta. It’s also believed that tandoor cooking, and thus, tandoori chicken, originated here.

Digging deeper, I made a surprisingly excellent discovery — a darkhorse in the vast Indian menu that quickly won our hearts and minds. And stomachs.

Soul-satisfying kidney bean (Rajma) stew in a spicy tomato masala sauce featuring, unsurprisingly, onion, garlic, ginger, and plentiful spices. Warming, aromatic and filling, this homey dish is a true representation of Punjab-style cuisine.

What’s in it for me?

For only 112 calories and virtually zero fat, cholesterol or sodium, a 1/2-cup serving of kidney beans provides more than 25% of your DV for both fiber and the B-vitamin folate, roughly 15% of your iron DV, plus nearly 8 grams of protein. Beans in general are good sources of polyphenols called lignans, which may play a role in the prevention of osteoporosis, and can act as phytoestrogens to, among other things, enhance lactation for breastfeeding mums. Kidney beans in particular, like all dark-colored beans, are rich in antioxidant anthocyanins — pigments that have beneficial effects on cardiovascular function and inflammation. (Read more about the nutrition of beans.)

Tomatoes are a rich source of the phytochemical lycopene that acts like a natural sunscreen, strengthens elasticity of skin tissues, aids in protection of the heart, and has been shown to potentially reduce risk of prostate cancer. Serrano (or jalapeño) peppers chiles de arbol (or Thai red chillies) are good sources of vitamins A, B6 and C, and may provide a small, quick boost to metabolism and stimulate digestion.

Sulfur-containing onion and garlic are involved in producing antioxidant glutathione, which is a powerful anti-inflammatory that helps increase the health of your immune and cardiovascular systems, and has been linked to prevention of some cancers. Fresh ginger, known for its roles in digestion and alleviating nausea, adds more antioxidant power; while just 1 ounce of fresh cilantro provides at least 30% and more than 100% of your daily vitamins A and K, respectively — for only about 6 calories. The variety of dried herbs and spices, including garam masala, utilized in this recipe are rich in vitaminsminerals, and phytochemicals, and pack a powerful antioxidant punch.

And because few meals in the Punjab region (strong ties to wheat production) are complete without some type of bread, I plated our Rajma with homemade Atta (wheat) pita for scooping and sopping. You could also serve this with the more traditional naan or roti or parantha, though my fragrant Indian Basmati pilaf or a simple portion of warm brown rice or quinoa would do just as well.

Here’s to culinary underdogs, and to exploring new regions through food!

Cheers, Heather

Tell me… What’s your favorite Indian dish?

North Indian Rajma (Punjab-Style Kidney Bean Masala Stew)
Prep Time
Cook Time
Total Time
Recipe Type: beans, vegetarian, Indian, stew, meatless main, gluten-free
Makes: 4 servings
  • 1 cup dried red or dark red kidney beans, picked through, rinsed, and soaked overnight
  • 6 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 medium red onion (or 2 large shallots), half minced + half thinly sliced, divided
  • 1-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and minced
  • 3 serrano chiles, stemmed and cut in half lengthwise (remove the seeds and ribs to reduce heat)
  • 1/2 tsp ground turmeric
  • 1/2 tsp smoked or hot paprika
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil (not extra virgin; or canola oil)
  • 2 dried chiles de arbol or 2 small Thai red chillies
  • 2 tsp whole coriander seeds
  • 1/2 tsp whole cumin seeds
  • 1 cinnamon stick (about 3 to 5 inches)
  • 1 large (15-ounce) can petite diced tomatoes in juice (or crush whole peeled tomatoes in juice with your hand, a fork, potato masher, etc.)
  • 1/4 cup cilantro leaves, finely chopped, plus more to garnish
  • 1 tsp garam masala
  • 1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice, plus wedges to serve
  1. Combine beans, half of the minced garlic, half of the minced onion and a pinch of salt with 3 cups of water in a Dutch oven or large, heavy-bottomed pot. Stir once, cover, then simmer over low to medium-low heat until the beans are tender but not falling apart. Begin checking for doneness at about 45 minutes; may take up to 60 minutes or more, depending on the freshness of your dried beans. When ready, reserve 1/2 cup of the cooking liquid, then drain the remainder of the beans. Return the beans to the Dutch oven (or pot), cover, and set aside at room temperature while you finish cooking.
  2. In a small food processor, spice grinder, or blender jar, puree remaining minced garlic, the ginger, serrano (or jalapeño) peppers, turmeric and paprika with 2 Tbsp water to form a rough paste; set aside.
  3. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high. When hot, add the chiles de arbol (or Thai red chillies), the coriander and cumin seeds, and the cinnamon stick. Cook, undisturbed, until aromatic, about 1 minute. Scrape in the spiced garlic-ginger-pepper paste, and cook another 2 minutes. Stir in the tomatoes and their juices, and cook over medium heat until the liquid is mostly evaporated, about 15 to 20 minutes.
  4. Add the tomato mixture, as well as the chopped cilantro, garam masala, lemon juice and the reserved bean cooking liquid in with the cooked kidney beans. Bring the mixture to a boil over high heat and cook, uncovered, stirring occasionally, for just 2 minutes. Taste, and season as needed with salt and black pepper. Remove from the heat.
  5. Transfer the rajma to a large serving bowl, or portion between 4 smaller bowls. Garnish with the reserved red onion slices, cilantro leaves, and lemon wedges. Serve immediately, with Basmati or brown rice or naan, if desired.
HGN Notes
Short on time? Canned beans are an excellent convenience. Opt for low- or no-salt added, and still be sure to give them a good rinse in a colander for good measure.

+ Use fresh mint, basil or even parsley in place of the cilantro, if you aren't a fan.
+ Switch up the citrus by swapping the lemon for lime or orange.
+ The dish can be spicy depending on how hot your chillies are -- a spoon of Greek yogurt helps quell the heat!
+ Serve with warm Indian breads and crisps like naan, roti, parantha, pappadum or chapati; or ladle the Rajma over warm rice or grains, e.g., long-grain Basmati or Jasmine rice, brown rice, quinoa, barley or millet.

Recipe adapted from Saveur.

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