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Exploring the Culinary Delights of Kashmiri Rajma

By Arka Chakarborty

The Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir is famed across India not only for its picturesque valleys, scintillating mountain peaks or majestic man-made architectural marvels but also its unique cuisine. The geographical position of the region has allowed it to become a zone of intercultural interactions which, in turn, has produced many of its iconic delicacies. The entire region, especially the valley of Kashmir, is well-known for its meat-based diet. Rogan josh, goshtaba, tabak maaz are some of the mouth-watering non-vegetarian dishes of the valley which have gained worldwide attention. However, it should also be pointed out that Jammu and Kashmir is also a haven for vegetarians. Among uniquely Kashmiri vegetarian experiences including the nadru, collard greens, kohlrabi greens and kalari cheese, the Kashmiri rajma features as one of the vegetarian delicacies that only this region can offer. Rajma or kidney beans are immensely popular vegetarian food options in northern India. So named because of their shape which is skin to a human kidney, kidney beans are not indigenous to India. Spanish and Portuguese explorers and colonialists first encountered these beans in Central America. They found these beans to be easily portable, durable and nutritious. Hence, they carried these beans home with them and subsequently spread them across the Old World. This is why the kidney beans are known as the sailor’s favorite (Team Slurrp, 2022). Its unique meaty texture and nutritious quality have led rajma to become a part of the regular north Indian diet.

While rajma in general is adored by Indians, there are numerous types of rajma enjoyed by people inhabiting different regions. Northern India is dominated by two types of rajma: the Lal Rajma and the Chitra rajma. The lal rajma which is one of the most commonly enjoyed kidney beans in India is deep red in color. Hard and thick in texture, the lal rajma has to be soaked in water for eight to ten hours before it is considered fit for cooking. The long soaking period is worth it as this red bean is packed with iron and dietary fiber. It is low in the Glycemic index and is good for those suffering from diabetes. Along with the lal rajma, the chitra rajma is also a popular rajma known across India. This type of kidney bean is visually quite distinct from its red variant as it is brown in color with red dots or lines. This variant is grown in the Himalayan region and sometimes used in Kashmiri cuisine. The chitra rajma is softer than the lal rajma and requires soaking for four to six hours before cooking. This rajma is a great source of protein and vitamins (The Times of India, 2022).

Apart from the two major variants, numerous other kinds of rajma are also quite popular in parts of the Indian subcontinent. Among them, the Kashmiri rajma also known as the Jammu rajma (The Times of India, 2022) or the Bhaderwah variety of rajma is popular in Jammu and Kashmir in particular and northern India in general. It can be distinguished by its smaller size and glossy red appearance. This type of rajma is reputed to not lose its color and shape even after cooking in spite of being able to absorb the surrounding flavors. This, along with the fact that it is sweeter compared to other rajma varieties (Tarladalal, 2021) and melts in the mouth if slow-cooked well (Wander On, 2023) makes it an attractive option for rajma admirers.

Like any other rajma, soaking in water is an important part of preparing the Kashmiri rajma for cooking. It usually takes six to eight hours for this type of rajma to be suitable for cooking (The Times of India, 2022). After stones and other impurities are weeded out, the rajma is soaked in lukewarm water. Soaked rajma can be kept for a long time but it is advised to keep changing the water in regular intervals and to use the soaked rajma within two or three weeks in order to avoid undesirable odor. Soaking the rajma does not lead to the loss of any of its nutritional qualities. Rather, it helps to remove the indigestible complex sugars in these beans which contribute to gastric problems. Adding salt to the Kashmiri kidney beans brings out their true flavors. However, salt also has the potential to inhibit the bean’s water absorption capacity and adding it too soon may result in the rajma toughening up (Tarladalal, 2021).

Kashmiri rajma is generally used in soups, salads, chillies and refried beans. However, in India, the Kashmiri rajma is most popularly used to make curries and gravies, especially onion or tomato-based gravies (Tarladalal, 2021). It seems that the most popular of the Kashmiri rajma- based dishes is the Kashmiri rajma masala curry. The Kashmiri rajma masala curry is a yoghurt- based curry which is usually served with steamed rice, jeera rice and lightly spiced pulao. Popular in Kashmiri households, this non-spicy delicacy is completely vegetarian and can easily be made gluten-free. The ingredients of this dish are: Kashmiri rajma, yoghurt (if homemade, make sure that it is not sour), mustard oil (should be used for a traditional taste; if unavailable, any other cooking oil or ghee can be used), fennel seeds powder, ginger powder, coriander powder, turmeric powder, Kashmiri red chilli powder, garam masala powder and salt. The use of fennel and ginger gives this dish a taste distinct from other rajma curries. Clove, cinnamon sticks, cumin seeds, asafetida, onion, cilantro are also used (Mathur, 2023). Numerous recipes detailing how to prepare this dish are available online and repeating the full recipe here seems unnecessary.

In general, kidney beans are reputed to be rich in iron, potassium, magnesium, phosphorus, copper, Vitamins B and K, amino acid and protein (The Times of India, 2022). The Kashmiri rajma in particular is a complex carbohydrate which helps to lower cholesterol. It is high in fiber which makes it good for diabetic patients. One cup of cooked Kashmiri rajma has 26.2% of our daily magnesium requirements. As this rajma is high in potassium, it helps in lessening the impact of sodium in the body and hence is helpful for those suffering from high blood pressure (Tarladalal, 2021).

The rajma, although not indigenous to India, has become an integral part of the north Indian lived experience. The Kashmiri rajma in particular with its smaller but shinier appearance is not only eye-catching but also one of the most resilient and nutritious foods available to the population of north India in general and J&K in particular. Popular in Kashmiri households for its high shelf-life and unique taste, the Kashmiri rajma has impressive versatility of culinary application. Most commonly seen as part of gravies and curries, the Kashmiri kidney beans are packed with nutritional goodness which is difficult to match. The Kashmiri rajma with its appealing appearance, taste and health benefits is sure to continue as an inseparable part of the Kashmiri kitchen.


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