The Universal Appeal of Rajma Chawal


The Universal Appeal of Rajma Chawal

Illustration: Shruti Yatam/Arre

If you’re feeling low, lost, homesick, sick, and your ex has a new bae, there is only one thing that can save you: A steaming hot bowl of rajma chawal with rivulets of white butter snaking through it. It’s warm, it’s hearty, it makes you feel like you’ve just eaten a spoonful of love.
It’s the same story across the globe. The love for squishy beans and a starchy accompaniment is universal, everywhere from Italy to Iran, from Kenya to the Caribbean. There are few things that match up to the comfort of the perfect blend of carbs and protein. Slaves from Africa made it their sustenance after a day of back-breaking work picking cotton in the fields of America, where it came to be known as Dirty Rice. Dirty rice is a direct throwback to dishes such as Waakye from Ghana. They also carried it to the Caribbean and Cuba where they were sent to work the sugarcane plantations.

In South America, it was the other way around: The colonisers brought food to the colonised. The pork-loving Portuguese brought to Brazil, a stew called Feijoada, which the Brazilians decided to serve with rice, and eventually made it their national dish. Feijoada spread with the Portuguese, in a classic example of culinary cross-pollination brought about by colonisation, to Asia (Macau and Goa) and Africa (Mozambique and Angola).

In Iran, there’s Sabzi Polo, a dish made with herbed rice and fava beans. It’s been a staple ever since the first Ayatollah had a bad day at work and went home to mom who cooked him some Sabzi Polo and told him everything would get better. It’s the same with the slaves, who ate this comforting meal which afforded them a modicum of normalcy, a taste of home, in an alien land. Which is why a bowl of rajma chawal is just perfect after a hard day’s work — comfort food that transcends the boundaries of time, space, and geography.
Here’s a recipe for transcendent rajma chawal from our own backyard, perfect for everything from a hangover to heart break.

Here’s What You Need:
A cup of rajma soaked overnight
2 finely chopped onions
6 cloves of chopped garlic
1 tablespoon of grated ginger
2 finely chopped green chillies
2 grated tomatoes
1 teaspoon of red chilli powder
1/2 a teaspoon of turmeric powder
1 teaspoon of black pepper
1 teaspoon of coriander powder
1 teaspoon of garam masala
1 tablespoon of butter
Salt to taste
Coriander to garnish
Cooked rice to serve

What to Do With It:

Boil the rajma with three cups of water for 30 mins until soft and cooked.
Heat some oil in a pan and add in the onion, tomatoes, ginger, garlic, and chillies.
Once the onion softens and cooks through, add in the powdered spices, and saute until the spices cook.
Now add the boiled rajma and some of the liquid, and cook for a further 30 minutes until the rajma is almost falling apart.
Serve hot over steamed rice, garnished with coriander, and top it with a knob of butter that will melt and remind you that life isn’t so bad after all.