Here’s a one-pot, flavorful North Indian-style Rajma Masala recipe. This recipe transforms the humble red kidney bean into a creamy yet light, textured curry. Top with red onions (more texture!) and serve with basmati rice for a cozy, wholesome meal. Includes instructions for using both dried and canned red kidney beans.

A plate of Rajma and Basmati rice garnished with sliced red onion and cilantro ready to be eaten.

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Rajma (Kidney Beans Curry)

Recently when I was visiting my parents, we were sitting around the breakfast table when I declared that I’d be testing Rajma, the Punjabi-style kidney bean curry. Exactly no one in my meat-loving Pakistani family was excited to hear this. “And what else will we make with it?”, my mom asked every time I’d mention it. 😂 But, a few days later, when I put my experiment on the table (next to Korma – mind you), there were no leftovers.

Similar cases of glory-stealing vegetarian dishes: Palak Paneer, Matar Paneer, Aloo Baingan.

If you’re like me and haven’t grown up with it, Rajma may seem boring, but I promise you kidney beans sing (and even dance!) when you put them in a curry.

I first made Rajma years ago after seeing it on Instagram. (BeckyKeepsHouse is among those responsible for initiating this craving.) I remember sitting on a low kitchen stool, eating it as-is, no rice even, marveling at what a can of kidney beans could become. There’s something oddly satisfying about breaking those tender beans apart, how their soft flesh melds with the masala. I’ve been hooked ever since.

Rajma in a pot with a wooden spoon garnished with sliced red onion and cilantro.

Rajma Ingredients

Dried Kidney Beans vs Canned

After I’d finished developing the recipe using canned kidney beans, I tested it with dried kidney beans and found it gave even better results (surprise!). But it’s not the beans themselves responsible – it’s the cooking liquid that adds extra depth. Cooking with the dried beans also gives the Rajma Curry a darker hue. That said, most people, depending on how discerning their palate is, will probably not notice or mind the difference.

Note: As I mentioned earlier, the recipe includes instructions for using both dried and canned. Pictures are using canned beans. Video shows how to make it with dried beans.

Type of Red Kidney Beans: I use dark red kidney beans, known as Rajma in Hindi or Lal Lobia in Urdu. I believe you could substitute with light red kidney beans and keep similar cooking times.

One bowl of drained, canned kidney bowls and another bowl of dried kidney beans.

Notes on Other Rajma Ingredients

Ingredients for Rajma
  • Onion & Tomato: We’re going for a smooth masala in which you can’t see chunks of onion or tomato. I use the pulse function of my food processor to finely chop the onion (but not too finely or it’ll release water and become harder to brown). Then I blend the tomatoes into a purée.
  • Whole spices: Cumin seeds, a dried bay leaf, and a cinnamon stick are essentials. Black peppercorns and black cardamom are optional.
  • Tomato paste: To enhance the tomatoey flavors, especially if your tomatoes aren’t as ripe/flavorful.
  • Ground Spices: Like Chana Masala, Rajma can handle more spices than, say, dal recipes. Still, I’d describe this Rajma as gently spiced, in which ground spices like coriander powder or Kashmiri chili aren’t overpowering but allow the flavor of the beans to come through.

Finishing Ingredients

Finishing ingredients for Rajma.
  • Heavy whipping cream: If you’ve used dried beans, the Rajma doesn’t demand the cream. But I tend to add it anyway. You want just enough so that it doesn’t mask the other flavors. Sub half and half or coconut milk to keep it dairy-free.
  • Salted butter: Adds richness, more oomph. Omit for vegan.
  • Dried fenugreek leaves (kasuri methi): For earthy flavor. Also used in Butter Chicken, Palak Paneer, and other traditional Punjabi dishes.
  • Sliced red onion and lemon juice: To brighten up the curry and add texture.
Holding a spoonful of Rajma over a partially eaten place of Rajma and Basmati rice garnished with sliced red onion and cilantro.

How to Make Rajma

Full instructions in the recipe card. Here are some notes on the process:

Cook Dried Kidney Beans (or use Canned)

Prepare Masala

  • Sauté the onions along with whole spices until the onions are golden. Don’t brown them too much because they’ll deepen even more in color once you add the garlic and ginger. Keep a small cup of water nearby so you can deglaze as needed for even browning. Add garlic and ginger and cook out the raw flavor.

On Deglazing: An experienced Pakistani cook once taught me that you must deglaze your masala three times for it to reach its potential in flavor and cohesiveness. Great times to deglaze are after the onions have browned (deglazing too early will make onions hard to brown), after you’ve added garlic/ginger, and of course, deglaze if anything sticks to the pan. If your pan is nonstick, you’ll naturally need to delgaze less than if your pan is stainless steel or cast iron. Deglazing is part of the art of bhunai, a South Asian cooking technique used to develop flavor and encourage oil separation.

  • Pour in the blended tomatoes and tomato paste and sauté for about 5 minutes, until the tomatoes reduce and you can see the oil lining the masala.
  • Add ground spices and salt and continue to cook. The oil will once again release from the onion-tomato mixture.
Ground spices added to tomato/onion mixture.

Add Kidney Beans

  • Add the cooked kidney beans and stir to coat in the masala. Using a wooden spoon, gently mash the kidney beans for better texture.

Note: If you cooked your dried beans from scratch as per the recipe, you don’t need to separate the beans from the cooking liquid. Just tip in the beans and cooking liquid and proceed.

Simmer Together

  • Pour in the measured water (or reserved cooking liquid) and simmer together with the beans. The mixture will have thickened up, but it should still be runny. Your pot and the heat of your stovetop will affect how much water you’re left with.

Add Finishing Ingredients

  • Continue to crush the kidney beans. Once you’re at your desired curry/gravy level, add the remaining ingredients.
  • Add the green chili peppers (adding them at this stage gives the Rajma aroma and mild heat). Stir in the heavy cream, butter, and fenugreek leaves. You can also save your butter and top your Rajma with it right before serving!
  • Simmer again to meld the flavors. At this stage the oil will start to rise to the top and line the sides of the curry, which indicates that it’s done. Time to garnish and dig in!
Close up of Rajma in a pot with a wooden spoon garnished with sliced red onion and cilantro.

What to serve with Rajma

Basmati rice is semi-mandatory here, to the point that people often refer to it as ‘Rajma Chawal’. But roti, paratha, naan, anything goes. Serving ideas:

Close up of a partially eaten place of Rajma and Basmati rice garnished with sliced red onion and cilantro.

Tried this recipe? If you have a minute, please consider leaving a comment telling me how it was! You can also take a quick picture and upload it directly into the comments. If you’re on Instagram, please tag me so I can see your creations. I truly love hearing from you. Thank you!

Close up of a plate of Rajma and Basmati rice garnished with sliced red onion and cilantro ready to be eaten.
5 (2 ratings)

Rajma Recipe (Rajma Masala – Red Kidney Beans Curry)

Here's a one-pot, flavorful North Indian-style Rajma Masala recipe. This recipe transforms the humble red kidney bean into a creamy yet light, textured curry. Top with red onions (more texture!) and serve with basmati rice for a cozy, wholesome meal. Includes instructions for using both dried and canned red kidney beans.

Watch the Video

Ingredients 

  • 1 cup/180g dried (OR 2 cans (around 15-oz each)) dark red kidney beans, drained and rinsed (see Note 1 for cooking dried kidney beans)
  • 1/4 cup neutral oil, such as grapeseed oil
  • 1 medium (~180 g) yellow onion, very finely chopped – i like to use the pulse setting of my food processor to mince (~15 pulses)
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1 small dried bay leaf
  • 1- inch piece cinnamon stick
  • 8 black peppercorns, optional
  • 1 small black cardamom, optional
  • 4-5 garlic cloves, crushed or finely chopped
  • 1- inch piece ginger, crushed or finely chopped
  • 2 medium (~200 g) Roma or Vine tomatoes, puréed/blended in a food processor
  • 2 tbsp (33 g) tomato paste
  • 1 tsp coriander powder
  • 1 tsp Kashmiri chili powder or paprika
  • 1/3 tsp turmeric powder
  • 1/4 tsp red chili powder or cayenne pepper
  • 1 3/4 tsp kosher salt
  • 2 cups water, or reserved cooking water if using dried beans – See Note 2

After Cooking

  • 2-3 small Thai chili or serrano peppers, left whole or halved lengthwise (deseed to reduce heat)
  • 2-3 tbsp heavy whipping cream, Note 3
  • 1 tbsp (14 g) salted butter
  • 1/2 tbsp dried fenugreek leaves, kasuri methi, crushed between the palms of your hands
  • 1/4 tsp garam masala
  • 2 tbsp finely chopped cilantro

For Serving

  • sliced or chopped red onions
  • lemon or lime wedges

Instructions 

  • Heat oil in a large pan over medium-high heat. Once hot, add the onions and whole spices (cumin seeds, bay leaf, cinnamon stick, peppercorns, and black cardamom). Sauté for 7-8 minutes, until the onions turn golden brown. Deglaze with 2-3 tbsp of water. Once the water dries up, add the garlic and ginger and sauté for another 2 minutes, until aromatic and the onions deepen even more in color. If the garlic/ginger start to stick, deglaze again with 2-3 tbsp water. Add the blended tomatoes and tomato paste and sauté for about 5 minutes, until the tomatoes reduce and the oil starts to leave the sides.
  • Pour in ¼ cup water to deglaze the pan. Add ground spices and salt and sauté for 1-2 minutes to bloom the spices. The oil will once again release from the onion-tomato mixture. Add the cooked kidney beans and stir to coat in the masala. Using a wooden spoon, gently mash the kidney beans for better texture. Pour in the measured water (or reserved cooking liquid).
  • Bring to a light boil (cover to make it boil faster), then reduce heat to medium. Cover and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 15 minutes. The mixture will have thickened up, but it should still be runny.
  • Uncover and cook for another 1-2 minutes, continuing to crush the kidney beans with a wooden spoon. The mixture should still be soupy, but thick enough to start to stick to the bottom if left alone. If the mixture thickens too much, add 1/4-1/2 cup water and allow to come to a simmer. Add the green chili peppers, heavy cream, butter, and fenugreek leaves. Stir gently to combine.
  • Reduce the heat to low. Cover and gently simmer for 3 minutes. The oil will start to rise and line the sides of the curry. Garnish with garam masala and cilantro. Turn off the heat. I pair with basmati rice and have often seen it with zeera rice (basmati rice with cumin seeds) but you can also pair it with naan, roti, or other bread. Serve with sliced red onions and lemon wedges on the side.

Notes

Note 1: To Cook Dried Red Kidney Beans
  1. Soak dried kidney beans in water overnight, or at least 6 hours.
  2. To cook on the stovetop: Drain kidney beans and add them to a pot along with 6 cups of water. Cover to bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium so that it remains at a simmer. Cover with the lid ajar, and allow to cook for 1hr and 15 minutes, or until the beans break easily when pressed between your fingers. If you haven’t pre-soaked, you’ll need to add more water and cook longer (~2+ hrs). Here are more tips from The Kitchn for cooking beans on the stovetop.
  3. To cook in the Instant Pot or electric pressure cooker: Drain kidney beans and add them to the Instant Pot along with 3 cups water. Cook on high pressure for 30 minutes (beans setting). NPR. The beans should break easily when pressed between your fingers. If you have not pre-soaked, you’ll need to add more water and cook longer (~4 cups water, 45 min).
  4. Drain (if you’d like), reserving the cooking liquid: See Note 2.
Note 2: Reserved Rajma Cooking Liquid. (Ignore if using canned kidney beans).
  1.  You can drain the cooked dried beans, reserving their cooking water, to make them easier to mash or to measure if you have enough liquid. However, this isn’t necessary and you can simply add the cooking water along with the beans.
  2. The amount of water used to cook the dried beans typically leaves ~2 cups of cooking liquid, which is perfect for this recipe. That said, you don’t need exactly 2 cups – more or less is fine. You can easily adjust the consistency by either simmering to reduce the liquid or adding more water as needed.
Note 3: If you’ve used dried beans, the Rajma doesn’t demand the cream. But I tend to add it anyway. You want just enough so that it doesn’t mask the other flavors. Sub half and half or coconut milk to keep it dairy-free.
Helpful Measurements:
  • 1 cup (~180g) dried kidney beans yield anywhere from 370-450g cooked beans.
  • 2 (15-oz) cans OR 1 (27-oz) can yields ~490g cooked beans.
Calories: 377kcal, Carbohydrates: 37g, Protein: 12g, Fat: 22g, Saturated Fat: 6g, Polyunsaturated Fat: 3g, Monounsaturated Fat: 12g, Trans Fat: 0.1g, Cholesterol: 20mg, Sodium: 1123mg, Potassium: 898mg, Fiber: 9g, Sugar: 4g, Vitamin A: 969IU, Vitamin C: 12mg, Calcium: 84mg, Iron: 4mg