Served on mash & strewn with cheese: yes, please!

Red kidney beans are potentially poisonous as blogger du jour, Jack Monroe, attests by way of sharing her recipe for Mumma Jack’s Best Ever Chilli: ‘I had a very bad experience with some dried beans once that I’d
left to soak too long and they’d sprouted – I was so violently ill that
I was convinced I was dying. I lived to tell the tale but I’ve learned
my lesson, I only soak beans first thing in the morning to use for my
dinner that evening now!’ Indeed, a bout of red kidney bean poisoning is not an experience one soon forgets.

It happened to me more than thirty years ago when I shared a flat in the City with a Welsh. These beans had been soaking all weekend and so I assumed they wouldn’t need so much cooking. They were still crunchy when I consumed them. My flat mate finished off what was left in the pan when he came home from the pit an hour later. I went to bed early, feeling queasy, then sprang up and sprinted to the loo, where I embraced the pedestal, to my mate’s mirthful amusement. Sobbing ‘n’ drooling, I gazed up from the floor into his jeering face and informed him, with all the dignity I could muster, “You’re an hour behind me, boyo!”

Red Kidney Bean Poisoning is an illness caused by Phytohaemagglutnin, aka Kidney Bean Lectin, a toxic agent found in many beans, but particularly Phaseolus vulgaris, including beans of the red kidney variety. Jack’s problem and mine was not that our respective beans sprouted, so much as neither of us boiled our beans long enough to kill their lectin. Jack has acquired a slow cooker (£8 from Wilkinsons!) and should heed these words of wisdom from a fool whose ‘Old Technique‘ of cooking beans consisted of: ‘put the beans and 8 cups of water into the slow cooker. Cook on low for 8 hours.’ Let’s just say that his New Technique involves boiling the beans vigorously for ten minutes before putting ’em into the pot!

Of course, one can dodge any potential poisoning problems by buying tinned beans that are already cooked. When ‘Mumma Jack’ revisited her Best Ever Chilli she  went for Sainsbury’s Basics red kidney beans in a can (not to mention the baked beans and Jack’s secret ingredient, two squares of plain chocolate). I don’t propose to follow any of those suggestions.

What I’ve done, in line with my experiments in dal, is evovle a foolproof, automatic rajma cooked in my 1.5 litre pressure cooker. I’m not against tinned beans per se but dried beans are obviously cheaper. Red kidney beans come in two varieties. You want the lighter type. Those darker red kidney beans have thicker skins and take a lot more cooking, I find. I get mine from Fareshares.

Soak ’em overnight, for a least six hours, changing the water a couple of times. A lot of beaniness is retained in the soak water, but so too is fartiness, which is primarily caused by complex raffinose sugars fermenting in your gut. Since canned beans are usually cooked in their cans, with all their natural sugars, tinned beans tend to be fartier than dried beans that have been soaked with several changes.

I usually change the water a couple of times while my beans are soaking but retain the final soak water to cook with. First, I melt some butter or ghee in the bottom of my pressure cooker and fry half an onion, finely chopped, with a clove or two of roast garlic, adding a teaspoon of turmeric (right). This haldi won’t impact much on the flavour of my cooked rajma, but it has near-mystical health-giving properties, so I now incorporate turmeric as a matter of policy.

I add a pinch of chilli powder in the bottom of the pot, but not too much. One wants the cooked rajma to be almost sweet, not too spicy. If it turns out to be not spicy enough, that’s what hot sauce is for. As the onions turn colour, add the soaked beans with their soak water, plus half a tin of chopped tomatoes and a dessert spoon-sized dollop of Biber salçası. This, as I never tire of telling, is the red pepper paste I get from Oli’s, the 24 hour Turkish market in Walworth Road, that is either acı (‘hot’) or tatlı (‘sweet’). It is the secret ingredient of my rajma, mama!

Put it all into the pressure cooker and add a little water, as necessary. As always, the pot should be at least one third empty. Put the weighted lid on the pressure cooker and set it on the heat. When it first releases its steam, turn down the heat and cook for another twenty minutes or so, allowing the steam to escape a couple more times. Turn off the heat and allow the pot to cool naturally before opening it (right).

Transfer the cooked rajma to another pot, give it a stir and taste. It may require a tad more cooking, perhaps a little more liquid (below). I often stir in a small tin of sweetcorn niblets and add a jigger of Cajohn’s amazin’ Chipotle sauce. Serve with rice or, as I increasingly prefer, mashed potatoes – if I’m not spooning them direct from the pan – and garnish with grated cheese or sour cream as you like.

automatic rajmama

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