Spilling the Beans

My love affair with cookbooks started about thirty-three odd years ago when cooking became a part of my life. It was only once married did I even venture into the kitchen to cook. Prior to that I was my mother's chief taster and each weekend on my return from university I would devour the feast that she had so lovingly prepared for me. Despite my cooking skills being honed out of necessity, cooking developed into a passion and I now stand before you, a die-hard foodie. 

There is always a teetering stack of cookbooks by my bedside; food porn dare I say! Thus, I must confess that I am a cookbook addict. There, my 'secret' is out in the open! I love to pore over those antiquarian treasures, gifted to me so long ago, just as much as the clean glossy coffee table variety. There is however a place to go to; not quite rehab, but a trove in fact, which literally feeds my addiction. Books for Cooks in Notting Hill in London, is a quirky bookshop crammed with thousands of cookbook titles, where they actually 'cook the books' by testing out the recipes and selling the prepared dishes in their cafe.

One such coffee table tome, entitled My Last Supper was bought for me several years ago by one of my sons. Fifty of the world's most famous chefs share their last supper fantasies, disclosing the chef preparing it, the location, the invitees and of course the meal itself. This book by Melanie Dunea, is a culinary revelation of the world's leading authorities on food. Despite enjoying the finest, most expensive, exquisite ingredients on the planet, most of these chefs wish for simple more rustic foods as their last supper. The book is actually food for thought and I've posed this question to others numerous times. The overwhelming result is that we are inclined to turn to comfort foods. For me personally, I'm once again in the halcyon days of my childhood, at my mother's kitchen table yearning for a hot bowl of rajma chawal, which translated, is a red kidney bean stew with basmati rice. Rajma is a popular North Indian, Punjabi vegetarian dish of red kidney beans cooked in a thick, spiced gravy. For me this is basically a big hug in a bowl. It is comfort food laced in nostalgia. I hope you too will add this to your vegetarian repertoire and savour this big bowl of happiness. 


Serves 8-10


  • 680g Dried Kidney Beans

  • 2 Large Onions, finely chopped

  • 4 tbsp Sunflower Oil

  • 6 Cloves of Garlic

  • 4 inch piece of Ginger

  • 1 Green Chilli

  • 400g Tin Chopped Tomatoes

  • 2 dessertspoons Tomato Puree

  • 3.5 tsp Salt

  • 3 tsp Garam Masala

  • 2.5 tsp Ground Coriander Powder

  • 50g Fresh Coriander (Cilantro), finely chopped

  • 100ml Double Cream (optional)


  • Soak the dried kidney beans overnight, in a large pan in 2 litres of water and cover.

  • The following day, drain in a colander and rinse the kidney beans thoroughly under cold water for several minutes.

  • The kidney beans can either be cooked in a pressure cooker, as per the manufacturers instructions, or boiled in a pan.

  • I put the beans into my pressure cooker with double the quantity of water and place the lid on. Once the pressure is reached, I reduce the heat to a moderate setting and cook for 20 minutes. After this time I remove from the heat and once the pressure is released remove the pan lid. The kidney beans are now tender and have split slightly.

  • If you don't have a pressure cooker, the kidney beans must be boiled in plenty of water for around 60-90 minutes, until the beans are soft, tender and slightly split. (You may need to top up the water regularly whilst boiling the beans).

  • Grind the garlic, ginger and chilli together to a paste.

  • Fry the chopped onions in the sunflower oil and add the garlic, ginger, chilli paste.

  • Cook this onion mixture on a moderate heat until the onions are golden brown.

  • Add the chopped tomatoes and the tomato puree into the onion mixture and cook slowly for about 40 minutes until the tomato mixture has turned a dark red and the oil starts to emerge around the edge of the pan.

  • Add the salt, garam masala and ground coriander powder.

  • Add the tomato mixture to the cooked kidney beans and add about half a litre of boiled water to loosen the curry.

  • Cook on a low heat for about 1 hour, or until the gravy has thickened. You may need to add more boiled water if needed.

  • You will end up with a thick stew and mix in the chopped coriander and double cream before serving.

  • Serve the rajma with basmati rice or hot roti.


  • If you are using a pressure cooker, it is imperative to follow manufacturers instructions.

  • If you are considering investing in a pressure cooker, I recommend buying a stainless steel one, as opposed to an aluminium one.

  • The rajma recipe can be halved if you do not want to make a large pot of it, or alternatively it is suitable to freeze in freezer friendly containers.




Queen of Dals

My memories of homemade hot buttery black lentils cooked in a delicious, mildly spicy sauce tantalises my tastebuds to this day. There was nothing more comforting than to come home from school to the warmth of my mother and the aroma of dal and roti. My favourite of all the dals was by far and still is the Punjabi iconic 'Maa ki Dal,' or now more commonly known as 'Dal Makhani.' The whole black urad lentils are cooked with rajma (red kidney beans) and spices for hours over a low fire and just before serving, the dal is tempered with some butter and spice, and a splash of cream is the finale. Once the cream is added, this lentil has its status elevated from humble to regal and now has the grand title of 'Dal Maharani,' the Queen of Dals. This was a staple in our Punjabi home and is ubiquitous at any lavish dinner party or wedding. It's a luxurious, rich, robust meat substitute for all the vegetarians. 

Dal Makhani as we know it today was put onto a pedestal by the famous Delhi restaurant Moti Mahal. They were looking for a vegetarian equivalent to their famous creation, 'Chicken Makhani.' They added their eminent makhani sauce, which included tomatoes and cream, to the lentils and there the modern day 'Dal Makhani' was born. The most celebrated place to eat this, is at Bukhara in New Delhi. 'Dal Bukhara' is cooked from the finest urad lentils, sourced from only the best; mineral water is used to cook the dal and the chefs cook it on a low flame overnight, with the cooking continuing for a further 18 hours. Rest assured it isn't necessary to cook it for that long in order to create the creamy, silky, moreish dal. I urge you to cook and savour this quintessential lentil recipe. You'll be back for seconds!

Dal Makhani

Serves 6

  • 225g Whole Black Urad Dal
  • 115g Rajma (Red Kidney Beans)
  • 1 Large Onion, finely chopped
  • 2 tbsp Sunflower Oil
  • 7 cm Piece of Ginger Root, peeled
  • 3 Large cloves Garlic
  • 1 Green Chilli
  • 1 dessertspoon Tomato Puree
  • 2 tsp Salt
  • 2 tsp Garam Masala
  • 1 tsp Coriander Powder
  • 100 ml Double Cream
  • 1 tbsp Coriander, finely chopped (optional)


  • Soak the dal and rajma together in a large pan overnight, making sure that water is filled to the top of the pan.
  • The following day drain the lentils and rajma in a colander and wash well under cold running water.
  • Put the lentils and rajma into a pressure cooker and add a full kettle of boiled water. The heat on your hob should be maximum at this point. Put the lid onto the pressure cooker and after the build up of the pressure, reduce the heat to a moderate level and cook for a further 20 minutes. (Each pressure cooker is different and it is important to follow manufacturer's instructions. If you don't have a pressure cooker, boil the dal and rajma in a pan until it is soft when you squeeze a kidney bean between your thumb and forefinger. Just ensure that the water remains topped up whilst boiling).
  • Take off the heat and allow the pressure to dissipate.
  • Take the lid off the pressure cooker and add enough boiled water to cover the dal. Stir in the salt, garam masala, coriander powder. At this point it should resemble a thick stew. Add a little more boiled water if necessary and cook on a very low heat.
  • In a separate frying pan add the sunflower oil, heat on a moderate flame and add the onions.
  • In a herb mill grind the ginger, garlic and chilli together and add to the frying onions.
  • Once the onion mixture is golden brown, add the tomato puree and stir in. Cook for a further 3-4 minutes and then add into the simmering pot of dal.
  • Cook the dal for approximately an hour, stirring regularly. 
  • Add some boiled water if the dal is looking too thick and gloopy. Whilst cooking slowly the water does continue to evaporate slowly, so its fine to add a little water to loosen it.
  • It should resemble a thick stew once cooked.
  • Before serving add the cream and stir in, saving a little to embellish the dal in the serving bowl.
  • Sprinkle chopped coriander on top if you wish, but this is optional.
  • Serve with hot rotis, naans or basmati rice.


  • I often cook double the quantity and freeze half of it into tupperware containers. When I want to use it, I just defrost, warm it up in the pan and loosen with some boiled water, as the dal becomes quite thick when it cools down. Fry an onion in a little butter and add to the dal as it is warming up.
  • I only add the cream if I'm serving it to guests, or its a special occasion.
  • To make coriander powder, I just buy the coriander seeds and grind them in a coffee grinder. The flavour is far more intense than the shop bought version.
  • I suggest that the dal simmers for about an hour. This is an approximation. You can do it for 30 minutes if you don't have the time or 2 hours if you do. The longer it cooks, the better it tastes!