Why Rajma Chawal makes me happy

Rajma Chawal
Rajma Chawal at home

A story about my favourite memories of Rajma Chawal.

Its true that Punjabis are known for their inimitable love for Butter Chicken, Chhole Bhature and Sarson Ka Saag, but I personally love Rajma Chawal (Kidney Beans and Rice). In fact, I actually never had a liking for Chhole Bhature. Call me crazy, I prefer having Bhature with Achaar than Chhole. My love for Butter chicken has been eternal but I took my sweet time to fall in love with Sarson Ka Saag.

But when there’s Rajma Chawal at home, I can give any outside food a miss. One of my fondest memories of eating Rajma Chawal is at Peera near Patnitop, on my way to Kashmir. A spoonful of ghee and pomegranate chutney with Rajma Chawal, made it an unforgettable affair. Apart from that, I feel Rajma Chawal taste best, when had at home. I would never eat or order this combination outside of my house.

Punjabis aren’t widely known for eating rice like Bengalis or Malayalis. When I was young, my mother, who cooked only for special occasions, would prepare rice only when we would have guests over at our place. Hence, eating rice was a kind of a gala affair for me. Also, it used to be a welcome break from Chapatis, which are indispensable in a Punjabi household.

Till today, my mom never just serves boiled rice. She always makes it with Onions, Jeera, Corn Peppers, Cloves and Tejpatta. The aroma of Basmati with these aromatics always makes me feel happy.

When I shifted to Kolkata, I would often feel bad eating boiled rice everyday. Since childhood, I associated boiled rice with someone falling ill or having a troubled stomach. Even though, with the passage of time I kind of accepted this Bengali way of eating, I dearly missed having homemade Rajma Chawal. Basanti Didi, who cooked my meals in the hostel, could make a decent curry for Rajma, however, even she would only make boiled rice.

So as soon as I would take my seat in Rajdhani, I would call up my mom and pester her to keep a plate of Rajma Chawal ready.

I hope my mom doesn’t read this, but to be honest, more than my mother, my Masi (Maternal Aunt) makes sinfully delicious Rajma curry. Thick tomato based curry with spices like garam masala, ginger-garlic, dhaniya powder and rajma masala – it just tastes heavenly at my Masi’s place. Her secret lies in a good tadka of onions and lots of tomatoes. Her lavish usage of tomatoes renders a tanginess that is beautifully complemented by the slight sweetness of onions. The addition of spices adds another dimension to the curry, which makes her Rajma, a favourite amongst all her guests. To her credit, she’s an exceptional cook who makes everything look simple and taste delicious.

Whenever my brother and I visit her place, she prepares a feast with a huge portion of Rajma and Chawal. Every time, we come back home, with no space left for even a glass of water.

But, since my mother has started cooking more often, with time her Rajma Chawal have evolved so much that we end up licking our plates, quite literally. Her technique is similar to that of my Masi’s, but I guess it’s her effort of giving us the best Rajma curry, that shows up in the final dish. Her rice, which she prepares in a Handi and not a cooker, are phenomenal! You can just eat them as they are. She can easily be called ‘The Rice Queen’ and the combination of Rajma Chawal is celebratory at my home.

We make it for our guests, we eat it on special occasions and in case, my parents want to put a curfew on us, they make Rajma Chawal. As they know, no matter where we go and what we eat, we would always come back to Rajma Chawal.

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