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Makhani Rajma (North-Indian Style Creamy Red Beans)

Makhani Rajma (North-Indian Style Creamy Red Beans) 4.000

Laura Chase de Formigny for The Washington Post; styling by Lisa Cherkasky for The Washington Post

Dec 21, 2021

Rajma, or red bean based dishes, are a staple in many Indian homes. Of the many Indian preparations that use red kidney beans, makhani rajma is a classic. This version from food writer Nandita Godbole demonstrates the spice layering techniques used to build flavor, with onions, tomatoes and a spot of cream added just when each will shine best. The recipe can be adapted to meet dietary needs. If you like chili, you will like makhani rajma. This dish is typically served as a side dish at a larger meal, but can be eaten as an entree. The finished dish tastes even better after it has rested overnight in the refrigerator. Serve family-style with basmati or brown rice, naan and/or raita.

Watch a video of Godbole making Makhani Rajma here.

Active time: 30 mins; Total time: 1 hour

Storage Notes: The sauce can be prepared up until the point of adding beans and refrigerated for up to 3 days.

Where to Buy: Indian bay leaf (tamal patra) can be found at Indian grocery stores and online.

4 - 8

When you scale a recipe, keep in mind that cooking times and temperatures, pan sizes and seasonings may be affected, so adjust accordingly. Also, amounts listed in the directions will not reflect the changes made to ingredient amounts.

Tested size: 4-8 servings; 4 servings as main dish; 8 as a side makes 4 heaping cups

  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 cup finely chopped red or white onion (about 6 ounces) (optional, see NOTES)
  • 1 tablespoon finely grated or minced ginger
  • 1 tablespoon finely grated or minced garlic
  • 1 (2-inch) cinnamon stick
  • 2 to 3 whole cloves
  • 2 green cardamom pods
  • 1 Indian bay leaf (see NOTES)
  • 2 teaspoons cayenne pepper (may substitute with Kashmiri chile for milder heat)
  • 1 cup finely diced or crushed fresh tomatoes or canned diced tomatoes (see NOTES)
  • 3 cups cooked kidney beans (see related recipe); or use two 15-ounce cans, rinsed and drained (see NOTES)
  • 1 cup water, plus more as needed
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried fenugreek leaves (kasuri methi powder, see NOTES)
  • 1 teaspoon granulated sugar or honey (optional)
  • Fine sea salt or table salt
  • 1/4 cup fresh heavy cream to garnish, optional
  • Cooked basmati rice or brown rice, or naan
  • Raita, for serving, optional (see related recipe)

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In a deep, heavy-bottomed skillet over medium-high heat, heat the oil until shimmering.

If using onions, add them to the skillet and cook, stirring often, until softened and light golden brown, 6 to 8 minutes. Stir in the ginger and garlic and cook, stirring and taking care to not burn either, until aromatic, about 30 seconds. Add the cinnamon, cloves, cardamom and bay leaf, and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 1 minute.

If using the onions, sprinkle the cayenne on top and mix to evenly coat. (If not using the onions, remove the skillet from the heat and let it cool down for about 1 minute before adding the cayenne, as it burns instantly in very hot oil.)

Add the tomatoes, stirring to evenly combine with the spices. Cook, stirring, until the liquid starts to evaporate, about 2 minutes. (See NOTES for a smoother sauce.)

Add the beans and stir gently so they don’t break. Add the water, cover, and reduce the heat to low. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, to prevent beans from sticking to the bottom of the pan, until slightly thickened, about 20 minutes.

As the sauce begins to thicken, add the fenugreek leaves. Stir in the sugar and season to taste with salt. Re-cover and continue to cook until the sauce thickens further and the flavors meld, an additional 10 minutes.

Taste one of the beans, and if it is not yet flavorful, add 1/4 to 1/2 cup of water, re-cover and simmer for another 10 minutes, then taste again. Cover and continue cooking for another 10 minutes. Taste and add more salt and sugar or honey, if needed.

When ready to serve, remove the cinnamon stick and bay leaf and discard them. Swirl the cream on top, remove from the heat and serve hot, family-style, as a side or main dish, with rice, naan and raita on the side, if desired.


To achieve a smooth sauce, puree the tomatoes and spices before adding the beans. Remove the pan from the heat and let cool for a few minutes. Remove and reserve the cinnamon and bay leaf, then, using an immersion blender, process the sauce in short bursts to reduce splashing, until smooth. If using a regular blender, let the sauce cool completely before processing. Once pureed, return the sauce to the skillet, add back the cinnamon stick and bay leaf and continue with the rest of the recipe.

If not using onions, use an additional 1 cup chopped tomatoes.

The dish is best when using homemade beans. See related recipe for Simply Perfect Pot of Beans.

The recipe can be adapted to other kinds of cooked beans, including black-eyed peas and Adzuki beans. Or, substitute your preferred ingredient in place the beans, such as parboiled baby potatoes and halved cremini mushrooms, or proteins, such as diced paneer or shredded rotisserie chicken.

Indian bay leaf, also known as tamal patra, has a different flavor from standard bay leaf, and results in a more complex flavor.

Fresh fenugreek leaves and the dried seeds are different in flavor from dried fenugreek leaves. Do not substitute.

Recipe Source

From cookbook author Nandita Godbole of

Tested by Ann Maloney.

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Nutritional Facts

Calories per serving (1/2 cup) based on 8: 139

% Daily Values*

Total Fat: 4g 6%

Saturated Fat: 0g 0%

Cholesterol: 0mg 0%

Sodium: 47mg 2%

Total Carbohydrates: 21g 7%

Dietary Fiber: 6g 24%

Sugar: 3g

Protein: 7g

*Percent Daily Value based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your daily values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.

Total Fat: Less than 65g

Saturated Fat: Less than 20g

Cholesterol: Less than 300mg

Sodium: Less than 2,400mg

Total Carbohydrates: 300g

Dietary Fiber: 25g

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