Cracking the Spine: Punjabi Curried Kidney Beans (Rajmah)

We’re boldly delving into our ever-growing stacks of cookbooks, seeking out recipes we’ve never made before.

Prepping the ingredients for Punjabi Curried Kidney Beans, or Rajmah, a hearty Northern Indian dish that’s perfect for the slow cooker.

I came late to the slow cooker.

Unlike so many born-in-the-’70s kids with working parents, I didn’t grow up with a Crockpot on the kitchen counter — on busy weeknights, my mom preferred to whip up some pancakes or rifle through our collection of takeout menus. I acquired my first slow cooker just a couple of years ago, when one of my friends pulled an extra one out of her cabinet and gave it to me.

Since then, I’ve made quite a few chilis and stews in the slow cooker, and the Professor uses the device just about every week to prepare a big batch of soup. But we haven’t done much with our Crockpot beyond making those classic comfort foods.

I’m an easily distracted cook who hates attending to a simmering pot of anything for hours, so a slow cooker, with its set-it-and-go simplicity, should be one of my most valued kitchen tools. I just needed the right enticement and the right recipes to encourage me to experiment.

I found both in the form of a cookbook I recently picked up, “The Indian Slow Cooker” by Anupy Singla, the Chicago-based writer behind the blog Indian as Apple Pie. Indian food is another culinary delight I didn’t discover I became an adult, and for years I’ve wanted to learn how to make spicy curries and creamy masalas at home.

“The Indian Slow Cooker” is packed with great recipes for all sorts of Indian dishes, from Chicken Tikka Masala to Goan Black-Eyed Peas. The cookbook also includes a guide to the spices, legumes and other ingredients most often used in Indian cooking.

For my first attempt at making an Indian dish in the slow cooker, I chose Punjabi Curried Kidney Beans, or Rajmah. Singla points out that this dish is considered the quintessential comfort food in Northern India. That sounded ideal to me, since I’ve come to think of my slow cooker as the ultimate comfort-food maker. The recipe for Rajmah couldn’t be simpler: Chop some stuff, drop it all in the slow cooker and crank the heat to high; 11 hours later, give the Rajmah a few whacks with an immersion blender (another kitchen tool I don’t use often enough) and spoon out a rich, satisfying meal.

If you’re looking for the Indian spices called for in this recipe (or any other dish) here in the Tallahassee area, I’d suggest making a stop at Little India, 1350 E. Tennessee St. In addition to spices and packaged goods, the grocery store also sells fresh and frozen Indian breads, including naan and paratha, that make excellent accompaniments to Indian meals.

Punjabi Curried Kidney Beans (Rajmah)
Recipe from “The Indian Slow Cooker” by Anupy Singla

Ingredients
3 cups dried red kidney beans, cleaned and washed thoroughly
1 medium yellow or red onion, peeled and roughly chopped
2 medium tomatoes, diced
1 (2-inch) piece ginger, peeled and chopped or grated
3 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped or grated
4-6 green Thai, serrano, or cayenne chiles, stems removed, chopped
3 whole cloves
1 (2-4 inch) cinnamon stick
1 tablespoon cumin seeds
1 tablespoon red chile powder
2 tablespoons salt
1 teaspoon tumeric powder
1 teaspoon garam masala
9 cups water
½ cup chopped fresh cilantro

Directions
1. Put the kidney beans, onion, tomatoes, ginger, garlic, green chiles, cloves, cinnamon stick, cumin, red chile powder, salt, tumeric, garam masala and water in a 5-quart slow cooker.*

2. Cook on high for 11 hours, until the beans break down and become somewhat creamy.

3. Remove and discard the cloves (if you can find them!) and cinnamon stick. If the Rajmah is not creamy enough, take an immersion blender and press it two or three times to break up some of the beans. If using a blender, take out about 1 cup and process in the blender, then return it to the slow cooker. Be careful not to process all of the beans; most of them should remain whole.

4. Stir in the cilantro. Serve over a bed or basmati or brown rice with a side of raita and an Indian salad.

Try this! After cooking, turn off the slow cooker and add 1 cup plain yogurt. Stir well and let the slow cooker sit with the lid on for about 10 minutes. This adds a unique tang.

* To make this dish in a 3 ½ quart slow cooker, halve all the ingredients and proceed with the recipe. (I would suggest reducing the cooking time to 9 hours on high; that’s how long it took for the the beans to break down and become somewhat creamy in my 3 ½ quart Crockpot).

Rajmah makes a satisfying main dish for lunch or dinner.

Nosh News: The Best of Everything Edition

Anthony Bourdain vs. Paula Deen: Two celebrity chefs enter, one leaves (possibly slathered in butter).

’Tis the season for Top 10 lists. Here’s a rundown of 10 of the most entertaining best-of-the-year roundups I’ve found around the Web, in no particular order:

1. Top 10 Food Trends of 2011 by TIME. A wide-ranging overview of the year’s highs and lows. Thumbs up to #3: The New Vegetarians and #10: Regional Food, thumbs down to #9: Texting at the Table.

2. Top 10 New Foods at the 2011 State Fairs by Endless Simmer. Check out which state nabs the dubious honor of #1 fair-food innovation.

3. Top 10 Food-Related Lawsuits of 2011 by LA Weekly’s Squid Ink blog. A big thank you to the plaintiff behind lawsuit #3 for ruining late-night Taco Bell runs for the rest of us.

4. Travelers’ Choice 2011 Top 10 Food & Wine Destinations in the United States by TripAdvisor. I visited four of the 10 cities on this list in 2011 (and, in previous years, I’ve dined in three more). While #3 Chicago, will always be my favorite place on the planet to eat because it’s my hometown, my introduction this year to the dining scene in #1 New Orleans landed that city high on my own list of the most enticing food destinations.

5. The Best Cocktails of 2011 by Tasting Table. Blame it on Mad Men. In 2011, classic cocktails edged out other alcoholic beverages, prompting home mixologists to begin experimenting with bitters, shakers and garnishes. If you’ve already perfected your take on the French 75, this list offers 10 fresh recipes to test-drive.

6. Top 10 Food-World Spats of 2011 by CHOW. My personal favorite smackdown? Anthony Bourdain, who seems to despise everyone in the culinary world but himself (and his dudebro David Chang, of course), vs. the equally unctuous Paula Deen.

7. Ten Best Vegan Cookbooks of 2011 by VegNews. A great resource for everyone who wants to add more meatless dishes to their cooking and baking repertoires. As a lifelong diner devotee, I need to add a copy of “Vegan Diner: Classic Comfort Food for the Body & Soul” by Portland, Ore., chef Julie Hasson to my cookbook collection.

8. Top 10 Food-Related Apps by the Washington Post. Perfect for foodies who received a shiny new iPad or smartphone for the holidays. I’m eager to explore Chefs Feed, which features prominent chefs’ picks for great dining experiences in a handful of U.S. cities, with more locales to be added in 2012.

9. Top 10 Food Trends for 2012 by Epicurious (via Yahoo! Shine). An intriguing look ahead at the forces that will shape how we eat in 2012. I’ll be watching to see how these trends play out in Tallahassee in the coming year. We’re already got several excellent artisan cheesemakers in the area, and I hear that there’s a new churro purveyor in town, but I have yet to spot fennel pollen on a local menu.

10. Top 10 Simpsons Food Episodes by LA Weekly’s Squid Ink blog. OK, so this list isn’t limited to 2011 episodes, but it’s way too much fun to miss. Whether you’re fantasizing about a colossal donut or a mug filled with Skittlebrau — or perhaps something slightly less Homeric — here’s hoping that 2012 serves up an array of edible delights.

Nosh News: How Many More Shopping Days? Edition

Georgia chef Hugh Acheson’s cookbook, “A New Turn in the South,” would make an ideal gift for anyone who loves Southern cuisine.

If you celebrate a December holiday with a gift-giving tradition, welcome to shopping crunchtime. I’ve rounded up some ideas for great gifts that will delight the people in your life who love food (and isn’t that just about everyone?).

Want to give a far-away friend or family member a taste of Tallahassee? You can’t go wrong with Barb’s Gourmet Brittles. Classic peanut, dark chocolate pecan coconut, orange macadamia, even a virgin variety that’s nut-free … you can choose a different flavor of brittle for each name on your list. While you’re browsing at the shop on Lake Ella, snag a scoop of the excellent housemade ice cream, too.

The New York Times recently released its list of Notable Cookbooks of 2011, and every single title looks giftworthy. I’ve put “A New Turn in the South”, Hugh Acheson’s guidebook to the contemporary Southern cuisine he’s serving up to great acclaim in Georgia, on my own wish list.

Looking for some unique, ecofriendly options? Check out TreeHugger’s guide to green gifts for foodies. I love their idea of making a donation in your giftee’s name to Bluebell Giving, which lets the recipient choose which charity to support.

I’m always on the hunt for a little something sweet to send my best friend for the holidays. Since he’s vegan, I usually turn to Vosges, which turns out some of the most creative, delicious chocolates I’ve ever eaten, including quite a few varieties that are made without any animal products. My top picks from this year’s holiday catalog are the Luscious Vegan Truffle Collection, the Creole Bombalina Hazelnuts and the Aztec Elixir Couture Cocoa.

Five Favorites: Holiday Treats

Some Southerners believe that eating black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day will bring good luck. Listening to the Black Eyed Peas, however, will bring you nothing but an earworm.

1. Pumpkin spice lattes. Catalina Café on Capital Circle Southeast serves an excellent one.

2. Shrimp pasta salad. My mom makes this old-school American classic for every major holiday, and now I do, too. My family’s recipe couldn’t be simpler: Boil, drain and chill a 1-pound box of elbow macaroni. To the pasta, add 3-4 cans of tiny pink shrimp (drained and rinsed), a couple of handfuls of diced celery and several big dollops of mayonnaise, then toss it all together. Season with salt and pepper to taste and let the salad sit in the fridge for a few hours so the flavors meld.

3. Latkes. This is the year I will learn to make these perfect little potato pancakes. For a carb fanatic like me, latkes are the ultimate cold-weather comfort food.

4. Homemade gingerbread cookies. Dressed in crunchy sugar crystals, please.

5. Hoppin’ John. My Georgia-born friend Elle Crash introduced me to the Southern tradition of greeting the New Year with a big bowl of black-eyed peas. This year I’m going to try Bryant Terry’s version of the dish, Creole Hoppin’-Jean, from the Vegan Soul Kitchen cookbook.

Nosh News: It’s Finally Fall Edition

Why, yes, it is decorative gourd season.

Since moving to Tallahassee from the Midwest last year, I’ve had to revise my definition of autumn. Since the thermometer no longer climbs past 85 degrees (at least most days), I’ve decided that it’s officially fall. And that means it’s time to pull out one of my favorite lazy-girl kitchen tools, the slow cooker. Since I’m always on the hunt for great meatless recipes, I’ve put this new cookbook at the top of my must-buy list: “The Vegan Slow Cooker: Simply Set It and Go with 150 Recipes for Intensely Flavorful, Fuss-Free Fare Everyone (Vegan or Not!) Will Devour” by Kathy Hester.

Like many folks who celebrate Thanksgiving, I love the big dinner …  but I enjoy the leftovers even more. This week I’m seeking out fresh ways to use up all that extra turkey, stuffing, potatoes and cranberry sauce over the holiday weekend. Here’s a handful of recipes I want to try: Fetette’s Candied Yam Tartlettes, Three Cocktail Recipes That Use Leftover Cranberry Sauce from Mix Magazine —the Cranberry Jalapeño Margarita looks particularly enticing! — and Martha Stewart’s Turkey Banh Mi.

After you’ve made a visit to Dame Stewart’s corner of the Internet to check out that banh mi recipe, you may require an antidote to those maddeningly perfect visions of  gilded pumpkin placecard holders and crisply folded dinner napkins. (I know I do). Quick, read McSweeney’s deliciously irreverent take on seasonal decorating. (Caution: You might not want to click on this link if a small child or humorless coworker is looking over your shoulder).