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A very simple rajma February 18, 2007

Posted by C Y Gopinath in Food.

Inderjit Singh does nothing to his rajma. That’s probably why it tastes so special

Like any self-respecting sardarji, Inderjit Singh’s distinguishing quality is that he himself doesn’t know what he’ll say next. This makes it something of a challenge to extract a recipe for anything from him. As I discovered shortly after I broached the subject of his amazing rajma with him.

“It is definitely one of the best rajmas I have ever eaten,” I burped at him once, after finishing my number fifty-something meal at his unusual, all-vegetarian, utterly home-style and wildly popular eaterie at Lokhandwala Complex. Guru da Dhaba, it’s called; Guru is ostensibly Inderjit Singh himself. Gnome of a Sikh, with glasses on, and a definite attitude when it comes to food.

His rajma is the second purest I have ever eaten. The purest was at the home of a schoolmate in Old Delhi decades ago. I remember steaming rice, a clear hot spoonful of ghee, and an overwhelming rajma — medium brown, not submerged under a cavalry of cardamoms, cloves, gingers and garlics, not mashed, not forced to join hands with black dal. The red kidney bean, allowed to speak for itself, emitted a mellow purr, mumbling first but growing in confidence with every mouthful.

Guru’s rajma came very close — a thin, dark red gravy within which rested perfectly cooked red beans. With the sardarji’s chapatis, arbi masaledar and boondi raita, you were very near a perfect meal.

“Do you cook it yourself?” I asked him.

“Mr. Siddharth has already written about me,” he said, as though the end of the world was nigh. The article in question was framed and hung behind the cash counter. next to the aluminium container with chilled chaas.

“Oh, well then,” I said, turning away.

“But I cook it myself,” he said to my retreating back. “My kadhi is even better. Best in and out of Punjab. Rajma and kadhi. Never forget.” Guru in a nutshell.

The sardarji is from Rawalpindi; his young life was spent not in Punjab but in Dehra Dun. Later, in Mumbai, he chugged an autorickshaw around for years, found it wasn’t enough. Started making and selling tea, with moderate success. Spurred by his wife, the legendary Ranjit Kaur, Guru graduated to simple lunches that she cooked at home and sent to the shop in a dabba. One thing led to another, dabba became dhaba, and that led to today’s Inderjit Singh.

It was only when Ranjit fell ill that Inderjit really began to emerge, a veritable Neptune rising from the foam, colander in one hand, perforated spoon in the other, methi all over his beard, ready to cook or be cooked. His wife, the Guru’s own guru, taught him all that he knows, turning a three-wheel dilettante into a passionate chef.

I know. I’ve watched the gnome at work. Around 9.30 am, he will alight, all sweating and profane, from someone else’s autorickshaw, laden with the day’s requirement of fresh vegetables picked by his own hands. Then he will get in there and start cutting and chopping with the boys. Every day, Guru presides over the rebirth of his own menu. Never tires of it.

“What’s so great about my rajma?” he asked me suddenly, as though he didn’t know. “There’s nothing in it. It’s just boiled with red chillies and salt.”

“What about the gravy?” I asked him. Surely that was more than spiced hot water.

“This is the uncle,” he said unexpectedly to his young son, “who is going to take pictures of me for the papers. He says people are more important than food.”

“I need a shot of you cooking rajma — or something,” I said, hoping I wouldn’t get some unrelated oddball answer.

“I may not even be here,” he said, suddenly combative, as though I’d tried to sell him a defective eutectic freezer. He decided to dismiss me. “You go. Come back tomorrow at 11 am. Shoot what you can. The rajma will be on the table. You can’t have everything your way. ”

But the sardraji was there, and he did create his extraordinary ordinary rajma which respects the bean it boils. It is elegant, simple to make. Even you can make it. Try.


500 gms rajma
150 gms onions, sliced into rings
150 gms tomatoes, chopped coarsely
Salt to taste
1 tsp red chilly powder

Don’t soak the rajma overnight. Simply put it to boil for 30 or 40 minutes, until it is tender. If you use a pressure cooker, that’s six or seven whistles. Now in two tablespoons of oil or ghee, fry the onions golden brown. Throw in the tomatoes, stir a bit, then add red chillies and salt. Stir some more. Now grind this to a fine paste. Pour this over the rajma, add hot water till you have a medium thin gravy and simmer, covered, for another half hour or so. (Or allow six to seven whistles more on the pressure cooker). That’s it.

Do not mash. Do not garnish with coriander. Do not garnish with anything. Do not add garam masala. Do not speak while eating.