Living Vegan In Charlotte, NC

White Lightning Rajma Masala (Mixed Kidney Bean Curry)

White Lightening Rajma MasalaMy partner is a man who likes his rice and beans.

Specifically, he likes his rice and beans on Sunday.

Every Sunday.

According to him, it’s the only acceptable meal to serve on a Sunday evening. (I’ve tried serving other foods, but he was NOT amused.)

So it was with dismay I discovered I only had about a cupful of dried red kidney beans – on a Sunday.

Then I remembered a chili we do in the South called “White Lightning Chili.” It’s a variation of white chicken chili, which is – you guessed it, chicken or faux chicken chili with white beans. Although this chili tastes good, unfortunately it is rather relentlessly beige and not very appetizing to look at. Add the usual beige chili accompaniments – cornbread or corn chips – and it gets even worse. The best a cook could do was dump a cup of green cilantro on top and serve in dim lighting.

Then some enterprising cook came up with the idea of mixing the white beans with darker pintos or kidney beans – the white beans being the “lightning” in the dark pinto bean “sky”. This immediately became popular because – well, it was just a heck of a lot more attractive than a mushy beige stew. Also, people could turn their lights back on as they ate.

I reckoned adding white beans to rajma just might work. Indian cuisine is famous for the creative mixing of beans and dals, anyway. At any rate, it seemed safer than serving Mr. Pickypants a salad.

The rajma turned out wonderfully. It looked striking and tasted delicious. Although the taste was only slightly different than red kidney bean rajma, the white beans did add significant creaminess to the texture. Even Mr. Pickypants grudgingly admitted, “it’s not bad,” and then proceeded to eat three bowls.

This recipe makes a generous amount – about 8 servings.  You could make less, but I’ve rarely served rajma to anyone who didn’t take a second serving. Leftovers reheat easily in a small pot on the stove – just add a little water as it thickens a bit in the fridge. And it freezes beautifully. So go ahead and make a big batch.

Oh, and it’s “accidentally” vegan – and gluten-free.

Mixed White and Red Kidney Beans

Ingredients for White Lightning Rajma Masala:

  • 1 cup Light or Dark Red Kidney Beans, sorted and rinsed
  • 1 Cup Cannellini Beans, sorted and rinsed
  • 2 tablespoons Vegetable Oil
  • 2 Yellow Onions, diced
  • 5 Garlic Cloves, pressed, or 1 heaping tablespoon Garlic Paste
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped Ginger Root, or 1 heaping tablespoon Ginger Paste
  • 3-5 small Thai Green Chili Peppers, diced*
  • 1 or 2 Roma Tomatoes, chopped, or a large Summer Tomato
  • 1 TBL Sea Salt
  • 1 teaspoon Ground Cumin
  • 1 teaspoon Ground Coriander
  •  1/1 – 1 teaspoon Red Chili Powder* (made from red chilis, not the spice blend you use to make chili)
  • 1-2 teaspoons Garam Masala (not curry powder)
  • Cooked Rice, for serving
  • Handful fresh Cilantro, chopped, for garnish (optional)

Directions for White Lightning Rajma Masala

Sort and wash the red and white kidney beans, then cover with water and let the beans soak 6-10 hours.  If I’m making this on Sunday, I usually start the beans soaking right after breakfast. If I’m making this on a weekday, I’ll set the beans to soaking right before I leave for work. Be sure there’s several extra inches of water covering the beans – they will SWELL.

When you’re ready to cook, drain the soaking water and add enough fresh water to cover the beans, plus a few cups extra. You want the final product to be a little “soupy” since you’ll be serving it over rice.

If using a pressure cooker, the beans will usually take about six whistles to cook (about 25 minutes or so). You can tell when the beans start getting done because the  water that releases with the steam will start to turn brown. If simmering the beans in a regular pot on the stove, plan on the beans taking at least 90 minutes to cook.

While the beans are cooking, make the onion masala.  In a large frying pan over medium-high heat, saute the onions and green chili peppers in vegetable oil, about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add the garlic and ginger and cook for another 5 minutes, until the onions start to turn golden brown.

Sprinkle the cumin, coriander, salt, and red chili powder over the onions and stir to incorporate, about a minute. Keep stirring so the spices don’t burn. By now your kitchen should smell fantastic!

Add the chopped tomatoes.  Stir, then reduce heat and cook for another 10 minutes or so, stirring occasionally. Cook until the tomatoes are mushy and even the skin has started to disintegrate a little.

The beans are done when they are soft and the water looks a little “brothy” or gravy-like. Add the masala mixture to the beans as well as 1-2 teaspoons garam masala, and simmer on low heat another 10-20 minutes to meld the flavors.

Taste; you may need to add more salt.

Serve over basmati rice and top with chopped cilantro. Mango pickles are especially nice with this.

White Lightening Rajma Masala 2


As always, adjust heat and spices to your taste. If you have a mild palate, use less hot green peppers and red chili powder.

If you can’t find thai green chili peppers, serrano peppers would be my next choice. (Jalapeno peppers taste a little too much like bell peppers for my liking.) Or, omit the peppers and just increase the red chili powder a bit.

Know your garam masala. I find that garam masala purchased at an Indian grocery is usually much more pungent and flavorful than a supermarket brand like McCormick’s. So, depending on brand I may use more or less. If in doubt, start with a teaspoon – you can always add more!

If you need help making rice, click this link for Jeera (Cumin-Scented) Basmati Rice where I give detailed instructions. If you’re interested in another recipe that combines beans and lentils, check out October Gold and Black Dal.


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Categorised in: Autumn, Chilis, Indian & Indian Fusion, Meatless Mains, Vegan Recipes

5 Responses »

  1. Hi Catherine….it’s only Jackie!

    WOW! You do such a great job in your over-all presentation….almost anyone would get excited about beans and rice if they read your article! Keep up the good work and have a good day today and a better month of June! Jackie

    • Please don’t refer to yourself as “only” Jackie! (Though my heart did skip a beat when I received an email saying, “Jim Brown has commented on your post!) Thanks for the kind words of praise. My dad used to write, “This isn’t vegan food, it’s just good food, and everyone needs to eat more veggies!” So I guess I am accomplishing my goal! I hope you are doing well and I will give you a call soon.

  2. Beautifully presented dish! i can learn from that! I loved your appetizing so much that I made it! Loved every spoonful! 🙂


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