Give Your Bean Chili an Indian Kick

Mj 618_348_tk indian lentil chili
Tara Walton / Toronto Star / Getty Images

Chili is a quintessential part of American cuisine, with different regions serving up their own unique variations. It's a favorite among firefighters, you can find a pot filled with it at most football tailgates, and your dad likely has his preferred recipe that he whips up on winter Sundays. But there's another, even better reason that chili is so beloved: its flexibility. Everybody has their own specific recipe, from blending their own spices to tossing avocado on top, there's no one way to make chili. 

And while it might not have the same name, there is an Indian version of chili as well. Because vegetarianism is common throughout Southeast Asia, meat is omitted. But the ingredients and prep methods are wonders unto themselves and will keep you warm during the winter. And Sanjeev Kapoor, India's first TV chef, swears by it. 

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Called rajma (the name of the beans used in the dish; pronounced rahj-mah), Kapoor says that "Rajma is not a dish, it is a religion."

Despite the tens of thousands of miles between the US and India, there are soothing similarities between the two chili traditions. "Rajma for me is much more than a dish," Kapoor said. "It meant leisure, it meant relaxation, it meant luxury." Like most Indian cooking, Kapoor's recipe does not use measurements or directions, at least not in the Western sense. But for first-timers looking for a simple and delicious new way to make chili this winter, here's a failsafe way to cook it. 

Indian-style chili: recipe adapted from Sanjeev Kapoor and Ritu Balial


  • 1 cup red kidney beans, soaked in water the previous night
  • 1 medium red onion, grated
  • 5 cloves of garlic, chopped
  • 1 medium-sized tomato, freshly pureed
  • 1.5 tsp minced ginger
  • 1 tsp salt
  • ¾ tsp cumin powder
  • ½ tsp red chili powder
  • ½ tsp ground coriander or dhania powder
  • ½ tsp black pepper
  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil


  1. Pour 2 tbsp of oil into a pressure cooker.
  2. When oil is low-medium hot, add grated onion.
  3. When the onion is fragrant, add chopped garlic.
  4. Add pureed tomato and saute for one to two minutes.
  5. Add salt, cumin powder, red chili powder, black pepper, ground coriander, and ginger.
  6. Saute till you see the oil separating from the spice & onion mixture, about five to six minutes.
  7. Drain the water from the kidney beans and add them to the pressure cooker.
  8. Add two cups of water to the pot. Stir gently.
  9. Seal the pressure cooker. Wait for four whistles.
  10. Turn off heat and wait for about 15 minutes.
  11. Uncover the pressure cooker and wait for steam to dissipate.
  12. If the beans are still on the firm side, replace the lid and wait for one to two more whistles.
  13. Serve with plain basmati rice.

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