Indian Cooking 101 - Recipe #5: How to make an easy Indian curry

Indian Cooking 101 – Recipe #5: How to make an easy Indian curry

Kidney Beans Curry (Rajma)

Indian Cooking 101 – our fifth lesson will focus on how to make an easy Indian curry. You’ve almost completed the basics!


  • You will use the golden spice of Indian cuisine: ground turmeric. Besides the smokiness it lends to any dish, along with a gorgeous yellow hue, it has many health benefits and is a good source of antioxidants.
  • You will also heat whole spices in oil if you’ve never done so before: red chilli flakes and cumin seeds
  • By now you will have already used some key Indian spices, all of which are in this recipe: cumin, coriander, and garam masala

Congratulations on embarking on your first Indian curry. Many people ask me for a foolproof curry recipe — this is it. As I explained in the post “What is Curry?” there are many different types of curries around the world, some very simple, others very complex with long lists of ingredients. This is an easy curry you can prepare in half an hour and it’s absolutely authentic. Take your time, lay out all your ingredients, and have fun.

When you are heating whole spices in oil, here’s a hard lesson learned from my husband Sean, who insists I share this with you: watch the flame/level of heat of your burner really carefully and when it doubt, keep the heat low, rather than high. You will put the oil, red chilli flakes, and cumin seeds into your saucepan before you turn the the heat on — you will know the oil is ready once the red chilli flakes and cumin seeds begin to move, whereupon then you add the onions, garlic, and ginger right away. The first few times Sean made this curry, he had the flame too high and the red chilli flakes and cumin seeds burned into black bits within seconds, filling up our small Harlem apartment with a smoky fog. Whole spices pack a serious punch in flavor and smell, so you want to treat them with a delicate hand to coax out the best flavor from them.

Red kidney beans or red beans are widely available and typically used in Mexican dishes or chili. You should be able to find this easily in most stores. One 15 oz can is all you need. You can freely substitute white beans or cannelini beans in this recipe. Its most winning feature is it’s a great dish to make for the Indian food skeptic, in case you know one. Red kidney beans simmered with onions, garlic, and tomato, and topped with cilantro is very close in flavor and feel to Mexican food — along with some plain white rice, it’s flavorful enough for the adventurous eater but at the same time, it’s a dish that goes down easily for the pickiest eater. Genius.

Red Kidney Beans Curry (Rajma)

Serves 2 generously


  •  1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic, finely minced
  • ½-inch piece of fresh ginger root, peeled and finely minced
  • 1 tablespoon canola oil
  • ½ teaspoon cumin seeds
  • ¼ teaspoon red chilli flakes
  • 2 teaspoons tomato paste
  • ½ teaspoon ground coriander
  • ¼ teaspoon ground garam masala
  • ¼ teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 15 ounce can red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
  • ½ can water (use the empty can of kidney beans — rinse it out and fill it halfway with cold water)
  • 1 tablespoon half-and-half cream (you can skip this if you’re vegan)
  • ¼ cup freshly chopped cilantro (for garnish, before serving)


  1.  Heat oil in saucepan on medium heat along with cumin seeds and dry red chilli flakes. Once the seeds and flakes begin to move, you know the oil is ready. Add onion, garlic, and ginger and sauté until glassy and golden about 5 minutes.
  2. Add tomato paste and combine well, and reduce heat slightly to medium low. Add coriander, garam masala, turmeric, and salt.
  3. Add drained red kidney beans, 1/2 can of water, and combine well. Increase heat, cover the pot, and bring to a boil.
  4. Once it boils, reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and gently stir in the half-and-half cream (1 tablespoon). Let sit for a couple of minutes.
  5. Top with fresh cilantro.

Tips & Tricks

Keep these things in mind to ensure your curry is truly foolproof and doesn’t stress you out:

  • Watch the flame/level of heat. Once you begin, watch your burner and keep the level around medium to medium-high. This is especially important when you a) heat the cumin seeds and chilli flakes in oil and b) when you add the ground spices, tomatoes, and tomato paste — a lower flame is better so things don’t burn. You can always increase the flame slowly if you need to.
  • Use the empty kidney beans can as your measuring cup. When you’re making curry for the first time, you already have a lot going on using whole and ground spices. You don’t need unnecessary cooking tools/utensils, which just add more clutter on your counter. Once you rinse and drain the beans and add them to the saucepan, don’t toss the empty can in the recycling bin just yet. Rinse it out and use it as your measuring cup — fill it up half-way with cold water rather than pull out a separate measuring cup.
  • Buy kidney beans that are low in sodium. Whenever you cook with legumes like chick peas, red beans, black eyed peas, look for a can that is low in sodium — it should say “no salt added” or “low sodium” right on the front label. It makes a world of difference. A 15 ounce can of beans has around 1260 mg of sodium! The low-sodium version has around 420 mg of sodium. You’re adding some salt to the curry anyway, so you don’t need extra.
Ingredients for Kidney Beans Curry

Kidney beans, onion, ginger, garlic, fresh cilantro, oil, tomato paste, cream, water, cumin seeds, turmeric, red chilli flakes, garam masala, salt, coriander powder

Kidney Beans Curry cooking on the stovetop

Once the onions, garlic, and ginger become glassy, you add spices including turmeric, which instantly gives them a deep yellow hue

Adding a touch of cream to Kidney Beans Curry

Adding a touch of cream at the end brings the dish together; while Indian restaurant dishes might often seem heavy because of the liberal use of butter and cream, home cooking is lighter, using water and a touch of cream

Red Kidney Beans Curry in copper bowl

Red kidney bean curry is also known as ‘rajma’: an authentic dish eaten in most Indian homes, which you can make in 30 minutes