Sunday, June 24, 2012

Rajma (North Indian Vegetarian Chili) Spiked with Cumin for Food 'N Flix: The Mistress of Spices and Souper (Soup, Salad & Sammie) Sundays

In her San Francisco shop, Spice Bazaar, Tilo finds the perfect spices to help her customers--not just to create the perfect dish, but to help them achieve their desires. Tilo is a Mistress of Spices, one of several trained as a young girl and spread throughout the world. Tilo must devote herself to the spices, giving up her life for them and never loving anyone but the spices. She must follow three rules; never using the power of the spices for herself--only for others, never leaving her shop so she will not stray from the spices, and finally, never touch another's skin. If she breaks these rules she will fail in her duties and face the consequences. Things are going smoothly until Doug, an American architect, crashes his motorcycle in front of her shop, and Tilo begins to fall in love, much to the ire of the spices.

I first encountered The Mistress of Spices, in its written form, the novel by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni. I liked the lyrical writing and magical realism of the book and bought a copy of the movie when it came out several years later. The movie stars the beautiful Aishwarya Rai and (the beautiful) Dylan McDermott. It's funny--in the book Tilo, although young, appears to most of the world as a gnarled old woman--not quite as glamorous as exotic Aishwarya. ;-)

It's not fine cinema, as pretty as they are, there isn't a whole lot of chemistry between the two stars. Still, it's a visually sumptuous foodie film that I pull out every so often when I need a little escape and I was happy to watch it again when Camilla of Culinary Adventures with Camilla selected it as the Food 'N Flix film for June. 

Tilo says that every person has a special spice and I declare cumin as mine. As I am no Mistress of Spices, this is mostly based on how much I love it. After black pepper, it is the most common spice used in the world by many different countries, cultures and cuisines. I adore the warm, earthy taste that it adds to dishes--so perfect with beans or in soups, stews and curries. I knew I wanted to make something with cumin for my dish inspired by the film. Top Chef host Padma Lakshmi has a small role in the film as a Geeta--modern girl whose grandfather seeks Tilo's help to keep her from straying from tradition and away from her non-Indian boyfriend. Lakshmi's first cookbook, Easy Exotic, had a recipe for Rajma, a North Indian vegetarian curry that she says is like a chili and (my) spice cumin, was one of the ingredients.

I made a couple of changes to the recipe--noted in red below. In addition to the cumin seed in the recipe, I added ground cumin, and I increased the garlic and beans.

Padma says, "Originally from North India, this dish could be called vegetarian chili. You may serve it in a bowl over rice or with warmed tortillas like the Chole. In North India, flatbreads such as nan or chapati are eaten with curries. In South India, rice is more common a an accompaniment, although we also eat crepes made of rice flour, called dosai."

Rajma (North Indian Vegetarian Chili) Spiked with Cumin
Adapted from Easy Exotic by Padma Lakshmi
(Serves 4)
Prep Time: 10 Minutes / Cook Time: 25 Minutes
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 cup minced onions
1 green bell pepper, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced (I used 3)
4 firm, ripe tomatoes, cut into 1-inch pieces
2 tsp minced gingerroot, or 1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp Garam Masala
(1 tsp ground cumin) 
1/2 tsp lemon pepper
1/4 tsp dried red pepper flakes, or to taste (optional)
2 cups drained kidney beans (I used 2 15-oz cans)
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
1/2 lemon, juiced, or to taste
3 Tbsp minced fresh cilantro

In a large saucepan set over moderate heat, warm the oil until hot, add the onions and pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes. Add the garlic, tomatoes, gingerroot, cumin seeds, Garam Masala, lemon pepper, and dried red pepper flakes, if desired, and simmer the mixture, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes. Add the beans and salt and pepper to taste, and cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes more. Stir in the lemon juice and cilantro.

Notes/Results: Nourishing and satisfying, this is a simple and tasty chili that goes together quickly. The fact that it is meat-free and the fresh tomatoes and lemon give it a lighter feel, making a good warmer weather chili. I found that with the extra cumin and garlic I added to the recipe that it was spiced just enough for me making me think that as written, the recipe was slightly under-spiced. The other thing that I would (should have) changed would be to blanch the fresh tomatoes and remove the skin before dicing. I am not a big fan of tomato skin bits in my soups. Otherwise, served with some pieces of grilled nan bread, it was a great dinner. I would make it again with my adjustments.

If you want to join in the Food 'N Flix fun, the deadline is June 28th for Mistress of Spices, or join us in July for Because I Said So, hosted by girlichef.

This soup is also being linked up at Cookbook Sundays, hosted by my friend Sue at Couscous and Consciousness.

Now let's head to the Souper Sunday kitchen and see who is here.

First up, Tina of Squirrel Head Manor made this flavorful Homemade Tomato Soup Using Slow Roasted Tomatoes. She says, "What better dish to highlight now than one from Gwyneth Paltrow's book My Father's Daughter. ... I happened to have made a loaf of buttery white bread that morning so what a perfect companion to this soup."

Heather of girlichef shares this hearty Salpicon de Res al Chipotle or Beef and Potato Salad with Chipotle and says, "I've always loved potato salads dressed with vinegar the best.  I love the way it seeps into the warm potatoes and flavors them so seductively. This is one of those potato salads.  And it deserves top honors.  Why?  Because not only are there warm, vinegar-soaked potatoes...there is also tender, shredded beef.  And smoky chipotles.  And if that's not enough for you, there's also avocado.

Janet of The Taste Space offers up Broccoli and Cauliflower Salad with Lime and Cilantro (Whole Foods Detox Salad) and says, "...broccoli and and cauliflower form the vegetable base that is pulsed into small pieces. Grated carrots add more vegetables and a lovely orange! Currants confer sweetness, sunflower seeds supply crunch and protein and while the original salad uses a lemon-parsley dressing, I went with a cilantro-lime route instead. This salad needs to be marinated for best flavours, and keeps really well as leftovers.

Pam of Sidewalk Shoes sent in this summery Corn and Radish Salad and says, "I had radishes and though I didn’t have fresh corn, I had a bag of frozen corn in the freezer.  This salad was a revelation.  It was so good and so incredibly easy.  The sweet corn combined with the peppery bite of the relish was perfect.  The jalapeño added just the right amount of heat and the lime juice balanced the sweetness of the corn. I highly recommend that you add this your summer salads!"  

Ana of Sweet Almond Tree is getting healthy with this Tuna and Bean Salad and says, "Canned beans can be found in just about everyone's pantry.  Canned tuna fish is a pantry staple as well.  So when time is short or when the weather is hot, here is a delicious and nutritious salad that can be prepared in a jiffy.  It's an easy, light meal that can be prepared for lunch or dinner without any cooking involved."

Sue of Couscous and Consciousness enjoyed Lentils with Cherries, Sausage & Gorgonzola this week and says, "Now this may sound like a really odd combination of ingredients, and it's probably not going to win any prizes in the looks department either, but somehow it really works.  The musky, earthiness of the lentils makes a great "backdrop" to the little "hits" of the tangy cherries, the porcine deliciousness of the sausage or bacon, and the salty Gorgonzola - for a vegetarian option, I think mushrooms would make a great alternative to the sausage."

Debbie of Easy Natural Food tried this satisfying Ginger and Lime Chicken Salad and says, "This is a delicious salad that I made the other night when we had company for dinner. I served it as a side, but I could easily eat this as my main course if it was double the size  I used a ginger and lime dressing on this salad. It was very light, bright and refreshing, and oh so tasty. I definitely plan to make this salad again….very soon!"

I don't often send a salad to my own Souper Sundays round up, but this wonderful Arugula-Romaine Salad with Avocado, Blueberries and Goat Cheese using a scrumptious Lime-Cilantro Dressing from Rick Bayless' ranks as one of the best green salads that I have ever made. Such great flavors, colors and textures. It deserves a second mention at Kahakai Kitchen this week. It was summer in a bowl!

And there you have it--some fabulous dishes to inspire. Thanks to all who joined in. If you have a soup, salad, or sandwich that you would like to share, just click on the Souper Sundays logo on my sidebar for all of the details of how to join in.

Have a happy, healthy week!


  1. Sounds like an interesting movie. Great round up.

  2. oh i love all the colors in your dish! it looks delicious!

  3. An interesting idea that every person has their own spice.  I'd have to think about what mine would be (since chocolate is not a spice).  Looks like a hearty dish and I love the lemon at the end.

  4. I like that you declared your spice.  For the life of me, I couldn't decide on mine.  I kept going back and force. I need Tilo to figure mine out for me ;) This chili sounds so delicious...perfectly soul satisfying. ESPECIALLY if cumin is your spice.

  5. Cumin is a great spice to be your spice!

  6. I was so surprised to see Padma in the movie.   I love that you used one of her recipes!     This looks fantastic!

  7. Couscous & ConsciousnessJune 30, 2012 at 11:55 PM

    This is a great looking dish - love the wonderful combination of flavours.  If I have a spice, I think mine might be paprika - love that complex, smokey flavour.

    I've wondered a few times about getting this book from Padma Lakshmi - maybe I need to check it out again.

    Thanks for sharing at Cookbook Sundays.

  8. The chili sounds simply wonderful...I'll have to try the difference and see how it works. There's not a lot of difference between our recipes as it is. What a great recipe to go with our movie!

  9. yea awesome...will this be crispy...nice idea...will try this version...1st time here,you have nice collection of recipes

    Great piece of work.

    It´s nice,

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