Simple Saag

Ever feel overwhelmed by a mess of greens? Like kale that just doesn’t deserve a massage? Or spinach that’s not pretty enough for salad but still has Popeye potential? Because sometimes greens just don’t look presentable even when you know they’re still loaded with nutritional value.

Saag will rescue your fridge space and reward your taste buds.

A staple meal in eastern India and northwards, saag is essentially creamed spinach with less dairy and a far more interesting spice profile. Saag often contains additional ingredients such as potatoes (saag aloo), fresh Indian cheese (saag paneer), chickpeas (chana saag), and also meats like chicken, goat, and lamb to make a more substantial dish.

And while it’s tasty enough with spinach, it also has a far more intriguing greens profile. Some traditional greens you may not be able to find at a market stateside: amaranth, the leaves of the drumstick tree, pumpkin, bottle gourd, and even a species of aquatic fern. Mustard and spinach are perhaps the most commonly used, but chard and kale are great. I personally appreciate mix & match combinations, and really love turnip and beet greens. The latter gives the dish an iridescent red undertone.

Tasty and nourishing, you can pair saag with most anything Indian, but a simple menu of dal, saag, and chapati or rice is incredibly nutritious and satisfying.

INGREDIENTS

  • oil or ghee for sauté
  • 1 chopped onion (mix it up here—sweet, yellow, white, and red each offer subtle taste variations. If you’re not a huge onion fan use a small one. Or go big!)
  • 6 cloves garlic, minced or crushed
  • 2 inches fresh ginger, grated
  • 1 teaspoon dried ginger
  • 1 tablespoon mustard seeds
  • 1 tablespoon ground coriander
  • 1/2 to 1 teaspoon turmeric (start on the low side)
  • 1 teaspoon ground white or Indian long pepper
  • 1 pound greens, stems and all, cleaned and chopped
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup yogurt (optional, or on the side)
  • 1/4 cup cream or half and half (optional)

INSTRUCTIONS

1Heat the oil or ghee in a large pot or saucepan over medium flame; you’ll want one of your thicker-bottomed pots, and you’ll want one with a good top to seal in the steam. Toss in the mustard seeds, and once they start popping add the onions and sauté until translucent. Add the garlic, ginger, and spices and sauté for another 2 to 3 minutes.

2Stir in your greens, add the water and salt, and bring to a full boil. Immediately reduce the heat to low and simmer, covered, for another 10 to 15 minutes.

3If your greens are more stocky and fibrous than, say, baby spinach, test a stem to make sure they’re good and cooked before you turn off the heat. Once the mixture has cooled you can use a blender or food processor to puree. CAUTION: Very hot liquid in a blender or food processor can expand explosively.

4Return the puree to the pot. Adjust water to the consistency you prefer and simmer another 5 to 10 minutes.

5Some people like to stir in the yogurt and cream at this point. I prefer the yogurt on the side and no cream. If adding both to the pot, add the yogurt and bring just to simmer, then immediately remove from heat. Wait a few minutes for the heat to drop, then add the optional cream, adjust seasoning and serve.

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