This is the recipe you need any time your body and mind are craving deep nourishment, when they say to you, "We want comfort," but also, "Enough with the chips."
You might be surprised at the quantity of greens you'll eat when they're this lovingly cooked and seasoned. As the legendary author and cooking teacher Julie Sahni wrote in her second cookbook "Classic Indian Vegetarian and Grain Cooking," "If children were introduced to such tastefully prepared greens as these, we probably would never need Popeye!"
The recipe, called Sarsoon ka Saag, comes from the Punjabi Sikhs of Amritsar in northwestern India, and the coziness is no accident. The silky greens are traditionally served in colder months, when they're both in season and, better yet, Julie tells me, "They create inner heat — so it's like having a Brandy in winter."
Typically in Amritsar, the greens are a combination of mustard greens, fenugreek leaves, and bathua (or lamb's quarters), but when Julie wrote her recipe for an American audience in 1985, she modified it to work with locally available greens. She even included the option of using frozen and dried versions, to make the recipe even more accessible and swift to prep.
To turn a mountain of greens into a meal that needs little else, Julie cooks them down gently in a small amount of water simmering with corn flour or cornmeal, plus asafetida and green chiles for deep flavor and heft.
She simmers the greens until they're good and tender, then blends and thickens them one last time with a cornstarch slurry before serving with the especially comforting addition of a tarka — in this case plenty of ghee with toasted shreds of ginger and slices of garlic, barely swirled in.
As for the texture, traditionally this dish was made using a mathani, a time-honored wooden tool. "It crushes and blends simultaneously," Julie told me as she showed me the beautiful designs in the video above, "but it does it so gently." When she wrote the recipe in "Classic Indian Vegetarian and Grain Cooking," however, she called for a food processor or blender. "In the time when these recipes were created, they didn't have these gadgets, so this is what they worked with," Julie told me. "Probably if they had a blender or immersion blender, they would have used it because it's much faster and easier." Whatever tools and texture you aim for, she only cautions not to over blend to the point that the greens foam, which can lead to separating.
In Amritsar, Sarsoon ka Saag is served with puddle of melting sweet butter on top and yellow cornmeal roti to cradle it all, as you see here. Julie also recommends pita bread, basmati rice, or crispy potatoes, pan-seared in honey and black pepper.
In every case, no matter what else you get to the table, Sarsoon ka Saag will carry the meal, and you.
- 1 1/4 - 1 1/2 pounds fresh mustard greens (before trimming), or 1 1/2 10-ounce packets frozen chopped mustard greens
- 1 pound fresh spinach greens (before trimming), or 1 10-ounce packet frozen leaf spinach, stems trimmed
- 1/4 pounds fresh fenugreek leaves or 3 tablespoons dry fenugreek leaves (kasoori methi)
- 1/4 cups corn flour or cornmeal (preferably yellow)
- 2 hot green chilies, chopped
- 1/2 teaspoons asafetida, or 1/2 cup minced onion
- 2 1/2 cups water
- 1 medium-size sweet green pepper, seeded and chopped
- 2 teaspoons cornstarch dissolved in 2 tablespoons water
- 1 1/4 teaspoons coarse salt, or to taste
- 4-6 tablespoons usli ghee or sweet butter
- 1/4 cups shredded or sliced fresh ginger
- 2-4 tablespoons thickly sliced garlic
- Snip the stems off the tender leaves of both the mustard and spinach greens. For more mature spinach leaves, fold the leaf vertically along the stem and with one hand pull away the stem, including the portion attached to the leaf's underside.
- Rinse the mustard, spinach, and fenugreek in several changes of water until all the sand has been washed away. Chop the greens coarsely.
- Put the corn flour, chilies, asafetida, and 2 1/2 cups water in a deep pot and bring to a boil. Add the chopped greens, or, if you are using frozen and dried greens, add them now. Add the green pepper and cook, stirring, until the greens have wilted and the liquid comes to a boil. lower the heat and cook at a low simmer, covered, for 1 hour, or until the greens are thoroughly cooked. When the greens are slightly cool, purée them in batches, using a blender or food processor, until smooth and creamy.
- Return the purée to the same pot, add the cornstarch mixture, and cook over low heat until thickened and smooth (6-10 minutes). Add salt to taste, and keep the purée on a low simmer while you make the spice-perfumed butter.
- Heat the ghee or butter in a small frying pan until hot. Reduce the heat to medium-low and add the ginger and garlic and let cook, sizzling, for 3 minutes or until the seasonings begin to brown. Turn off the heat.
- Transfer the purée to a large shallow serving dish and gently pour the butte with the ginger and garlic over it. Stir it just a few times to lace the purée with butter in streaks.