My husband and I have a lot in common, in spite of being opposites, if that makes sense. We’re both homebodies, yet we also love to travel. And we both love Indian food. Actually these might be the only things we have in common. But they’re important things!
For a small celebration at my house recently, I decided to make an Indian spread. I planned it like a buffet you’d experience at a good Indian restaurant. You’ve never heard these words come out of my mouth before, but at Indian restaurants, I’m not at all opposed to eating from the buffet.
I think it must be difficult for Indian restaurants to make bad food, even for their lunch buffets, because I’ve never had any. (Unlike the case with Chinese buffets, for example.) There’s never been a curried protein, vegetable, or bean dish that I haven’t enjoyed. And if their naan is good, then I’m in heaven.
One of my husband’s favorite dishes on a typical Indian buffet is sag paneer or mattar paneer – curried spinach or peas with paneer. Traditional aneer, which is easy to make from scratch, is similar tofarmers’ cheese. It add something texturally but not really flavor-wise to me, so I can take it or leave it.
Many years ago I came across a dish simply called sag – fried spinach and broccoli – no paneer. The recipe is in one of my favorite cookbook series – Foods of the World by Time Life.
It’s a lovely vegetable dish, and a wonderful accompaniment to chicken curry, lamb korma, or any vegetarian curry dish.
Following is the recipe exactly from the cookbook.
Sag, also spelled Saag
Serves 4 to 6
1 cup water
1/2 pound fresh spinach, washed, trimmed and coarsely chopped
1/2 pound fresh broccoli including the stalks, washed, trimmed and coarsely chopped
3 tablespoons ghee*
1 tablespoon scraped, finely chopped fresh ginger root
1/2 cup finely chopped onions
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon garam masala
Combine 1/2 cup of the water and a handful of the spinach in the jar of an electric blender, and blend at high speed for 30 seconds, or until the mixture is reduced to a smooth purée.
Turn the machine off and scrape down the sides of the jar with a rubber spatula. Then add another handful of spinach, purée for 30 seconds and stop the machine again. Repeat until all the spinach has been puréed. Transfer the spinach to a bowl, and pour the remaining 1/2 cup of water into the blender jar.
Purée the broccoli a handful at a time as you did the spinach, then stir the puréed broccoli into the spinach.
In a 10″ karhai or heavy skillet or a 12″ wok heat the ghee over moderate heat until a drop of cold water flicked into it sputters instantly.
This is a photo of an Indian karhai, also spelled karahi. I used my large wok.
Add the ginger and fry for 1 minute. Add the onions and salt and continue to fry, lifting and turning the mixture constantly, for 7 to 8 minutes, or until the onions are soft and golden brown.
Stirring after each addition, add the cumin, turmeric, coriander and garam masala.
Fry for 1 to 2 minutes, until the ingredients are well combined, then stir in the spinach and broccoli a cup or so at a time and fry for 5 minutes more.
Reduce the heat to the lowest possible point and, stirring occasionally, simmer uncovered for 15 minutes, until almost all of the liquid has evaporated and the mixture leaves the sides of the pan in a solid mass.
Serve at once from a heated bowl or platter. I added a little flaked salt to my sag.
In the Punjab, where it originates, sag is usually made with fresh mustard greens; you may substitute these for the spinach and broccoli if you like.
As much as I love Indian meat and seafood dishes, I also really love dal – the various legumes of India. So today I served myself sag along with curried chick peas. A delicious and satisfying meal!
*Ghee is simply clarified butter. Sometimes I use it, sometimes I don’t. The clarifying of the butter removes the solids which can brown and also burn, but it’s the solids to me that provides such lovely flavor. If you’re not using extremely high heat and can’t get your hands of ghee, regular butter will work fine.
Note: If you want to add paneer to this dish but don’t want to make it from scratch, use firm or extra-firm tofu – the kind in water, not the silken variety.