This dish is near and dear to my heart. My parents are from Southern India, but Dad was in the Indian Army, so we moved every 3 years and lived all over India. It so happens that I spent a good portion of my teenage years in Delhi, and was exposed to a lot of Punjabi food. There are many north Indian dishes I love, but I particularly have very fond memories of Sarson ka Saag. Our neighbor, Indu Aunty, made the yummiest Sarson ka Saag, and the smell....Oh! I can't begin to describe the smell. Earthy, spicy, just delicious. On cold winter evenings, we'd sit with steaming plates of saag and roti and watch some mindless movies.
Sarson ka Saag is Punjabi comfort food at its best. This dish originally hails from rural Punjab. It is traditionally served with Makki ki roti (Corn flour rotis). Ok, I know. This dish is not spectacular to look at, but dear friends the cliche' "looks can be deceiving" is really true here. The greens (Sarson is the hindi word for Mustard) are boiled well (No crunchy, barely wilted greens here) and tempered with onions, garlic, ginger and spices. The ingredients are simple, but the flavor of the finished saag is anything but. This is simple home cooking at its best. The next time you see Mustard Greens at your local market, grab some!
If you find the flavor of mustard greens too strong, feel free to use a half mustard- half spinach combo. Or you can use some turnip greens like I did below. I have not tried other substitutions, but I'm sure you could.
One more thing! Many of my non-Indian friends have asked me "What is this strange thing called Asafoetida? It reeks". Well, you know what? You are absolutely right. It does stink. Asafoetida is a powder made from the resinous sap of the Ferula plant. It is a very strange thing. Used correctly, it lends an absolutely irreplaceable aroma and flavor to curries. Used incorrectly, it renders a dish bitter and stinky. So my suggestion to you is to use it carefully and sparingly. When not sure, better to leave it out. That said, please do use it in the Saag. It plays a starring role here.
It was a busy day at our house. Little Gym for the kids, grown-up gym for J and me, a visit to my CSA farm, bike ride, phew. The kids and I harvested fresh Mustard Greens from the farm (also Swiss Chard, Collard greens and Vita Greens) and I had washed and bagged all that. I'm not making excuses, but there was no way I was making Makki ki roti tonight. So there you go. I'll make this saag again very soon, I am sure, so Makki ki Roti shall happen next time.
Sarson ka Saag (Curried Mustard Greens)
1 large bunch mustard greens
1 small bunch turnip greens
1 -2 serrano peppers, sliced lengthwise
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/2 cup water
1/2 tsp salt
2 tbsp vegetable oil (Mustard oil is great)
2 tbsp ghee
1-inch piece ginger, grated
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 large onion, grated (or very finely chopped)
1 pinch asafoetida
1 tsp garam masala
1/4 tp 1/2 tsp red chili powder
2 tbsp maize flour (makki ka atta)
salt to taste
1. Wash the greens thoroughly and chop. Cook the greens with water, turmeric, 1/2 tsp salt, and the serrano peppers for 45 minutes to 1 hour, till the greens are completely cooked. I like to use a pressure cooker to cook the greens. Takes about 10 - 15 minutes in a pressure cooker. Either way, make sure the greens are totally cooked. They should turn a dark olive green color. Coarsely puree the greens using an immersion stick or food processor.
2. Heat ghee and oil in a saute pan. Add cumin seeds. Fry for 30 seconds and add the asafoetida. Stir for 10 seconds and add grated onion, ginger, and garlic. Saute till golden brown. Add garam masala and chili powder.
3. Add greens to the onion mixture. You might need to add a little bit of water at this point. Sprinkle on the maize flour and cook 10 - 15 minutes longer till the saag thickens up a bit. You don't want to see any water that is separated from the saag. If your saag is too watery, cook on med-high, uncovered, till excess water evaporates.
4. Check the seasonings and add salt if needed. Serve with a dollop of butter or ghee.