Fall brings us cooler evenings, shorter days and fields of Mustard greens with pretty yellow flowers. Freshly cooked Mustard greens with a dollop of slow churned butter accompanied with unleavened cornbread is a special meal much awaited by many Punjabis (those that hail from the region of Punjab in Pakistan) at the first sign of fall. Traditionally cooked on wood burning stoves, Â "sarson ka saag" as it's called, Â is a slow cooked mixture of mustard greens, spinach, onions, garlic, ginger and green chillies. Spices are not a large part of this recipe, with the pungent, peppery taste of the leafy greens reigning supreme in this delicacy.
After moving to the Southern United States of America I was delighted to find that one of my childhood favorites was also a delicacy in this part of the world. Here in the South, mustard greens are cooked with salt, onions and bacon and also eaten with cornbread. The addition of the onions and bacon in this case and of spinach, onions, ginger and garlic in the Pakistani version help mellow out the inherently strong taste of the greens which can be almost bitter if not cooked properly.
Rich in Vitamins, Minerals and Antioxidants, mustard greens provide a multitude of health benefits and even with the added butter are fairly low in calories. The addition of the "Makai ki Roti" (cornmeal flatbread) turns this comfort food into a gastronomical delight for us city dwellers and a filling, nutritious meal for fieldworkers. For centuries this meal has been cooked and served to these workers by their spouses at midday, often accompanied by "lassi" (yogurt smoothie) and has provided much needed sustenance for the laborious nature of their work.
The leaves and stems alike are chopped and cooked along with a handful of spinach and a few other ingredients to help reduce the pungency Â of the mustard. The basic recipe is the same all across Pakistan and India, with some minor differences being the addition of turnip greens or collard greens instead of, or alongside the spinach, sliced daikon radish on the side, the addition of a few tablespoons of Â cornmeal to the cooked mixture to help thicken the cooked mixture and so forth.
My recipe is easy and simple and made with ingredients that are readily available, two parts mustard greens and 1 part spinach. I do prefer fresh mustard greens and spinach (I use baby spinach for its sweeter and milder taste) as opposed to the frozen kind as I feel that the flavor is more authentic this way. Whereas, the ingredients are traditionally slow cooked for hours and mashed to a smooth, creamy, almost velvety texture by the time the saag is ready to eat, today we have the aid of food processors and blenders to help speed up the process. I still like to slow cook my ingredients for a good hour or two as that gives them time to release their assorted natural flavors and makes for a more appetizing final product. I personally use my food processor versus a blender as I want aÂ slightly textured and fibrous concoction versus a smooth and pasty one.Â
INGREDIENTS: (Serves 8-10)
2 Pounds Mustard Greens
1 Pound Baby Spinach
2 Inch Piece of Ginger
24 Garlic Cloves
8 Green Chillies
2 Cups of Water
2 Tablespoons Red Chili Powder
2 Tablespoons Salt
INGREDIENTS FOR TEMPERING:
¼ Cup Cooking Oil
10 Cloves Garlic
1.Add the 2 Cups of Water to your pot. The purpose of this is to create enough steam and help to cook down the greens, eventually the vegetables release enough water of their own to finish the cooking process, adding too much water will cook the greens quicker but the taste is better with the steamed method. Layer the mustard greens and spinach and cover to cook.
2. Roughly Chop the Onion, Ginger, Garlic and Green Chillies and add to the Mixture.
3. Cook all of the above for about 2 hours on low. The greens should release enough water, to complete the cooking process but if needed, you can add a bit more.
4. Puree the above mixture and return to cook a bit more (Make sure to check for any bits of ginger as due to it's fibrous texture it often doesn't puree as well. In this instance I separate and puree it separately so the consistency of the other ingredients remains intact.
5. Add the salt and red Chillies and cook till all the water evaporates.
6. Heat the ¼ Cup Oil for tempering.
7. Add Sliced Onions and Chopped Garlic and cook till dark brown. Pour the entire mixture on the Saag.
8. Add a small dollop of butter and serve.
NOTE: Recipe for The Makai Roti (Cornmeal flatbread) will be in a separate post. If you don't feel up to the laborious task of making it, you can just as easily enjoy this recipe with Naan or parathas.