Shaak/Saag, Two Ways (Indian Home Cooking Week 2)

Alu Palak

Alu Palak

You’ll often see the word saag (shaak in Bengali) used as a synonym for spinach in the US. In fact, saag/shaak refers to any kind of leafy greens. Thus spinach (palak in hindi, palok-shaak in Bengali) is only one kind of saag/shaak and various other kinds of leafy greens (from mustard greens to beet greens to amaranth leaves to water spinach) are eaten as saag/shaak. As far as I know Swiss chard is not grown much (or at all) in India, but unsurprisingly it is very good when used in most saag/shaak recipes (though I wouldn’t use it in recipes that call for leafy greens to be steamed and pureed).

Traditionally, Bengali meals incorporate one shaak dish, and this recipe is for the simplest possible such preparation plus an easy variation. It will go excellently with yesterday’s mushoor dal for a simple vegetarian meal. You could make it with spinach, radish greens, beet greens etc. (or some combination)—I used chard here because it’s what I had at hand.

Chard with Panch Phoron

Chard-shaak with Panch Phoron and Chillies

Ingredients

  1. 1 tspn panch phoron (a five seed mix available at any Indian grocery).
  2. 2-3 dried red chillies.
  3. One large bunch Swiss chard washed and cut or torn up, with the ribs.
  4. 1/2 tspn turmeric.
  5. Salt to taste
  6. Vegetable Oil.  (Stop here for preparation 1.)
  7. For preparation 2 add 1.5 cups of potatoes cut into small chunks 
Chard with Kashundi

Chard with Kashundi


Preparation 1

  1. Heat the oil and add the dried red chillies and panch phoron. Stir fry for 30 seconds or so, being careful not to let anything burn or scorch.
  2. Add the cut up chard, turmeric and salt and mix well.
  3. Reduce heat to medium-low. Cook, stirring often till the chard has wilted and the ribs have softened.
  4. Serve.
Saag Alu

Saag Alu with Spinach and Arugula


Preparation 2

  1. Heat the oil and add the dried red chillies and panch phoron. Stir fry for 30 seconds or so, being careful not let anything burn or scorch.
  2. Add the potatoes, turmeric and salt and saute, keeping everything moving till the potatoes are 1/2 done.
  3. Add the greens, mix in well with the potatoes.
  4. Reduce heat to medium-low. Cook, stirring often till the potatoes are done

Notes

  1. In the third picture you see the shaak served with kashundi, a quintessential Bengali mustard sauce. When I
    first got to the US finding kashundi in South Asian groceries was unthinkable; these days it’s not hard to find at all, especially in larger stores, or those owned by or catering to Bangladeshis.
  2. In a traditional Bengali meal shaak would be its own course, so to speak, along with rice. When eating casually at home I generally eat it alongside dal and rice.
  3. You really can make this with almost any leafy green you like—I particularly like mixing spinach and arugula (as in the fourth picture): the bitterness of the arugula works really well, especially when making it with potatoes and eating it with kashundi.
  4. Make sure you wring all the water you can out of whichever greens you use after washing them. The final dish shouldn’t have liquid pooling up at the bottom.

6 thoughts on “Shaak/Saag, Two Ways (Indian Home Cooking Week 2)

    • Thanks! That’s another benefit of using chard—the colours are more striking, both in photographs and on the table. The picture at top is of the dish cooked with just-picked chard from our vegetable garden (it was made in the fall). When the chard is that fresh and tender it all cooks really fast and tastes even better.

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    • Bengalis (and most Indians outside the northeast, I suppose) have a reputation for using a lot of oil, but that’s probably only because non-stick cookware is a relatively new thing in India. I don’t use very much oil for this this. Maybe a tablespoon with one bunch of chard? Just enough to let the seeds get a good coating as they swim in the hot oil. A bit more if you’re adding the potatoes too (the potatoes will mostly cook via the steam from the chard).

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