Chicken cooked with spinach (palak) is a popular dish in Indian restaurants in the US, though as with seemingly almost all dishes in Indian restaurants the sauce is usually heavily laden with cream. This is a heartier home-style preparation that let the flavour of the spinach shine and uses chicken on the bone to develop denser flavour. This is, broadly speaking, a Punjabi recipe, made with both mutton (goat) and chicken, and, frankly, I far prefer it with mutton—perhaps because that’s the version we ate most of the time when I was growing up. I don’t want to suggest that my recipe is a classic Punjabi recipe, however (though it may well be close); my version is a take on my mother’s version—we are Bengalis but as we lived all over India during my childhood my mother’s repertoire included recipes from various regions, hybridized by and hybridizing her Bengali instincts. My major departure from my mother is in using copious amounts of kasoori methi. Kasoori methi refers to dried fenugreek leaves. It can be found easily in any South Asian grocery: crumbled in with the spinach it adds a smoky, umami’ish depth to the dish.
- 1 large chicken, skinned and cut into 8 pieces
- 2 large bunches spinach, preferably baby spinach
- 1 medium red onion, chopped
- 1 tblspn ginger, grated
- 1 tblspn garlic, grated
- 1 medium tomato, chopped
- The following ground into a coarse powder: 3/4 tspn coriander seeds, 1/2 tspn cumin seeds, 1/4 tspn fenugreek seeds, 1/4 tspn black mustard seeds, 1/2 tspn turmeric powder, 1-2 tspns hot chilli powder
- The following whole spices: 4-5 green cardamom pods, 4-5 small cloves, a large stick cinnamon or equivalent pieces of cassia bark.
- 3 tblspns kasoori methi leaves, crumbled
- A pinch of sugar
- Salt to taste
- Bring an inch or two of water to the boil in a large pot and add the spinach. Cover it for a couple of minutes and then puree the blanched spinach with some of the water. The puree should be pourable but not thin. Set aside.
- Heat oil in a large pan and add the whole spices. Don’t let them scorch.
- After a minute or so add the onions and saute for a few minutes till the edges begin to brown.
- Add the ginger and garlic and saute for another minute or so.
- Add the powdered spices and saute for yet another minute.
- Add the chicken, mix in well and saute till the chicken gives up a lot of its water and oil begins to separate.
- Add the tomato, salt and sugar and saute till it is completely integrated and the oil begins to separate.
- Add the pureed spinach and the crumbled kasoori methi and mix in thoroughly.
- Cook uncovered on medium high heat till the sauce has begun to thicken then cover and cook till the chicken is done.
- Serve with chapatis or parathas (optimal in my view) or rice.
- You’ve probably noticed that this is identical to my recipe for palak paneer, except with chicken in place of the paneer. What’s your point?
- You could sprinkle some garam masala over at the end if you like.
- As always feel free to up or reduce the chilli powder and to play with the proportions of the spices in the powder (though don’t increase the fenugreek or mustard seeds too much). And if you have a curry powder you like, feel free to use an equivalent amount.
- If you want to get it closer to restaurant versions but don’t want to use cream, then leave out the tomato and add 1/2 cup of plain yogurt instead at that stage.
- This is really two recipes for the price of one: leave out the spinach and just add some additional water at that stage (say two cups) and you’ll have a very nice regular chicken curry.