Skip to main content

The Soul of Punjab

The moment you mention to someone that you are a Punjabi and a foodie, you are likely to hear one of the two things in the sentence that follows: 'Butter Chicken' or 'Sarson ka Saag'. Of these two iconic dishes, butter chicken is a year round phenomenon and of little interest to me as a vegetarian. But let's talk of sarson ka saag or mustard greens that are just coming into season and will be a staple diet in Punjab for the next three months.

Before I get to the recipe, I need to add a little preface about the food in Punjab. We are an agrarian state, which means that most of our traditional dishes are peasant food - simple to make and hearty enough to help the men and women brave a hard day of work on the fields. Even though most folks I know no longer sweat it out on the fields, not much has changed food wise. Dainty dishes, small portions and fancy food doesn't really go down well in my hometown and literally everything gets served with a large dollop of homemade butter. Which means that first timers get surprised by how simple in flavour and yet how rich this dish tends to be.

What you won't be surprised by is the process of making saag, since this is my mom's version of recipe, using food processor instead of the tools my grandmother used. Her two favourite aids to making saag, now rusted, still hold a prized place in our kitchen - a daatri or an arc like chopper used to cut the greens and a ghotna, something like a potato masher used to mash the cooked greens later in the process.

One final note before I get to the recipe. Although the name suggests the dish is cooked mustard greens, saag is in fact a mixture of at least three different leaves since mustard is too bitter on its own. Spinach is of course widely available, but the third one - bathua - is harder to get hold of outside north India. Mom says it's ok to leave it to out or add a bit extra spinach if you can't find it.

1 kg mustard greens
1/2 kg spinach
250 grams bathua (optional)
2 green chillies
2 1-inch pieces of ginger
2-3 garlic cloves
1/3 cup cornmeal
1 medium onion
3 tbsp ghee
salt to taste

Cut off any hard stalks off your mustard greens, leaving only the leaves and small tender stems. Wash all the greens to remove any dirt and cut into thin ribbons. You can also chop them roughly in a food processor to speed up the process.

In a large pan, put the chopped greens along with 4 cups water, green chillies, 1-inch piece of ginger (peeled) and peeled garlic cloves. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and let cook until the greens are tender, about 45 minutes. Let cool a bit, then pop the whole mix into your food processor and grind to a smooth puree.

Pop the puree back into a pan and add cornmeal, stirring constantly to avoid lumps. Simmer for 10-15 minutes until most of the excess water has dried out. You can now temper the saag if you plan to eat immediately, or pop it in the fridge for upto a week.

Just before serving, finely chop the onion and the remaining piece of ginger. Heat ghee in a pan, add onion and ginger and saute until the onions are lightly browned. Add the cooked greens and saute for 5-7 minutes.

The saag is almost always served with a hearty dollop of homemade sweet butter and a cornmeal flatbread called makki ki roti. I really did try to get you the roti recipe as well but mom's description of the process involves specific hand movements and other touchy feely stuff that doesn't quite translate into English. So until I find a way to get you her video making makki ki roti, you might have to make do with your regular rotis. Or plan a trip to Punjab this winter.


Popular posts from this blog

A Bowlful of Comfort

I have a friend who is quite the globetrotter. Lunches at her place, often right after her trips, are a treasure trove of global flavours. But the last time we met, she was just back from Tamil Nadu and out she brought a bowl of curd rice. I love curd rice and have eaten a lot of it over the years but my friend's version was so full of flavours and textures, it was a revelation. Obviously, I asked for the recipe.

The genius of this curd rice lies in adding the tempering or the tadka twice, once to mix in the rice so it absorbs all the flavours. Then you make a second batch to top the rice with just before you serve, so it adds crunch to the usually mushy dish. The recipe also has a few other elements added in for texture, freshness and flavour.

I over-ate at lunch at my friend's and I over-ate again when I made this for myself for lunch. Plus, all the ingredients you need are likely in your kitchen already so you may as well go make it now.

1/2 cup rice
1 cup plain…

Fruits of the Forest

I know there hasn't been a new recipe on these pages for a while. But worry not, I'm back with a real zinger. Earthy, creamy, crunchy - this is an appetizer that ticks all the right boxes. And if you happen to be a mushroom lover like me, this is the best way to eat mushrooms I've found so far. I present to you, for all your year end parties and appetizer cravings - creamy mushroom pate on toast.

Its mushroom pate two way - just on its own and panko-crumbed and fried. Both go on a crisp garlic baguette with watercress and some kewpie mayonnaise. Here's the recipe.

Crunchy garlic butter toasts (I buy them as is, but you can also slice and toast baguettes)
200 grams button mushrooms
1 small onion
3 cloves garlic
2 tbsp cream cheese
1 tbsp butter
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs
kewpie mayonnaise (or regular mayonnaise)
watercress or micro herbs
salt and black pepper to taste
oil for deep frying

First, make mushroom pate. Y…

The Living Roots Trek

I met Wesley at noon on a sunny day in May at the entrance to Tyrna village. The meeting had been three months in the making. Back in February, I had seen the pictures a friend posted from a trekking trip to Meghalaya. I'd been so taken in by the double decker living roots bridge that I immediately called Chalohoppo, the travel company she had gone with, and booked a trip for myself.

I'm not a trekker which means that instead of the rugged trip my friend had taken, I had arrived at a compromise. We will start the trip with the trek and then spend the rest of our stay in Meghalaya at a nice lakeside resort just outside Shillong. Which means that the day before I met Wesley, I'd landed in Guwahati and been met at the airport by a friendly Chalohoppo driver for a four hour drive to Cherrapunjee.

On arriving at the Sai Mika resort, nestled in the middle of mountains, I called the number I'd been given and was greeted by a friendly, enthusiastic voice of our guide for the tre…