It is a depressing fact that 99% of Indian restaurants in America serve the same darn 10 items. Which is a crying shame because there must be 10,000 other terrific dishes that you’ll only get to try if you make them yourself (or have an Indian friend that wants to hook you up with the good stuff) (or travel to India).
One of those 10 dishes you always see is saag paneer, spinach cooked with cream and cubes of fresh cheese. It is delicious, but often so rich with cream that you might feel a bit sick if you eat a whole plate, and it also tends to obscure the flavors of the greens and spices. Saag (also sometimes transliterated as sak or sag) is actually the whole family of dishes made of long cooked leafy greens. In the Punjab and Pakistan, which is where these dishes apparently originated, it can be made with any kind of dark leafy green. Also, the cream can be replaced with other dairy products, as long as you are careful not to bring it back to a boil once you add it.
The version I’m bringing you today is made with kale, collard greens, and spinach and uses yogurt instead of cream. You can vary that in any way you see fit. Mustard greens would be particularly delicious. I do recommend using about half spinach for a more delicate flavor and softer texture. The spice mixture provides a warm, complex undertone that plays beautifully off the mildly bitter greens.
Two things to keep in mind: (1) Be sure to triple-wash the greens in a bowl, not a colander. Any grit will ruin the dish. (2) You want to cook this until the greens are completely softened. This isn’t the place for lightly steamed, crunchy veggies.
Try it and let me know if it doesn’t beat the pants off typical restaurant saag paneer!
Saag with Collard Greens, Kale and Spinach
Vegetarian and gluten free
Serves 4 as part of a larger Indian dinner
15 minutes active (1 hour total)
For the spice mixture:
- 1/4 teaspoon ground asoefetida (hing)
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg (preferably freshly grated, use a bit more if not)
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1/2 teaspoon garam masala
- 1 teaspoon black mustard seeds
- 1 inch piece fresh ginger, grated
- Place all ingredients in a small bowl.
For the saag:
- 1 bunch kale
- 1 bunch collard greens (about 1 pound total kale and collard greens)
- 10 ounce package frozen spinach (or 1 pound fresh baby spinach, washed)
- 3 tablespoons butter or ghee
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/2 cup yogurt (I used full fat)
- Strip the coarse stems from their kale and collard greens, chop them roughly, and wash them in three changes of warm water in a large bowl. Drain off the water, add the spinach, and set aside.
- Melt the butter in a very large skillet or wok over medium heat. Add the spice mixture and stir until fragrant but not burning, about 1 minute.
- Add the greens and 1/2 cup water. Toss with tongs, then cover. Reduce heat to medium low. Cook, tossing occasionally, until completely tender and wilted, about 45 minutes, adding a bit more water if needed.
- Turn off the heat, remove the lid, and allow to cool slightly. Stir in the yogurt. Taste and adjust seasoning. Gently reheat, but don’t bring all the way up toward a simmer or the yogurt may break.