Saag with Collard Greens, Kale and Spinach – Recipe

Saag with Collards and Kale (Indian style long-cooked greens)
Saag with Collards and Kale

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
  1. 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)
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
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Posted by Michael Natkin on Monday, January 30th, 2012 in Gluten-Free or modifiable, Recipes, Side Dishes.

20 Responses to “Saag with Collard Greens, Kale and Spinach – Recipe”

  1. Reply
    January 30, 2012 at 7:34 am #

    I definitely appreciate that saag paneer is on nearly every Indian menu because it’s my favorite! Looking forward to trying your lighter version, it sounds wonderful.

  2. Reply
    January 30, 2012 at 9:32 am #

    One of the reasons I have fallen a little bit in love with my pressure cooker is it’s ability to tenderize tough greens like kale and collards. What I generally do is wilt the greens with a little bit of oil in the bottom of the open PC after stripping, washing and chopping. Once wilted I add just enough liquid to cover and pressure cook for about 15 minutes. The formerly tough leaves become as tender as if they had simmered all day. In making saag dishes, I usually do this and then add the cooked greens to the fried spice mixture and simmer them together for a short time to marry the flaovors.

    • Reply
      January 30, 2012 at 9:49 am #

      Ah, excellent point. I imagine this dish would work very well indeed in the pressure cooker.

  3. Reply
    January 30, 2012 at 9:36 am #

    Oh, thanks for the recipe. And big thanks for the tips: not to bring to a boil a cream. I think that was my mistake before. I’ve try saag paneer once that was prepared by one of my friend’s mother. It was delicious! Really, not to heavy, perfect balance of spices. Then I ordered a few times in indian restaurants, and you are right, it’s too heavy and reach. I will definitely make this one soon. Thanks again for the recipe and all the tips!

  4. Reply
    January 30, 2012 at 9:44 am #

    I love Indian food but have never tried anything like this. So far the only way I’ve enjoyed Kale is in chip form, but this looks really good.

  5. Reply
    January 30, 2012 at 10:44 am #

    I LOVE collard greens. In fact, I’m eating some right now as I comment. I’ll have to try this.

  6. Reply
    January 30, 2012 at 10:58 am #

    Michael – I love it. Genious. i never even thought of using kale or other greens. I will go with this recipe the next time I make this. i liked your 1st paragraph too. 🙂 oh and you did mention “pants off” so it could mean we are upping the rating. 🙂

    • Reply
      January 30, 2012 at 11:04 am #

      Oh boy!

  7. Reply
    January 31, 2012 at 9:29 am #

    I love saag paneer and Indian food in general, but haven’t been adventurous enough to cook such a foreign cuisine at home because I’m not as familiar with the spices and methods. Thanks for sharing this recipe! I really hope to try it soon (and love the pressure cooker comment – great idea for kale and collards that I’m ashamed to admit I’ve never tried!).

  8. Reply
    February 1, 2012 at 10:50 am #

    This looks creamy and delicious– a great way to eat those greens!

  9. Reply
    February 1, 2012 at 2:32 pm #

    I wanted to commend you on your light version of this saag dish that calls for yogurt. I also wanted to give a shout-out to your reader Dave who’s comments I wish to echo concerning the pressure cooker.

    Here’s a variation from my kitchen: two bags of chopped frozen spinach, once cube of frozen methi (fenugreek), one large red onion, one can of petite diced tomatoes, a half cup of water to be pressure-cooked for 15 minutes. Let pressure cool down; open lid, and use a hand blender directly in the cooker to partially puree. Make your ‘tadka’ seasoning like this: in four tbps. EVOO add hing, 1 tbsp. garlic paste, a half-pack of ready-made MTR’s palak-paneer masala. When the seasoning is well-tempered, add it to the pressure-cooker, stir well, simmer for five and let stand for a few minutes. I completely forgo all dairy, but do add a big tbsp. of desi ghee at the very end before wrapping it up!

    Serve w/ roti or chawal!

    • Reply
      February 1, 2012 at 2:49 pm #

      Yum, I love the simplicity of your approach and creating all of the flavor in the tadka (aka tempering).

  10. Reply
    February 2, 2012 at 9:54 pm #

    I’m Indian and I have it with ‘Makka ki Roti’ i.e. (thick) Roti made of corn, and its amazin’. Its a Punjabi delicacy. Try that too, and if there’s a problem, Michael can surely help you with the Roti. 🙂

    • Reply
      February 2, 2012 at 10:23 pm #

      Funny you should mention that, Raghav. I know of the corn roti from books, but as far as I can remember I’ve never made or had one. Gotta put that on my list!

  11. Reply
    February 28, 2012 at 5:07 pm #

    This recipe was soo, sooooo good. A winner, as always!

  12. Reply
    April 6, 2012 at 8:41 pm #

    very nice post, i certainly love, keep on it !!!!!

  13. Reply
    October 23, 2012 at 7:51 am #

    Tried this recipe yesterday. It was awesome!

  14. Reply
    July 8, 2013 at 1:20 pm #

    Used kale, mustard greens, & spinach, & added onion, garlic, & Serrano pepper. Forgot the yogurt but I like things on the green side anyway.

  15. Reply
    February 11, 2014 at 4:58 am #

    Nice recipe!

    Being Vegan, I make Saag using
    1) use blended soft tofu as the ‘cream’ and lightly puree everything together
    2) extra firm tofu as the ‘paneer’.

    I also use whatever greens I have on hand, like kale, Collards, mustard, etc.

  16. Reply
    May 5, 2014 at 11:06 am #

    My mother in law just made some saag with some kale this weekend. We didn’t know all this time that Kale could be used as well and we are Indian. It tasted great. We don’t use cream to bring it together. We use corn flour.
    some of the items we have seen used in saag are:
    broccoli (broccoli)
    palak (spinach)
    Bathu (chenopodium greens)
    Sarson (mustard greens)
    bok choy

    anything green that’s edible

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