Every week in Genius Recipes — often with your help! — Kristen Miglore, founding editor of Food52 and lifelong genius hunter, unearths recipes that will change the way you cook.
It’s the recipe you need whenever your body and mind need deep nourishment, when they tell you, “We want comfort”, but also “Enough with the chips”.
You might be surprised at how many greens you’ll eat when they’re so well cooked and seasoned. As legendary author and cooking teacher Julie Sahni wrote in her second cookbook “Classic Indian Vegetarian and Grain Cooking”, “If children were introduced to green vegetables prepared as tastefully as these, we would probably never need Popeye!”
The recipe, called Sarsoon ka Saag, comes from the Punjabi Sikhs of Amritsar in northwest India, and the comfort is no accident. Silky Greens are traditionally served during the colder months, when they’re both in season, and best of all, Julie tells me, “They create interior warmth — it’s like having a Brandy in the winter.”
Typically in Amritsar, the greens are a combination of mustard greens, fenugreek greens and bathua (or lamb’s quarters), but when Julie wrote her recipe for an American audience in 1985, she modified it to work with greens available locally. She even included the possibility of using frozen and dried versions, to make the recipe even more accessible and quick to prepare.
To turn a mountain of greens into a meal that needs little else, Julie gently cooks them in a small amount of water simmering with corn flour or cornmeal, over asafetida and green chiles for deep flavor and weight.
She simmers the greens until nice and tender, then mixes and thickens them one last time with a cornstarch slurry before serving them with the particularly comforting addition of a tarka – in this case, lots of ghee with shredded grilled ginger and slices of garlic, barely swirled.
As for the texture, traditionally this dish was prepared using a mathani, an age-old wooden tool. “He crushes and blends simultaneously,” Julie told me as she showed me the beautiful patterns in the video above, “but he does it so gently.” When she wrote the recipe in “Classic Indian Vegetarian and Grain Cooking,” however, she asked for a food processor or blender. “At the time these recipes were created, they didn’t have these gadgets, so that’s what they were working with,” Julie told me. “If they had probably had a blender or an immersion blender, they would have used that because it’s a lot faster and easier.” Whatever tools and texture you’re aiming for, she just cautions not to over-mix so much that the greens foam up, which can lead to separation.
In Amritsar, Sarsoon ka Saag is served with a puddle of soft, melting butter on top and a roti of yellow cornmeal to rock it all, as you see here. Julie also recommends pita bread, basmati rice or crispy potatoes, pan-fried with honey and black pepper.
Either way, no matter what else you bring to the table, Sarsoon ka Saag will bring the meal, and you.
Recipe: Sarsoon ka Saag (Mashed Mustard Leaves Flavored with Butter) by Julie Sahni
- 1 1/4 – 1 1/2 pounds fresh mustard greens (before cutting) or 1 1/2 10-ounce packages frozen chopped mustard greens
- 1 pound fresh green spinach (before cutting) or 1 10-ounce package frozen leaf spinach, stems trimmed
- 1/4 pound fresh fenugreek leaves or 3 tablespoons dried fenugreek leaves (kasoori methi)
- 1/4 cup corn flour or cornmeal (preferably yellow)
- 2 hot green peppers, chopped
- 1/2 teaspoon safetida or 1/2 cup minced onion
- 2 1/2 cups of water
- 1 medium sized sweet green bell pepper, seeded and chopped
- 2 teaspoons cornstarch dissolved in 2 tablespoons water
- 1 1/4 teaspoons coarse salt, or to taste
- 4-6 tablespoons ghee usli or unsalted butter
- 1/4 cup grated or sliced fresh ginger
- 2-4 tbsp garlic, thickly sliced
- Cut the stems of the tender leaves from the mustard and spinach leaves. For more mature spinach leaves, fold the leaf vertically along the stem and with one hand remove the stem, including the part attached to the underside of the leaf.
- Rinse mustard, spinach and fenugreek in several changes of water until all sand has been washed away. Roughly chop the greens.
- Put the cornmeal, chiles, asafetida and 2 1/2 cups of water in a deep saucepan and bring to a boil. Add the chopped greens or, if using frozen, dried greens, add them now. Add the green pepper and cook, stirring, until the greens have wilted and the liquid comes to a boil. reduce heat and cook over low heat, covered, for 1 hour or until vegetables are cooked through. When the greens are slightly cooled, puree them, using a blender or food processor, until smooth and creamy.
- Return the mash to the same pan, add the cornstarch mixture and cook over low heat until thickened and smooth (6-10 minutes). Salt to taste and simmer the puree over low heat while you prepare the spiced butter.
- Heat ghee or butter in a small pan until hot. Reduce heat to medium-low and add ginger and garlic and cook, sizzling, for 3 minutes or until seasonings begin to brown. Turn off the fire.
- Transfer the mash to a large, shallow serving dish and carefully pour the butter with the ginger and garlic over it. Stir a few times to coat the purée with the butter in threads.