Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Spinach and potatoes (saag aloo)

This is one of my favourite Indian restaurant vegetable dishes: I always have a struggle to decide whether to order this or bindi bhaji (okra) when I get back to the UK.

This recipe is adapted from the one given by Madhur Jaffrey in Indian Cookery, the book of the TV series she did for the BBC back in 1982. It’s a great book, which has lots of nice, clear recipes, although sometimes I think it’s a bit heavy on the ingredients and contains some unnecessary steps. Even these, though, have their charm. Her earnest instructions to pick through your lentils to check they don’t contain any stones are a sign of the book’s roots in a series of letters sent by her mother back in India, when Jaffrey first learnt to cook as a drama student in London. I can’t remember the last time I found a stone in my lentils.

500g frozen spinach
500g potatoes
½ an onion
plenty of sunflower oil
2 cloves of garlic
2 teaspoons of black mustard seeds
1 teaspoon of turmeric
¼ teaspoon of cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon of salt

  1. Heat a saucepan with plenty of water, once it has reached the boil add the spinach, cover, bring back to the boil and simmer until the spinach is cooked. Drain the spinach and stir with a fork to separate the leaves out a bit. Set aside the cooking liquid.
  2. Peel and cut the onion into very fine strips. Chop the garlic finely. Peel the potatoes and cut into 1-inch cubes.
  3. Heat plenty of sunflower in a large saucepan, add the onion and fry for a minute, then add the garlic and fry for another 30 seconds or so before adding the mustard seeds. Fry for another 30 seconds, then add the turmeric, cayenne pepper and salt, and stir well.
  4. Add the potato cubes, the spinach and enough of the cooking water so that the dish looks moist without it being too watery. Bring to a simmer, turn heat to minimum and cover. Cook until the potatoes are well done (probably around 40 minutes), stirring every so often and checking that there is still enough liquid. The final dish should be neither dry nor soupy, but juicy.
When I cooked this for the photo, I didn’t have any mustard seeds, so I substituted them with sesame seeds instead. I also think that turmeric (I suppose like most spices) is one of those ingredients whose quality varies greatly. I'm not a fan of the big packets of Rajah brand spices you get from most Asian shops, which I think have rather an industrial flavour. Turmeric should be musky but aromatic.


Mimi aka pz5wjj said...

Okay, I know you posted this ages ago, but this was the top google for Saag Aloo... Few questions, How necessary is it to fry the onions in "plenty" of oil? Can the just be sauteed in a tablespoon or so? (trying to cut the fat down) and have you used fresh spinach for his in lieu of the frozen kind?

Sounds so yummy and one of the curries I miss most! Thanks!

Tim in the Kitchen said...

Hi Mimi.

I guess you can do it with as little oil as you want. The end dish doesn't have to be oily, as it will have liquid from the spinach. It's fine with fresh spinach too, although you'll need to adjust the quantities upwards. You can also replace the spinach with chard.


Rob said...

I like this recipe but disagree about the oil. I've tried it with less oil (for dieting girlfriends) and whilst ok it's just not the same without "plenty" of oil. Damn I'm gonna go make this right now just looking at the picture is enough to drive me to the shops for the stuff.

Tim in the Kitchen said...

Hi Rob,

Nice to see this debate. I included my 'plenty of oil' comment in the original recipe precisely because I know that people in the UK (and maybe in the States too?) tend to use as little oil as possible. I guess it's a matter of taste, in the end, but if you're not on a low-fat diet then I would agree that a bit of oil is good.