Sarson Ka Saag: A Lohri Staple

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By Nisha Vedi Pawar

Food2014

 

January 13th marks Lohri, a festival celebrated by people from Punjab and North India. Traditionally, it is associated with the end of winter and the harvesting of Rabi (winter) crops. These crops include wheat, barley, mustard (sarson) and peas. New marriages and births are celebrated with grandeur during Lohri, marking them as new beginnings with wishes for a bright and fruitful future. Many people have family gatherings and large parties asking for blessings and celebrating this new stage in life.

 

Celebrations include dressing up, singing folk songs while dancing around a bonfire and throwing sesame seeds, gur (jaggery), puffed rice and other items into the fire. Children go around asking for Lohri (blessings, money, toys, and sesame & peanut candies from elders. Sarson ka saag and makki ki roti is the traditional meal during this festival.

 

Sarson ka saag is a mixture of slow cooked mustard greens and spinach. It has an earthy flavor and is tempered with warm spices making it the perfect dish for the cold weather. It’s different from cooking other vegetable dishes as it’s cooked on a medium low heat for an extended amount of time.

It’s a special holiday for us this year as we will be celebrating our daughter’s first Lohri. I also couldn’t be prouder that one of her favorite foods lately is a milder version of this dish… okay okay it’s pureed kale and spinach, but close enough for baby saag! We will be visiting the Gurdwara for blessings the day of and at night have a traditional dinner of daal, saag and roti.  Saag is a staple in our home during the winter months. With greens and spinach being ample this time of year, I generally make big batches and freeze it for a rainy… or snowy day. It reheats wonderfully is even better when fresh chicken tikka or paneer is added for additional taste and flavor. I didn’t develop a taste for Saag until after marriage, as my husband is a huge spinach fan. I toyed with my mom’s and Dadima’s recipe and finally figured out what worked for us.

 

saag2Some Tips & Tricks about Saag:

 

Saag is not the same as palak ki saabzi. Saag is a culmination of different greens as opposed to palak which is just spinach.

 

By following the first step below (pressure cooking the greens) you will cut down your slow cooking time in half.

 

Traditionally the spices for saag are tempered in ghee (a clarified butter made from cow’s milk) Ghee is an acquired taste and can be substituted with canola/vegetable oil.

 

If freezing, wait until the cooked saag cools and store in an airtight container. When you are ready to have it again take it out of the freezer the night before and let thaw at room temperature. Once thawed, simmer on low heat for 10-15 minutes.

 

 

saag5Ingredients:

 

4 packed cups Spinach

3 packed cups Mustard Greens

3 Green Chillies (minced)

1 large Onion (finely chopped)

1 medium Tomato (chopped)

2 tablespoons Ginger Garlic paste

3 tablespoons Heavy Cream

2 tablespoons Kasoori Methi

2 teaspoons Brown Sugar

1 Cinnamon stick

5-6 Cloves

3-4 Cardamom pods

2 teaspoons Coriander powder

1 teaspoon Roasted Cumin powder

1 teaspoon Turmeric

2 teaspoons Garam Masala

2 teaspoons Lemon juice

3 teaspoons salt (adjust accordingly)

Pinch of Asafoetida (hing)

2 tablespoons oil

 

Saag1Method:

 

In a large pressure cooker add mustard greens, spinach, 1 cup of water and sugar (the sugar doesn’t make the dish sweet, it just takes the away any bitterness from the greens. As an alternative,  you could use gud or jaggery). Give the greens 2-3 whistles. Strain the steamed greens but reserve the water for later. By taking this extra step it will help cut down your cooking drastically.

 

In a food processor pulse the spinach mixture a few times. If you prefer a paste texture, process the mixture a few more minutes.

 

In a heavy bottom pan or skillet heat oil and add cinnamon, cloves and cardamom pods. Fry on medium low for about a minute. Add the asafoetida, green chillies, ginger garlic paste, kasoori methi and fry until the garlic paste starts to slightly brown. Kasoori Methi to me is like Butter to Paula Deen… I just can’t get enough – the aroma, flavor and depth it gives dishes is incredible! Add the garam masala, cumin, coriander and turmeric powder. If the mixture has become too dry, add 1 tablespoon of the reserved mustard greens/spinach water. Roast for 1-2 minutes.

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Mix in the chopped tomato and simmer until the juices have released. Add in the Mustard Green/Spinach mixture, heavy cream and reserved water. Cover and let cook on medium heat for 30-35 minutes, mixing occasionally. Uncover, add salt and let simmer on low heat for 10-15 minutes.

 

Once cooked, add lemon juice and serve hot with roti, naan or rice.

 


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