Thinking about rapini made me hungry for saag. When I want saag in a hurry I make it in what I call rustic, or country style: The greens are chopped and sauteed instead of boiled and pureed. I can whip up a batch in under 20 minutes if I’ve already got my ginger and garlic prepped. (Quick Tip: Whip up a batch of ginger-garlic paste once a week – besides being handy for adding to what’s ever on the stove, it’s also great on toast!).
Making Your Saag Step by Step
First we start with mustard seeds and cumin… both of these are best if sizzled in oil first. I heated up a little olive oil over a medium-high flame and added the seeds.
The mustard seeds will start to pop like little popcorns and the cumin seeds give off a nice toasty aroma within less than a minute. That’s when to add a few teaspoons of split urad dal. The urad dal adds a little protein and hearty flavor to the dish and gives a nice texture (you can leave it out, no problem, if you don’t have).
Once these have gotten nice and toasty, we add ginger, garlic and har mirich. Har mirich are little green very hot Indian chilies, also called Thai chilies. Here is a tray full pictured below.They are smaller than serrano chiles, hotter, thinner skinned, and super tasty. Sometimes I don’t want so much heat but want their flavor, so I cut them in half lengthwise, scoop out the ribs and seeds, and then chop up. Nearly all the chile’s heat is in those ribs and seeds, so you can do this with any type of chile if you want. Har mirich can be found in your local India market, or Thai chilies (I think they are exactly the same thing) may be found in Asian markets or in the specialty produce section at your supermarket.
When I feel these have sauteed long enough (maybe a minute or two) I add the onions. For the sake of greenness, no tears, time, and my current mood, I use anywhere from a few to a whole bunch of green onions. Just trim off the root ends and pull off any brownish layers of the greens. Then chop into thin circles. You could use about 1/2 large onion finely chopped instead, if you wish. Looking good, yes? And only about 5 minutes so far.
If you use regular onions, you will need to saute this mixture until the onions are browned. With green onions, it’s like a minute. There are two secret spices to make extra tasty saag (especially when made with mustard greens or rapini). The first one is asafetida powder (in the India markets this is called hing). Asafetida is a digestive aid with a pungency that is perfect complement to greens. It takes just a pinch or two; you don’t want to overwhelm the flavor of the greens! Add to the sizzling masala and stir for a few seconds.
Now add all of your chopped greens. I used my deep iron skillet which easily accommodates all those greens before they settle down. Now it is like a stir fry, i.e., continue to stir and fry over medium high or high heat until the greens settle down and become tender (about 5 minutes, longer for larger amounts).
Once the greens are cooked down (importantly, they are still a beautiful green) and tender, I suggest draining off any liquid from the pan. If you cook all that liquid out, you will overcook the greens. Do not, under any circumstances, throw away that liquid! It is super super delicious and nutritious. Drink it and savor every sip! You deserve it after all that work over the last 15 minutes or so preparing this dish!
Probably by now you are wondering about the second secret spice. Not forgotten. It is a pinch of ground nutmeg. Not more than 2 pinches. Like asafetida, nutmeg has a strong flavor and you don’t want it to overpower your saag. A nice pinch is outstanding and brings out the best in everything else. Add it now. (Btw, a pinch of nutmeg is also a secret ingredient for amazing marinara sauce.)
A squeeze of lemon and salt to taste, and this dish is done. Unless, of course, you want to add some tofu. I would add 7-8 ounces (1/2 package) of extra firm tofu, drained, and cut into small cubes. You can add the tofu the same time you add the greens, or any time thereafter.
My hubby and I enjoyed this saag with some yummy jalapeno cornbread, fresh from the oven, and steamed beets. For a more “authentic” Indian meal, serve with raajma and rice (as pictured at top) or corn chapatis (makhai ki roti). Corn chapatis are a little difficult to make, but you can easily substitute with handmade corn tortillas purchased at your natural foods store. Heat them up on a hot skillet or over the flame of your stove and top each with a generous spread of butter.
Yield: 2-4 servings
For more protein or an almost one-dish meal, I add about a half package of extra firm tofu cut into ½-inch cubes toward the end of cooking.This makes a great lunch, packed in a container with steamed basmati rice or Peas Pilau. You can use any chopped greens but I recommend rapini or mustard greens for best flavor. Other good options are mustard greens, spinach, Chinese broccoli (kai-lan), regular broccoli, or collards… or use any combination of your favorite greens.
Serve with some kind of grain,, whether cornbread, chapatis, tortillas, noodles, or rice. Steamed beets or carrots gives a pop of color and taste-texture contrast.
2 Tbsp. oil (mustard oil, peanut oil, olive oil, or other veg oil) or ghee
1 tsp. cumin seeds
1 tsp. black mustard seeds
1 tsp. split urad dal (optional)
1 inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and minced (about 1 Tbsp.)
4-5 medium cloves garlic, chopped
1-2 har mirich or 1 serrano chile
5-6 green onions, chopped
1 pinch asafetida powder (hing)
1 large bunch rapini, washed, drained well, and chopped
1 dash nutmeg
Squeeze of lemon or lime
Heat oil in wok, kadahi, or sauté pan over medium-high/high heat. Add cumin seeds and mustard seeds and sizzle until mustard seeds start to pop. Immediately add urad dal, stir a few moments to toast. Add ginger, garlic, chopped chilies, and green onions, stirring a few times after adding each one. Add asafetida. Keep cooking over medium-high flame, stirring frequently, for another 1-2 minutes. Now add chopped greens, keeping heat medium-high to high, and continue stirring until greens settle and soften (3-5 minutes). Keep the greens uncovered while cooking… putting the lid on deadens the color and alters the flavor. Add salt, nutmeg and a squeeze of lemon or lime. Cook few more minutes until greens are tender. Ready to serve!