My pursuits of the perfect Saag have taken me far and wide. I’ve tried many a recipe in my kitchen, some my own, some belonging to those far more well-versed in Indian cooking than me, and as I attempt to make a creamy, dairy-free version, each time I find something lacking.
And then this happened.
Before I go any further I should clarify: this is not a traditional saag recipe. In fact, it isn’t spinach at all. Rather, I used rainbow chard because it was local, fresh and calling to me with jewel-toned legs amidst the shrubbery of the produce aisle. Two bunches may look like a lot when you stick it in your cart, but chard (like every leafy green) cooks down to nothing. Ergo, buy more than you think you need.
You’ll note that I call for Amchur in the recipe, something you may not have on hand. Amchur is dried and powdered unripe mango. It is a spice common to Indian cuisine, but hardly found in America. Should you puzzle over where to find it (or decide against buying it for fear of being stuck with a supply of rarely used spice), try this instead: Purchase one mango, peel it and cut it down to the pit. When you brown the ginger at the beginning of this recipe, throw in the pit of your mango to cook alongside the greens. The mango will subtly infuse its flavor into the final dish, an approximation of the tart punch supplied by ½ tablespoon of Amchur.
This creamy dish of chard finally satisfies my search for saag. It isn’t perfect, it isn’t traditional, but it is frighteningly tasty. The mustard seeds pop in your mouth and the greens melt into the coconut milk, it’s a textural joy on your tongue. Make extra and fry a few eggs over a spoonful for breakfast, you won’t regret it.
- 2 bunches Rainbow Chard
- 2 tablespoons Olive Oil
- 1 inch Ginger, peeled and minced
- 1 tablespoon Mustard Seed
- ½ tablespoon Amchur (or the pit of one mango)
- 3-5 Cardomom Pods (depending on your affinity for the scent)
- 1 teaspoon Salt
- 1 teaspoon Black Pepper
- ½ cup Coconut Milk
- Strip the leaves of chard from their jewel-toned stems. Reserve the stems for making veggie stock, we will not be using them in this recipe. Stack the leaves of chard and roll them into a fat, tight cigar. Slicing across the roll, cut the chard into strips. Set the ribbons aside.
- In a large stock pot or wok heat the oil over medium-high heat until rippling.
- Add the ginger and saute for 3-5 minutes, or until it is golden brown.
- Add the mustard seeds and amchur (or the mango pit) and immediately put a lid on the pot. The seeds will start to pop and without a lid your kitchen will be covered in tiny little black spots. I repeat, put a lid on it.
- When the popping dies down (after about a minute or two), open the lid and stuff the chard into the pot.
- Add the cardomom pods, salt and pepper and stir everything to combine.
- Continue to stir as the chard wilts and pour in the coconut milk.
- Put the lid back on the pot, drop the heat to low and simmer for 15-20 minutes.
- Remove the lid and continue to simmer for another 5 minutes, or until the leaves are tender and the milk has thickened slightly.
- Eat it.