24 October 2011

Saag Aloo - perfect accompaniment to a curry.

So there I was, plucking up courage to cook the Beef Rendang.  However, I knew that the Rendang didn't contain anything in the way of vegetable matter (well, except for shallots and chillis).  You know how I'm always keen to get some vegetables into my chaps, so I set out to find a recipe for an accompaniment that would complement the Rendang, whilst ticking off some of the all-important vegetable matter.

I knew the Rendang was likely to be saucy (ooh, matron!), so didn't really want another saucy dish for fear of swamping out the plate.  What was required was something like a bhajee - a fairly dry vegetable recipe.

There, on the My Dish website, I found a recipe for Saag Aloo which was attributed to someone called Renu.  Thank you, Renu, for providing the perfect accompaniment!

Now you won't be surprised to hear that I deviated from the original recipe somewhat.  After all, it'd be unusual if I didn't, hey?

Firstly, I couldn't find any frozen spinach in our local supermarket so bought the biggest bag of fresh spinach it was possible to buy - and wilted it in a dry pan at the beginning of the recipe.  To be honest, I think this was probably an improvement on the requirement for frozen spinach, as it wasn't all munched up and indistinguishable.  Even after being squeezed out between two plates (my Nanna's preferred method for removing the water from spinach or cabbage) it was still distinguishable as spinach leaves.  Plus, it just feels worthier to be using fresh spinach, even if it isn't.

The second deviation from the original, was that I added a chopped onion to the mix.  Now I can recall seeing and tasting fried onion in Saag Aloo that I've had from the takeaway and it didn't seem right to not include some.  I do appreciate that it may not have been authentic to include the onion, but I was going for "what we like" rather than "authenticity", on this occasion.

I also didn't have any asafoetida or any jaggery, so left the former out and substituted soft brown sugar for the latter.  It may have made a huge difference, but we were certainly happy enough with the results, so I think it worked.

The recipe was very acceptably simple to produce and I was perfectly able to conduct the trio of pans (Rendang, Saag Aloo and Rice) without getting all stressed and in a flap.

It was lovely to use the whole spices (mustard seeds and cumin seeds) and toasting them in the pan beforehand almost had me feeling like a proper chef.

One point worth noting is that, regarding the potatoes and because of hubby's hatred of the poor old things, I gave them three minutes in the microwave (with a small amount of water) once I'd diced them.  This just softened them down enough that once they went into the pan, they didn't take so long to cook and were at the stage of just beginning to break up by the time they were served.  Hubby declared that he wouldn't have wanted the potatoes again, but the spinach was fine.  Both he and son & heir cleared their plates though, so not only was this a vote of confidence in the recipe, but I managed to get an unfeasibly huge amount of spinach into the pair of them!  Result!

SAAG ALOO (serves 3)

Ingredients :

350g bag of fresh spinach, washed
1 tsp mustard seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 knob of butter
1 onion, chopped fine
3 medium potatoes, peeled and diced finely
2 cloves garlic, grated
1 tsp turmeric powder
1 tsp sea salt
1 tsp soft brown sugar or jaggery
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp chopped red chilli
1 tsp ginger paste
a handful of chopped fresh coriander.

Method :

1.  Gently heat a large wok, then add the fresh spinach.  Allow to wilt without browning and drain the excess water from the pan.

2.  Once wilted, place the spinach onto a plate and place another identical plate on top of the spinach.  Squeeze the two plates together, effectively squashing all the water from the spinach.  Once water has stopped running, set aside.

3.  Dry the pan and replace onto a medium heat.  Add the mustard and cumin seeds and occasionally toss, to toast them evenly.  You'll know when they're done as the cumin will darken, the mustard seeds will pop and the aroma will be fabulous.

4.  Add the knob of butter and onions and stir to combine.  Cook the onions for 4-5 minutes or until they are softened and just beginning to brown.

5.  Add the potatoes and a splash of hot water and stir to combine.  Allow to cook for 2-3 minutes, so that the potatoes begin to take on a little colour.

6.  Add the garlic, turmeric, salt, sugar, ground cumin, ground coriander, chillis and ginger and stir to combine.  Allow to cook until the potatoes are tender.  You may need to add a little more water to encourage the potatoes to cook, but take care to not swamp the mixture.

7.  When the potatoes are done (and not before), add the spinach and fresh coriander and give everything a good stir to ensure the vegetables all have a good coating of spices.  Place a lid on the pan to help the vegetables to heat through and serve.



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