Hi all! I want to share with you my favorite home-cooked Indian dish, which at home my husband calls "my mom's spinach," because no one in India, apparently, but Uttam's mom makes this particular spinach dish. She invented it.
Now let me be absolutely honest: when Uttam and I first went to India, he was very excited for me to taste his "mom's spinach," and I was rather less excited. I don't like saag, the Punjabi dish that is creamy and mushy and dark brown and redolent of cloves. I just don't have a taste for it. So I was relieved and delighted when my future mother-in-law set before us little bowls of brothy, tomato-y spinach, hot and fresh tasting, flavored with cumin and flecked with golden drops of ghee, and a tall stack of soft, gently toasted chapthis. We ate it in 120 degree weather, just before the monsoon season, on the cool marble floor of their great room, fans whirring, cross-legged, with our fingers. But I think it's perfect for winter too, and hope you'll try it soon.
Cooking time: ~ 45 min, start to finish, serves 2-4.
We can all agree that the intimidating thing about Indian food is the feeling that there are all these spices. But the good news is that this is a fiction. There aren't all these spices. There are really only 5 important ones, and you use at least four of them every time you cook. The secret of cooking Indian food at home is this little round tin; no cooking happens in Indian homes without it
This little tin is the best. It sits on top of our microwave, over our stove, and is much nicer than fiddling with a lot of screw tops. Mine has my name engraved on it because my husband is romantic like that, but a regular one costs about $7. The spices should run you about $2-4 per bag in an Indian grocery store.
Going clockwise, starting with the container with the spoon, you'll want to have on hand:
1. Mustard seeds; 2. Cumin seeds (whole). 3. Turmeric. 4. Salt. 5. Cayenne pepper. 6. & 7. The two lumpy beige powders are cumin powder (in the center) and coriander powder. In terms of #s 1-5, these don't vary from home to home. #s 6-7: Someone might substitute something else for the cumin powder, which I like, but basically you'll always have the others.
- When you're buying the tin and spices, also buy a small bag of "atta" (whole wheat flour), & a jar of ghee (you can use butter if you like but ghee is nicer). Think how cool you'll look going up to the shopkeeper and asking for atta! (pronounched AH-ta).
- Two bags of fresh baby spinach
- 1 jar of canned tomatoes (doesn't matter how big; you won't use all of it)
- 1 lemon
- A little olive oil
easy easy easy. ready?
1. Fast Fresh Bread first. Put some flour in a bowl, 1-2 cups. Add a 3-4 tablespoons of water. 1 tsp oil. 1 pinch salt. Rub it all together until it's a very dry ball about the size of a grapefruit. It shouldn't be sticky, wet, glistening. If it is, add more flour. You want it quite dry, just holding together in a ball. Cover, set it aside.
2. Now Greens. Rinse 2 bags spinach (or other fresh greens); steam it (probably in stages unless you have a very large pot) in an inch of water until soft & bright green; drain out the water; set it aside.
3. First saute steamed greens in standard Indian "sofritto": put some oil in a pan, heat it over med heat. (Note: never put powders straight into oil; they burn easily. Put seeds into oil; the goal is to crisp them and split them, so that they start to pop in a nice way.) So drop in 1 tbs cumin SEEDS and 1 tbs mustard seeds, and listen for them to start popping. Add wet, drained greens to pan. Duck. Stir.
4. Make broth with tomato and water: First add some water-- more than you might think, betw 2-3 cups. The broth is the glorious part of this dish, so the more water you add, the more broth you'll have later. You want maybe a 35:65 proportion of broth: spinach ultimately. Supplement the water with about a cup of diced canned tomatoes.
5. Now flavor: the golden rule is that you always add equal parts turmeric and cayenne, about 1 tsp each. (Our cayenne that we use comes from India, and for some reason it's not that hot. Yours might be hotter, in which case you might want to use more turmeric and less red pepper.) Add a huge pinch of salt, approaching a tablespoon-- it should be quite salty, not in a tongue-curling way, but in a very delicious savory way. Add little by little and find the right measurement for you. Add 1 tsp of ghee and watch it float on top and then start to dissolve. Now it should be smelling buttery and delicious and you should start feeling hungry. Squeeze a bit of lemon into it. Done-- let it simmer on low.
6. Back to the bread! Take a small bowl, and put a bit of flour in it. Make pingpong size dough balls from it, allowing around 4-5 per person, and dip the balls into the flour, dusting them well. Roll them out on a clean, flour-dusted countertop with whatever you have-- a wine bottle, a rolling pin, etc.
set them on a plate (overlapping a bit is ok), and when they're all done, heat up a clean dry frying pan and start toasting them, flipping them, and waiting for them to puff up a bit (the sign of delicious roti). Don't let them become brittle-- they just want to be cooked. For each one, when they're starting to puff a bit, take tongs and wave them lightly in the flame of the burner, so that they brown up a bit. That's it. Brush lightly with butter or ghee so that they stay soft.
You're done! Serve in little bowls to someone you love.
Bonus: eat with your fingers, scooping up the braised greens with pieces of roti.
Or with a spoon, if you like!