Saag (Indian Creamed Greens)

_DSC2073Recipe by Jean DeWinter, photo by D. Lucas Landis

This recipe makes about 6 cups or 12 (1/2 – cup) servings. I make a large batch of this because I always put half of it in the freezer for an easy meal later.

2 tablespoons vegetable oil (I use canola)

1 teaspoon cumin seeds

1 1/2 cups diced red onion (about 1 1/2 medium red onions)

2 cups 1/2 -inch diced turnip (about 2 medium turnips)

1 3/4 to 2 cups fresh diced tomato

1–2 serrano or Thai chilies, about 2 inches long each, tops cut off, then cut on bias

1–2 teaspoons kosher salt

1/2  teaspoon turmeric

2 cinnamon sticks

1 1/2 to 2 teaspoons garam masala*

1 teaspoon ground coriander

3 garlic cloves, crushed and minced

1 tablespoon fresh ginger, minced

4–6 crushed cardamom pods (green or black)

⅛–1 teaspoon red chile powder (optional, season to taste)

1/2 to 1 cup water

1 pound baby spinach leaves

1/2 to 3/4 pound mustard greens**, torn in pieces with stems removed, washed well

1/2 to 3/4 pound kale**, torn in pieces with stems removed, washed well

1/2 to 3/4 cup half-and-half

1/4 cup whole milk or heavy cream

Heat oil in a large stockpot on medium high heat. Add cumin seeds and let them sizzle for about 10–15 seconds. Add diced red onion and saute until soft, about 3–5 minutes. Add diced turnip and tomato, chilies and 1 teaspoon kosher salt, turmeric, cinnamon sticks, garam masala, coriander, garlic, ginger, cardamom pods, red chile and about 1/4 cup of water.

Stir to incorporate all ingredients, put on lid and cook for about 5 minutes on medium-high heat, stirring once or twice—just until not quite boiling. Turn down heat to medium-low, keep the lid on and continue to cook until there is a small sauce created. Add water in 1/4-cup increments and simmer for at least 10–20 minutes to really incorporate the spice blend together and allow for turnips to cook down until soft.

Add greens in batches, adding ⅛ to 1/4 teaspoon of kosher salt on top. Put lid on after adding each batch of greens. Greens should wilt completely before adding the next batch—usually about 2–3 minutes per batch. Use tongs to mix turnip mixture together with the greens.

When all greens have been added, add half-and-half and cream mixture and let simmer together for another 5–10 minutes, until everything is well incorporated. Remove cinnamon sticks and cardamom pods (if you can find them). Transfer in batches to blender, ensuring there is enough liquid in each batch to quickly turn the mixture into a smooth puree. Adjust salt as needed. Eat with hot basmati rice and corn and wheat roti or any type of corn tortilla, chip or bread.

* Garam (“hot” in Hindi) masala is a spice blend of what are considered hot spices and, depending on the brand, may or may not include cinnamon, black pepper, cloves, cumin seeds and black or green cardamom pods. Use at least 1 teaspoon or up to 2 teaspoons depending on your own tolerance of this blend of spices. I use about 1 1/2 teaspoons in this recipe.

** You can substitute any green you might have on hand. This particular blend of greens is quite mild. Using less spinach and more mustard and/or turnip greens may alter the flavor profile. Experimenting with greens is a terrific way to develop the flavor you crave. Leaving the stems on or using large leaves may make your greens bitter-tasting. Always remove as much of the stem as possible.

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