Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Daily Dinner (18): A classic Punjabi Meal & Sarson Ka Saag

To a Delhite, nothing could get more Punjabi than a meal of makki-ki-roti  and Sarson ka saag -  a green leafy staple that I managed to keep away from; most of my childhood. The only exception was this one time….for some vague reason, we went to my Naani's during the spring break. She lived in a town called Bhatinda at that time - in the heart of Punjab. As always, the whole mohalla descended to meet "Delhi to aayin kudi"…the daughter who came from Delhi. In a blink, we'd been invited to a "Sanjha Chulha" meal next day…..

Sanjha Chula- a beautiful Punjabi culture that I got to witness in the peaceful early 80's. The gali (street) that my naani lived on, was a dead end- and hence perfect for a permanent home to a communal clay oven. Once the decision was made, news spread like wildfire. What a Sanjha Chulha meant was that the whole community would meet at the oven for their evening meal. They brought with them some wood, to feed the fire. And wholesome food- to feed the soul….Most women came with prepared side dishes- typically maa-di-daal, daal makhani or sarson ka saag. And they brought with them prepared dough- all kinds- regular, missi roti, or more often than not- makki di roti. Come dusk; and the chulha was surrounded by big, hearty men on charpais; a cacophony of children running around and  of course; gossiping women that could mould rotis with their palms, stick them into the chulha and not miss a beat…That was my first time “feeling” a community. All rotis went into a central stock; and you pick whichever one you fancied. All the daal and saag were free-for-all; as was the stock of makhan (butter), ghee, gur and lassi (buttermilk).  Here, I couldn’t escape all the beeji’s that insisted on feeding me the makki-ki-roti and makhan drenched sarson-ka-saag to their newest puttar (child)……



Once back in Delhi,  I never again complained about the slightly bitter greens that my mom made.

Then in USA, I went without this meal for almost 8yrs. Never thought about it; till an acquaintance mentioned this meal that she ate at a restaurant. Finally, it was my babysitter, recently arrived from Kurukshetra, who showed me how I could indulge myself here. Showed me which brand of makki-ka-atta to buy, how to cheat-make the makki-ki-roti, since I couldn’t do it the traditional way; and how to substitute broccoli rabe for Indian mustard greens……I’ve never looked back since.

My lunch today, on this unexpected snow day- was a classic Punjabi Thali; Makki ki roti; sarson-ka-saag, gur (jaggery) and gobhi gajar ka achaar….

Sarson ka Saag


To make Sarson ka Saag:
Broccoli Rabe 1 bunch
Fresh Spinach 1 bunch

Onion 1 large chopped
Tomatoes 2 medium chopped
Ginger 1 inch piece grated
Green chillies 2 chopped fine
Salt 3/4Tbsp (or to taste)
Red chilli powder 1/2 tsp
Haldi (turmeric) powder 1/2 tsp
Vegetable oil 1 Tbsp
Makki ka atta (Corn meal) 1Tbsp

To season
Ghee 1Tbsp heaped
Jeera 1/2Tbsp
Hing a generous pinch

  1. Wash and chop the broccoli rabe and spinach together. In a pressure cooker, cook along with the green chillies and ginger for 2 pressure whistles. Just add a sprinkle of water sine the greens have plenty of moisture.
  2. Allow to cool. Then using an immersion blender or a food processor, pulse the mixture a few times to get a coarse puree.
  3. In a non-stick sauce pan, heat 1 Tbsp vegetable oil and sauté onions till golden brown.
  4. Add the tomatoes and all the spices. Cover and cook till the tomatoes soften and leaves oil on the sides.
  5. Mix in the spinach and saag puree. Cook, half covered for about 5 min.
  6. Add the Makki-ka-atta; cook additional 10 min till thickened.
  7. In another pan, heat the ghee, splutter jeera and hing; and mix in towards the end.
  8. Just before serving; add another dollop of butter :-)
My two cents: There’s a few of things I’ve learned with trying to make sarson ka saag, the American way…
  • Broccoli rabe is more bitter than the Indian mustard greens. Offset that with plenty of spinach, and lots of tomatoes.
  • The bitterness can also be controlled by not using any broccoli florets that might come with the greens. Save them for your salad.
  • Do not add too much water while cooking the greens- or you’ll just be trying to cook it down later on.
  • Leave it as a coarse puree- do not over process. Same with onions- cut them into biggish chunks to get some layer - adds a bit of texture

Finally, making the makki is roti is no joke. This is how I shape my makki ki roti. Not perfect; but good enough to suffice a craving heart!

Linked to:
1) Dish it out- Light dinners by Vardhini
2) Lets cook with green vegetables event at Simply Food
3) Walk through the memory lane 2014 at Gayathri’s Cook Spot
4) Flavors of the world- Grand Finale at Simply.food