Authentic Spinach and Chickpea Curry (Chana Saag)

 

Spinach and Chickpea curry, or Chana Saag, as it’s known in Hindi, is a cheap, easy and healthy curry that makes a perfect weekday meal. It’s quick to prepare and can just be left simmering until you’re ready to eat it. This recipe tastes ten times better and is so much lighter than any takeaway equivalent.

 

INGREDIENTS

I absolutely adore spinach. I really think that people who aren’t keen on it haven’t had it cooked properly. To me, it just tastes like it’s so good for you. You can really tell how nutrient rich the leaves are when you bite into it. It’s closely related to beet leaves and chard, both of which are great substitutes if you don’t have spinach to hand for a particular dish.

Spinach contains something called oxalic acid, which limits the absorption of certain nutrients such as iron and calcium. When you cook it, it reduces the acid and therefore increases your body’s ability to use the nutrients. Therefore, lightly wilted to slow cooked and simmered is the best way to eat spinach.

I really recommend growing your own spinach, it is so easy to grow. You buy seeds called ‘perennial spinach’, plant them in moist soil in a semi-sunny place and just water from time to time if the leaves start looking wilted. Perennials grow all year round, so even in the middle of winter you can still give yourself a supply of fresh spinach leaves. Larger quantities, such as are required for this curry, do need quite a lot of space to grow.

 

HISTORY

Saag is traditionally a Punjabi dish, coming from the northern part of the Indian subcontinent. Spinach is used as a base for many curry dishes, with the inclusion of meat, paneer (cheese) or chickpeas to add some protein into the curry. It’s traditionally eaten with roti, homemade whole wheat flatbreads.

If you can get hold of them, the authentic version of this dish uses mustard leaves, which add a nice tang to the overall flavour. Collard greens are also often added to saag, and the combination of these three leaves makes for a more complex flavour. Though this recipe is made with fresh spinach, many Indians cook it with frozen or canned spinach, to save time and money. If cooking it this way, the spinach breaks down even further and becomes softer and more like a sauce.

 

WHAT YOU NEED

Where possible, try to buy local, seasonal and organic ingredients. Apart from it being better to support local businesses, it does make a huge difference to the taste of your food!

 

1 tblsp vegetable oil

1 white onion, thinly diced

1 can chopped tomatoes (or 6 fresh medium sized tomatoes, chopped)

1.5 kg frozen spinach leaves, or 1-2 large bags of fresh spinach

2 cans chickpeas, drained

Juice of 1 lemon

Salt, to taste

 

For the spice paste:

3 garlic cloves, peeled and roughly chopped

2cm ginger, peeled and roughly chopped

3tsp whole cumin seeds

3tsp ground coriander 

2tsp turmeric

1 tsp kashmiri chilli powder

1 fresh green chilli, sliced – only add this if you like your food spicy! 

 

Prep Time: 10 mins

Cooking Time: 30-40 mins

Serves: 4

 

METHOD

  1. Heat the oil in a heavy based saucepan on a medium heat. When it’s hot, add in the onions and a large pinch of salt, cook the onions down for a few minutes until they are translucent. They should soften but not start to colour, so turn the heat down if they start going brown.
  2. While the onions are cooking, make the spice paste. Pound the garlic, chilli and ginger together in a pestle and mortar until soft, then add the spices and grind together. If the mixture is dry, add a little oil and stir to turn it into a paste.
  3. Add the paste to the onions, and stir until fragrant. Add the chopped tomatoes, stir and cook down for 5 minutes, until the moisture has mostly evaporated and the tomatoes have broken down.
  4. Tip in the spinach and chickpeas and cook on a low heat for a minimum of 25 minutes, ideally for 45 mins – 1 hr. Stir occasionally and make sure the spinach isn’t sticking to the bottom of the pan, add a little water and turn the heat lower if this happens. The longer you cook it, the deeper the flavour.
  5. Squeeze over lemon and serve with white rice, naan or roti. You can serve it along with one or two other curries as well, as shown in the picture below.

 

ADAPTATIONS

LF – this dish is naturally lactose free

GF – this dish is naturally gluten free

V – this dish is naturally vegetarian

Ve – this dish is naturally vegan

 

 

 

 

 

 

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