What can I say about Murgh Palak (Chicken with Spinach)? This delicious combination of tender succulent chicken with creamy spinach has always been a favorite in my house. This dish is often erroneously referred to as Chicken Saag or Chicken Saagwala in many Indian restaurants. So allow me to set the record straight once and for all.
Palak is the Hindi word for spinach; it is often used interchangeably with the Hindi word saag. Saag, however, is a very broad term used to characterize any leafy green (such as mustard greens, kale, chards…) and there are lots of varieties of green leafy vegetables available in India that will fall into this category. So if this particular dish is made only using spinach then the correct name is Murgh Palak. But if it is made using different leafy greens or a combination of mixed leafy greens, then Chicken Saag or Chicken Saagwala is the correct name. Regardless, they are all delicious!
Since this particular recipe is made only using spinach or palak, it is correctly named Murgh Palak. I recommend using fresh baby spinach leaves but frozen chopped spinach works equally well and is a great timesaver.
MURGH PALAK (Chicken with Spinach)
1 lb boneless skinless chicken, cut into 1.5” pieces
1 lb fresh baby spinach leaves, finely chopped (or frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained well)
1 large onion, finely diced
2 garlic cloves, finely minced
1” piece of ginger, peeled and finely minced
2-3 dried red Indian chilies
1 inch cinnamon stick
2-3 green cardamom pods, slightly crushes
2-3 black peppercorns
pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
½ tsp turmeric (haldi)
½ tsp ground cumin powder
½ tsp ground coriander powder
½ tsp garam masala
¼ tsp red chili powder, to taste
salt & pepper, to taste
½ cup cream
1-2 tbsp oil, vegetable of canola
freshly chopped cilantro leaves for garnish
In a large pot of boiling water, blanch the spinach leaves for just a minute or two. Remove, drain well in a colander and run under cold water. This will stop the cooking process and also set their lovely green color. Using a food processor or blender, puree the spinach into a smooth paste. Do not over blend otherwise you may end up with spinach juice! Obviously if you are using frozen spinach leaves, they don’t need to be blanched.
In a large skillet over medium heat, add about 1 tbsp of the oil. When hot, add the dried red chilies. Stir and add the rest of the whole spices (cinnamon, cardamom pods, black peppercorns and cloves). Next add the onions, cook until they are lightly browned (around 5-6 minutes). Now add the ginger and garlic. Stir fry for a few more minutes and add the spices (turmeric, ground cumin, ground coriander, garam masala, red chili powder, salt and pepper). If you need a little more oil, add it as needed. Let the spices cook for a few more minutes and then add the chicken. Mix the chicken with the spices so that the chicken pieces are evenly coated. Stir fry for a few minutes, reduce the heat to low, cover and allow to simmer for 6-8 minutes or until the chicken is fully cooked through. Now carefully add the pureed spinach and stir well to combine. Finish with the cream and freshly grated nutmeg. This is generally a thick type of curry dish, but feel free to add as much or as little water as you prefer. Mix well to combine all of the ingredients, reduce the heat to medium low and let cook for 2-3 minutes. Garnish and serve with fresh chapatis and fragrant Basmati rice.