When it comes to spinach, people usually have a love/hate relationship. Personally, I am a big fan. I use spinach quite a lot in my day to day cooking, it’s such a versatile vegetable. Spinach works well in most any type of cuisine whether you’re adding it to dal, pasta, stir-frys, curries, tagines, noodles, quesadillas, pizza… you get the idea, the culinary possibilities are virtually endless.
Spinach is very healthy, nutritious & full of antioxidants. It’s also high in iron, vitamins A & C and even calcium. Unfortunately, spinach is rarely a favorite especially among kids. This is certainly and thankfully not the case with my own son, who absolutely loves spinach. As a mother, it is a real pleasure to see my son not only enjoying his spinach but also asking for seconds!
This particular recipe is straight out of mom’s collection. I usually add my own special twist to most recipes but this one is so delicious in its own right, no additional tweaking on my part is needed. Personally, I prefer baby spinach for this recipe but feel free to use regular spinach or try making this dish with your favorite leafy greens.
The tamarind tree is native to India. It produces a large brown fruit or pod, which contains the tamarind pulp. The use of tamarind (pulp) is very common in Indian food, especially in Maharashtrian & South Indian cuisine. It imparts a unique sweet, sour and tangy flavor that is absolutely delicious. Tamarind pulp has many health benefits and aids in digestion. It is high in both vitamins B and C and also calcium. Tamarind pulp is easily available in any Indian grocery store in many forms such as tamarind powder, tamarind concentrate and even dried tamarind pulp. If you are unable to find tamarind pulp, you can use fresh lemon juice as a substitute.
PALAK CHI PATAL BHAJI (Maharashtrian Spinach Curry)
10-12 ounces of fresh spinach – trimmed, washed & finely chopped
2 tsp cumin seeds
2 tsp desiccated unsweetened coconut flakes
1/3 cup chana dal, soaked in enough water to cover for at least 1 hour
1/3 cup of Spanish peanuts, soaked in enough water to cover for at least 1 hour
¼ cup small pieces of fresh coconut
½ tsp turmeric (haldi)
½ tsp red chili powder, to taste
1½ tsp kala masala (also known as goda masala but you can use garam masala)
2-3 tbsp besan (gram flour or chickpea flour) mixed with 4-5 tbsp of water
1 tsp dried tamarind pulp, soaked in 1/4 cup hot water (or you can use 1 tsp tam concentrate or 1 tsp tam powder)
1 tsp black mustard seeds
½ tsp fenugreek seeds (methi), coarsely crushed
3-4 dried red Indian chilies
4-5 large garlic cloves, sliced
6-8 fresh curry leaves
pinch of asafetida (hing)
salt & pepper, to taste
pinch of sugar, to taste
2 tbsp oil (vegetable or canola)
In a small dry skillet (with no oil) on medium high heat, toast the cumin seeds along with the desiccated coconut flakes for just a few minutes until fragrant & slightly browned. Be careful not to burn either the cumin or the coconut flakes. Remove quickly from the skillet, allow too cool & then using a spice grinder or coffee mill – grind into a fine powder. Set aside until needed.
In a large deep skillet on medium heat, add 1 tbsp of the oil. When hot, add the chopped spinach leaves. Spinach cooks very quickly, so this will only take just a minute or so. Now using the back of a ladle or wooden spoon, mash the spinach until it has a smooth and almost pureed type of consistency. At this point, add the chana dal along with the peanuts and coconut pieces. Stir and add the spices (turmeric, red chili powder, kala masala, sugar, salt & pepper). Stir-fry and let the spices cook for a few minutes before adding the besan and water mixture. The besan acts like a thickener, similar to cornstarch. Stir until all the ingredients are well combined and then add in the tamarind. Stir until all the ingredients are well combined and then reduce the heat to low. Cover & let cook for 4-5 minutes. *
In the meantime, heat a small saucepan on medium high heat, add the oil and when hot, very carefully add the mustard seeds. When the splattering stops, add the fenugreek seeds. Reduce the heat to medium and add the asafetida and curry leaves. Next, add the sliced garlic. After about 30 seconds or so, carefully add this entire flavored oil mixture to the spinach. Sprinkle the powdered cumin & coconut flakes liberally on top. Garnish with the freshly chopped cilantro and serve with warm chapatis and fragrant Basmati rice.
*Palak chi Kadhi is a similar dish that can be made by adding either yogurt or buttermilk to the recipe above. After the spinach has cooked for 4-5 minutes, turn off the heat completely and allow the pan to cool down for just a few minutes. Then add 1 cup of good quality yogurt or buttermilk and mix well to combine. If you add the yogurt to a very hot pan, it will curdle. Then proceed with the recipe as directed above.
Feel free to make this recipe using your favorite leafy greens or a combination of mixed leafy greens.