Mid-January marks Lohri, a festival celebrated in Punjab, Haryana, Delhi, Himanchal Pradesh and Jammu. It is traditionally associated with the end of winter and the harvesting of rabi (winter) crops. These crops include wheat, barley, mustard and peas.
In Punjab, people don their brightest clothes, sing folk songs and dance. A bonfire is lit in the main village square, with villagers throwing sesame seeds, gur (jaggery), puffed rice and other items into the fire. Sarsoan ka saag and makki ki roti would typically be served during this festival.
Sarsaon ka saag is a traditional dish from Punjab, made with mustard greens and spices. It has an earthy flavour, while the warming spices add heat to the dish – perfect for the current cold spell in the UK.
It takes a long time preparing the saag, what with washing and chopping the leaves and then wilting them in a pan for several hours until they reach the right consistency. But it is definitely worth the wait and becomes even more flavourful the day after it has been cooked.
Annoyingly I can only find mustard greens in its tinned form near where I live, which does not taste anything like the real deal. And so, I have decided to recreate the flavours using ingredients easily found in the local shops. The mixed greens, kale and sprouts add a similar bitterness, while the spinach balances the flavours. But the real flavours of the saag are brought out in the tadka – ghee or oil infused with warming spices, ginger, chilli and garlic.
Makki ki roti is the perfect accompaniment to sarsaon ka saag. It is a flat round bread made from yellow corn flour, similar to the tortillas you find in Mexican restaurants, only thicker. The bread is cooked on the tava (griddle pan) and served with lashings of butter. I assume the farmers need all the energy and nutrients they can get to cope with harvest period.
As this dish contains brussel sprouts and kale, I am linking this post to the Simple and in Season post run by Ren Behan of Fabulicious Food. The post is guest hosted this month by Karen of Lavender Lovage.
- 500g fresh greens, roughly chopped
- 250g baby spinach, roughly chopped
- 200g curly kale, roughly chopped
- 100g brussel sprouts, finely sliced
- salt to taste
- 5 garlic cloves
- 2-3 green chillies (add or reduce depending on how hot you like it)
- 2 inch ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
- 2 medium plum tomatoes, skin removed and blitzed in a food processor
- 1 tbsp cumin seeds
- 1 tbsp kitchen king masala or garam masala
- vegetable oil or ghee for frying
- butter, garnishing
- Wash the greens and sprouts in a colander.
- Put the chilli, garlic and ginger in a food processor and blitz. Leave aside to use later.
- Add the greens and sprouts to a large pan with a bit of water, about ¼ to ½ cup, and place on medium heat. Cover the pan, reduce heat and simmer for a couple of hours, stirring occasionally, until the leaves have wilted and the stalks and sprouts have softened. Don’t worry if you cannot fit all the leaves in one pan, just add as much as you can, and as the leaves reduce keep adding the remaining ingredients until they all fit in one pan.
- Once the greens and sprouts have wilted and the stalks have softened, add salt and corn flour. Mash with a potato masher or a blender to get it to the right texture.
- To make the tadka, add 1-2 tbsp oil in a frying pan and place on high heat. Once the oil has heated, add the cumin seeds. As the seeds begin to brown, add the garlic-chilli-ginger mixture and fry until they have softened. Add the tomatoes and kitchen king masala to the pan and stir for another few minutes.
- Add the tadka to the mashed greens, cover and simmer on low heat for another 30 minutes.
- Check the salt is ok before serving the saag with butter and makki ki roti.
NB: I cooked the saag in a 27cm Le Creuset pan on low heat. It took me about two hours to wilt the greens, as the stalks were quite thick. You can speed up the process by wilting the greens and sprouts in a pressure cooker.