Deep, earthy, creative and subtle – the spirit of Sarson ka saag
You know its kind of strange that of all the communities in this world, I ended up marrying a Punjabi. My childhood was a strange relationship with the Punju community. A love-curiosity-disdain mix. Jealous disdain probably because all my Punju school mates had so much more fun than I did with my convent school-catholic-well brought up mallu self did. A strange sense of superiority because I was on the other hand going to have a bright future, go to heaven and the delinquent ostentatious fun having Punjus would surely not. But by far, the emotion that most dominated my feeling about Punjus was pure unadulterated greed. I was envious of them for getting the best tiffins in school. Everything that came out of their lunchboxes was drool worthy.. the aloo paranthas were different from my own turmeric flavoured albeit tasty ones, the rajma chawal had a clearer yet creamier taste sans the kurry patta, the bharta was smokier and cleaner, even the nutrene nuggets tastier than mutton keema. I could have done anything to be the proud owner of those lunchboxes and have them all to myself. (I still wonder if this greed has in anyway manipulated me into marrying into a Punju family. A sort a hidden childhood trauma that controls the way my psyche really works. That controls my destiny even. Atul, are you reading this? Maybe its wasn’t really about you!! Either ways, I may have hit the jackpot :))
Over time I have learnt that this much maligned and stereotyped community, has many more shades than the delicious food and all the fun they seem to have. Even as I moved away from the hub of Punjabi’s (Delhi) and pretended that I was happy to be away from the decadent idol worshipping lot, I found that I couldn’t get them out of my blood..my childhood best friend Meenu, my roomie and very close friend since design school – Kritika, my brother-in-law Lalit, one of my closest friends Kanu and my other close friend Baljeet. And ofcourse Atul (in my blood, mind, family, house, bank balance..everywhere but my kitchen!) I think I could now safely say that this group of people is the hugest chunk of what makes up my world. And if there is one thing that is pretty common to this very diverse group of people, it is the genuine knack to live life on their own terms. Only because that is what comes naturally to them. From them I have learnt that Punjabis are often spiritual, deep, honest, earthy, open, creative and can even be (surprising to me this!) subtle. Imagine that.
On a strangely connected note (I promise this was unintentional, I just realized that this is true!!) each of the adjectives above also apply to one of my favorite Punjabi dishes: Makki Roti with Sarson ka saag. Spiritual, deep, honest, earthy, open, creative and subtle. And this is a meal we are talking about. After eating the dish at several places in Mumbai, most of which do it injustice (I think what passes for Punjabi food in Mumbai is most often a characterless mix of all the worst notes of bad mughlai cuisine), I felt that I needed to find a recipe to get this nirvana within my own grasp. I have now been making this every winter for the past 4 or 5 years but I think I have never gotten it as perfect as this time. Adapting a recipe from the cookbook Prashad, I think I have achieved the perfect saag.Simple, no-nonsense, serious food. Creamy, with a unadulerated taste of greens and clear notes of ginger. Here is my recipe..
Sarson ka Saag aur Makki ki Roti (Mustard greens with corn flatbread)
Mustard leaves – 2 bundles
Spinach – 1 bundle
Bathua leaves – 1 bundle
Green chillies – 2
Ginger – 3” peice
Makki ka aata or cornmeal – 3-4 T
White butter – .25 to 1 cup
1. Clean, wash the greens. Remove the hard stems and roughly chop the rest.
2. Dump the leaves with about 1.5 litres of water, 2” of the ginger (roughly chopped), green chillies and salt in a big pan. Bring to boil. Cover and simmer for about 1 hour and 45 minutes.
3. Cool, drain (reserve the liquid) and coarsely puree in the blender.
4. Return to the pan, add the corn meal and reserved liquid along with as much of the butter as you have the guts to. Go on…I dare you.
5. Cover, simmer for 30 minutes; stirring occasionally. Adjust salt to taste.
5. To prepare the tempering, melt 2-3T butter and add the rest of the ginger, chopped fine. Pour on the hot saag and serve with the roti, white butter, roughly cut onions, green chillies and jaggery. Enjoy!!
Makki ki Roti
Cornmeal or Makki ka aata
1. Stir all the dry ingredients together
2. Add the hot water and stir till the mixture forms clumps
3. Knead till soft.
4. Roll out to the thickness of stuffed paranthas between two layers of lightly oiled aluminium foil.
5. Bake each side of the roti on the griddle till cooked
6. Smear with ghee and cook each side a bit longer