The presence of spinach in a dish always tends to redeem the dish…spinach has the kind of redeeming properties that gives any dish it is added to a sense of righteousness, merely by its association! This is completely justified, because spinach is not just rich in iron, it is a breeze to cook with and bonus, makes any dish look so vibrant. To be honest, it wasn’t until adulthood that I really began to appreciate the flavor of spinach, and now spinach makes more than just a guest appearance in our meals. From a simple dal palak (lentils cooked with spinach) to a satisfying saag murgh (chicken cooked in spinach).
If there was one Indian dish I would recommend to be on your weekly meal rotation, it has to be saag murgh. This is a dish that is hits all the right comfort notes, marinated chicken is pan-seared and cooked in a gravy made of spinach and spices, making the most of the flavors of the spinach. The traditional way to cook this dish is to use fresh spinach, however, in the interest of convenience, I used frozen cubes of chopped spinach, which I find much easier to manage due to the large quantity of spinach needed in this dish, you would need plenty of fresh spinach as spinach cooks down to nearly half its volume.
This is a thick-ish gravy, in which no added water is required, and the dish cooks in its own juices. I thaw the frozen cubes of spinach first, then squeeze them to drain away the excess water. If you are using fresh spinach leaves, try blanching the leaves first, then squeeze the leaves dry before adding them to the dish. This reduces the moisture content, which is necessary because fresh spinach leaves release plenty of water, and could result in a soggy gravy or overcooking the dish.
Unlike the more popular saag paneer (cottage cheese with spinach), in which cream is added to the gravy for added richness, this dish doesn’t need cream to elevate it. Spinach makes a fantastic alliance with ginger and onion, which makes for the base of the gravy, and the presence of yogurt in the chicken marinade is the only dairy that the dish needs. All you’ll need to serve this with is some rice, which I cooked with a few cloves and bay leaves and a smattering of peas. Give yourself a treat this weekend, and make some of this saag murgh, and then pat yourself on the back because you made not just delicious meal for the family (or yourself!), but you also managed to mentally check off your iron requirements for the week!
- 600 grams of chicken on the bone
- For the marinade:
- 4 tablespoons yogurt
- 1 teaspoon grated or crushed ginger
- 1 teaspoon turmeric powder
- salt to taste
- For the gravy
- 1 teaspoon cumin
- 1 large red onion, finely sliced
- 2-3 dried red chilies (depending on your spice tolerance)
- ½ teaspoon ground cardamom powder
- ½ teaspoon cinnamon powder
- 2 bay leaves
- ½ teaspoon coriander powder
- ½ teaspoon dried fenugreek leaves (also known as 'kasoori methi')
- 400 grams spinach cubes (thawed and drained of excess water)
- salt to taste
- Start by marinating the cleaned chicken pieces in the marinade of yogurt, ginger, salt and turmeric. Keep this aside for at least 30 minutes.
- Heat a teaspoon vegetable oil in a large wok, on medium heat and add the cumin seeds.
- Heat the oil in a pan, add the cumin seeds and when they splutter, add the chopped onion and fry until the onions turn light golden.
- Add the red chilies, followed by the the marinated chicken to the pan and on medium heat, let the chicken brown, sealing in the sides. Turn the pieces over to ensure the chicken is evenly browned.
- Add the cardamom powder, cinnamon powder, bay leaves, coriander powder, and fenugreek leaves.
- Add the thawed spinach, after draining the excess water, and reduce the heat to a low simmer.
- With the lid on, let the gravy cook in its juices, for at least 5 minutes. Check to see if the chicken is sticking to the bottom and add a splash of water if need be.
- Add salt and stir, cooking it for a further minute or two.
- T0 serve, garnish with ginger juliennes and red chili flakes