We’re all told that we need to eat our greens. Leafy vegetables such as spinach and cabbage are a key part of any diet, providing a wealth of nutrients from fibre to calcium, iron and magnesium. The people of India have recognised this fact for centuries, adding plenty of leafy greens to their daily dishes to up their nutritional value for very little cost or effort.
In India, these greens are referred to as ‘saag’. Many people in the rest of the world are aware of this word from popular Indish dishes such as saag aloo and saag paneer, which contain spinach; but they wrongly assume that ‘saag’ must mean spinach. In fact, the term can refer to any leafy green, including spinach but also amaranth, mustard leaves and fenugreek leaves.
Spinach is of course an incredibly popular green in India – it’s packed with folate, vitamins A and C, and is only 20 calories per serving. It’s also a powerful antioxidant and provides twice as much fibre as other green vegetables, such as broccoli. While the vitamin C content of spinach is highest when eaten raw, cooking it concentrates the fibre and other nutrients; that’s because it dramatically reduces in size during cooking, so you can get a big dose of nutrients in just a small mouthful.
Let’s take a closer look at how spinach and other leafy greens are used in Indian cooking. Despite what you might expect, they’re not just used within gravy-based dishes.; as with many ingredients, Indian cooks use them in a range of other imaginative ways.
One example of such a dish are muthias, the Gujarati version of meatballs or falafel. Literally translating as ‘fistful,’ muthias are a great way to use up leftover foods or whatever you have in the kitchen at the time.
Ingredients such as leftover rice, garlic, lemon juice, pre-sautéed greens (such as spinach, mooli or okra) and various spices are mixed with basen flour and taken in handfuls, before being shaped into a patty or sausage shape. These are then steamed or fried until crispy and golden.
Gujarati breads also contain generous amounts of green leaves, and are a favourite way to sneak more vegetables into fussy young eaters. Known as ‘Methi naThepla’ in the Gujarat, these delicious flatbreads can be enjoyed at breakfast, brunch, or throughout the day as a snack, and either on their own or to soak up the sauces of a gravy-based dish. Fenugreeks leaves are most commonly used for these breads, which are flavoured with red chilli powder, cumin, coriander, turmeric, carom seeds and ginger paste.
Chefs and home cooks throughout India know how to turn humble ingredients like leafy greens into a range of exciting and flavourful dishes. To experience this for yourself, you don’t have to travel all that way – simply head to one of London’s top fine-dining Indian restaurants for a taste of authentic recipes cooked using age-old methods, but with a distinctively modern influence. You’ll be more than happy to eat your greens in one of these fine establishments.