Saag Aloo/paneer, Wild rice with Apricot & Tamarind, Fry bread

Saag Aloo/paneer, Wild rice with Apricot & Tamarind, Fry bread

A hot July: my orach (mountain spinach) was about to bolt and I'd just dug up the first new potatoes. Not knowing what to do with the tiny stray potatoes and a crop of baby leaves that had never gotten to maturity (the hot weather confused the poor, spinachy plants), I scratched my head a bit and came up with this. So it’s a Northwest ingredient, home gardener/farmer's market devotee's early summer celebration with Indian flavors.

This recipe is my basic saag recipe created when living in a large college co-op, and it can be applied easily to be just as tasty using regular spinach, larger potatoes, older onions and garlic, etc.

Time/mess saver hint: Process all of the garlic, ginger, and onion ahead of time; the night, or several hours before, saving in a lidded glass jar. At the same time, you can cook the rice (since it takes longer than the saag) and simply reheat it before eating.

For the Saag:

  • Orach or spinach:  two or three bunches, enough to fill a large salad bowl
  • New potatoes, a few handfuls
  • Coriander seeds
  • Fenugreek seeds
  • Mustard seeds
  • Turmeric
  • Cumin
  • 5-7 cloves of fresh garlic
  • Nub of ginger, slightly less than the size of your thumb
  • One small spring onion
  • Yogurt
  • A little cream
  1. Boil the new potatoes in salted water until fork tender.
  2. Peel and finely chop the garlic, onion and ginger. You should have equal portions of all. They can be arranged in little piles, then combined, or just messily tossed together. I like to chop them with a meat cleaver. This takes time. Don't be tempted to do it in a food processor. They will get mushy inappropriately early. This is where you can pause overnight if need be, and save yourself the mess on the day of. They may lose pungency, but if kept in a sealed jar, they remain strong enough.
  3. Heat the butter and canola oil in tall, medium-sized saucepan (or soup pot if you are making a lot). The taller the pot the better. Add the coriander seeds, fenugreek seeds, mustard seeds, a pinch of turmeric and a pinch of cumin to the fat. Fry the spices until the seeds start to pop. Add the onions/garlic/ginger. Turn the heat down a bit and cook, stirring with a metal spatula or something else that won't be stained by the turmeric. When the onions are clearly translucent and the garlic has yet to burn, add the washed orach or spinach. Fold actively into the spice paste. Add the leaves in loads, turning the heat down now to medium-low.
  4. Cook until the leaves have broken down/incorporated with the spice paste. Turn off the heat. Add several spoonfuls of yogurt, some salt, and a trickle of cream if you have it handy. Process in a food processor if you have a vast quantity, or with a hand blender (you may want to move it to a jar if your pot isn't tall enough to prevent splatter). Chop the new potatoes and fold them in. Let the saag hang out for a while if you can, reheating it slowly before eating.

For the rice:

  • Wild rice
  • Dried apricots
  • Tamarind
  1. In a rice cooker or small saucepan, cook the quantity of rice appropriate for your serving of saag. For two people, about 1/2 cup of rice works well. For wild rice, use twice as much water as rice, so in this case, 1 cup.
  2. Halfway through cooking, when most of the liquid has reduced, add chopped turkish apricots and one spoonful of tamarind paste. Stir to distribute. The apricots should absorb the liquid and plump up. The tamarind adds an exciting depth of flavor.

For the fry bread:

  • Whole wheat flour
  • White flour
  • Salt
  1. I insist on this being as simple as possible. The idea is, you have a curry and you want something extra, delicious and filling, to scoop it up. It is not the time for your baker's hat.
  2. Take one handful of white flour and one handful of wheat flour. Mix them in a bowl with a pinch of salt or two. Add water, starting with 1/4 cup, then adding teaspoons at a time if it needs more moisture. Mix and beat around with your fists.
  3. Let rest for a hot second while you attend to some other detail of your dinner.
  4. Knead again once the glutens have activated and the dough becomes smoother and smoother. Bang out into circles. Stretch/toss like pizza, roll out or just press.
  5. Heat a cast iron (preferably a thinner one) and add a slim pour of plain oil. Take a metal spatula and scrape it across the pan 3 or 4 times to distribute the oil evenly.
  6. Gently lift and set the flatbread down in the skillet. Cook on high, watching it puff up slightly and checking the bottom for the perfect combination of browning/slight charring/softness. Flip and cook on the other side for only 30-45 seconds. Remove, immediately spread with butter (which will melt) and sprinkle on some flaky salt.

Top the saag with fried paneer:

  1. In the scheme of the meal, after the fry bread is done, everything else can easily bekept warm and/or reheated.
  2. Taking advantage of the hot cast iron (from the frying of the bread), and repeat the process with the slim glug of oil, scraping to distribute, and add square slices of paneer cheese.
  3. While the first side is frying, dish up your plates with fry bread, rice, and saag. Flip the paneer when the underside is lightly browned in an appetizing manner. Remove when the other side reaches the same color. 

Recipe courtesy of Andrew Barton, photo credits Peter Schweitzer