Talk about Punjab and not mention Makki ki Roti Sarson ka Saag Recipe – not possible! It’s actually two recipes – a corn meal flatbread and a simple and spicy mustard greens curry. The duo are as inseparable as Romeo and Juliet or warm chocolate brownies and vanilla ice cream. You get the picture, right?! For every Punjabi the meal spells the fragrance of earth, toasty winter sunshine and family time. In short, it’s not food, it’s love!
‘Sarson’ means Mustard and’ Saag’ is Greens. Mustard greens are very popular winter vegetable in the Indian subcontinent, specially Punjab.
Traditionally mustard greens are cooked over low heat for a long time and served with a dollop of butter and cornmeal flat bread, called Makki ki roti.
Cooking Sarson ka Saag is a labour of love, not because the recipe is very intricate with a long list of ingredients but because the preparation is very time consuming and requires a lot of patience!
When I was a child, I always saw my mother, grandmother and a few women from the neighbourhood all sitting together ,under the winter sun on a big rug, chatting leisurely while some separated the mustard leaves from the stems, others chopped them roughly.
Now whenever I cook Saag, I make sure to do it on a weekend, so that the whole family can help me in the preparation. The next and most important step is washing the greens because usually mustard greens are full of dirt and grit. You don’t want to be casual about it, as it can ruin all your hard work. Thoroughly wash the leaves, in little batches, under running water in a colander.
The Sarson ka Saag recipe itself is very simple with few ingredients. Adding a little cornmeal to Saag binds all the ingredients together and gives it a buttery texture.
You can cook Saag in bulk for entire winter season (even later) and freeze it in small batches to save time and trouble. The flavour of Saag improves with time. Before serving the frozen Saag , thaw at room temperature, heat and freshen it up with tempering.
For Sarson ka Saag, Mustard Greens :
3 kg Sarson/mustard Greens
2 kg Spinach
1 bunch Bathu/Chenopodium/goosefoot (optional)
1 bunch fresh coriander leaves
1/8 kg green chilli peppers
2 teaspoons red chilli powder
Salt to taste
1/4 cup maize flour/cornmeal
This Is What You Do :
Chop Sarson leaves and soft stems, discard hard stems. Separate spinach leaves from stems, chop them, separate Bathu leaves from stems.
Wash them thoroughly under running water till no grit remains.
Add them to a deep pan, tastes best when cooked on slow heat in an unglazed earthenware pot.
Add chopped green chillies and fresh coriander leaves, add salt and red chillies. Add 1 cup water, cover the pan, cook on medium low or low heat till water almost dries up.
Stir in maize flour/cornmeal, cook for another 5 minutes.
Whiz in an electric blender or food processor briefly…till the saag breaks down but maintains some texture…we are not opting for a smooth paste.
Return it to pan, let it simmer a few more minutes while you get the tarka or tempered oil ready.
For Tarka :
1/4 cup white butter or ghee
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 teaspoon red chilli flakes ( optional)
This Is What You Do :
Heat butter or ghee in a small frying pan, fry garlic and chilli flakes for a few minutes. Pour over cooked Saag and stir.
For Makki ki Roti , Cornmeal Bread :
2 cups cornmeal/maize flour ,plus more for dusting the work top
1+1/2 cup hot water
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup ghee or vegetable oil
This Is What You Do :
If using a food processor to knead the dough :
Fit the food processor with kneading attachment, add the flour and salt. Heat water to a simmer, pour a little at a time through the opening in the processor while processing till the dough forms a ball.
The dough should be soft and pliable but firm…a consistency that you can roll out easily.
If kneading by hand:
Mix the flour and salt in a big bowl . Make a well in the centre, pour hot water into it. Mix the flour and water with a spoon. When it’s cool enough to handle, knead the dough by hand for 5-6 minutes till its no more crumbly and holds together.
Cover the flour and leave to rest for 30 minutes.
Make small balls with the dough, no bigger than a table tennis ball. Flour a clean, dry work top, take a dough ball and gently roll out into a 5 inch round…don’t try to make it too thin.
Heat ghee or oil in a nonstick frying pan or skillet on medium heat. Add 1 tablespoon oil to the pan, place the flat bread in the pan, cook till one side is golden with light brown spots. Flip and cook the other side.
Repeat with the remaining dough, adding just a little oil in the pan every time before cooking the roti.
Keep the rotis covered and warm under a tea towel so that they don’t dry out by the time you eat.
Serve immediately because they taste best fresh and hot.
Tip : if you have to make too many of these rotis, heat two skillets or pans side by side on your stove top. When one side of the roti is cooked, move it to the other pan. Use the first one to cook the second one till it is half done and so on.
Makes 8 small rotis