Saag Chole, Chole Palak, Chana Saag etc. etc., there are n number of ways this dish is named or called. The main base ingredient here is Chole a.k.a Chana a.k.a chickpeas a.k.a garbanzos - you know what I mean. The 'Saag' in this word means 'green', any greens but traditionally is either spinach or a mixture of spinach and mustard greens. This can be called a combination of two typical punjabi staples - the chana or chickpeas, and the omnipresent 'saag' or greens. I have typically found that this dish is making an appearance on a lot of Indian restaurant menus nowadays, either due to its increasing popularity, or also maybe in an effort to increase the number of items on the menu without really adding anything different. I hope that does not sound too caustic :o
You can make this for two people or a crowd with roughly the same effort. This is really super easy, especially if you use canned chickpeas and frozen spinach, as I am wont to, especially 'coz I almost always cook this when I am pressed for time. This is a vegetarian's delight, packing a mean nutritious punch, and you can eat it on its own, or with some steamed rice. I dare you to eat a big bowl of this and Not feel full :).
Traditionally, I am pretty sure the hardworking ladies must have soaked the dried chickpeas for 12 hours plus and cooked them in an iron pot, and also this is much cheaper than buying a can, but sometimes the hustle bustle of life just takes over and whats a girl to do. At least its infinitesimally better than takeout, right?
A typical blend of spices is used here, which I call 'punjabi' spices. But these are nothing to be afraid of. They are present in almost all pantries, even American ones, the only difference being that their usage may be different. I make two versions of this dish - the crude one and the finer one. Knowing time constraints, I almost always end up making the crude one( as seen in the crude photo above). Both things taste the same, the only difference is in the presentation. The finer version uses pureed spinach instead of just chopped, hence the added step of using the FP. So without wasting any more time, the recipe is as follows -
2 cans chickpeas or garbanzo beans
1 packet frozen chopped spinach ( or half spinach and mustard)
1 cup crushed tomatoes
2 medium onions
3-4 one inch sticks cinnamon
2-3 black or green cardamom pods
1-2 dry bay leaf
1 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp black pepper
1 tsp garam masala
1 Tbsp fresh chopped garlic
1 Tbsp fresh grated ginger
1 tsp sugar
1) Chop the onions and finely grate the ginger. Grate garlic if possible or chop it finely. I do not advocate the use of ready made ginger garlic pastes since they are tasteless.
2) Thaw and wash the spinach under hot water and drain in a colander. Try to squeeze any obvious moisture out of it. If using mustard, use 50-50 with spinach. Please do not use mustard on its own since it is very bitter.
3) If you are doing the fancy version with the FP, put the onions, ginger, garlic and the spinach in the food processor and give it a whirl until you get a thick pesto like paste.
4) Wash and drain the canned chickpeas taking care to remove all the water/liquid from the cans. This is laden with who knows what preservatives and they are better down your drain.
5) Assemble all the dry spices in front of you. Heat oil in a pan and add the spices once the oil splutters. If you are using the fancy process, add the pureed spinach mixture to the oil at this point. The process continues here *.
6) Add the chopped onion to the oil and spices and fry till the onion is slightly cooked and changes colour.
7) Add the ginger and garlic and saute for a minute without letting it burn.
8) Add the drained spinach now and cook, stirring for 5-10 minutes until the spinach changes colour and is completely cooked.
9) Step 5 continues here *. Add the cup of crushed tomatoes at this point and also add the drained chickpeas.
10) Add the cayenne and the garam masala, salt and sugar. Stir this together.
11) Cover this and let it simmer for 10-15 minutes. Since the canned chickpeas are already cooked, this time is enough for everything to get friendly.
12) Serve hot with steamed rice, rotis or just in a bowl like a thick bean soup.
This dish is vegan as well as vegetarian and is a powerhouse of nutrition with all the spinach( and mustard if used) and the proteins from the chickpeas. Very little oil is used, but even that can be omitted by using a non-stick pan and using some broth or water in the initial step instead of oil.
Looking forward to finding out what you think of this.