How to make Saag or Chicken and Spinach Curry

PREP TIME 20 MINS | COOKING TIME 15 MINS | SERVES 4

Photo: Nicholas Rider.

WARM UP THIS WINTER WITH MY EASY TAKE ON AN INDIAN CLASSIC SAAG. Photos by NICHOLAS RIDER.

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If you’ve previously read my recipes for Red Curry Bream or my Veggie-ful Thai Green Curry with Brown Rice then you’ll probably guess that I do like a bit of spice in my food. I can’t help it, it’s definitely in my genes. It may surprise you though that we never ate much Indian food when I was younger. In fact, I hated it! It was either too spicy or too strange for my liking. My preferred meal as a young boy was spaghetti Bolognese, or pizza, or even a Happy Meal from McDonald’s (for the Disney toys of course).

That’s why I couldn’t help but feel thrilled as I hit “Publish” today. I have a great recipe to share with you that’s fresh, tasty and full of beautiful Indian flavours and it’s sure to warm you up on a chilly winter’s evening. What’s even more exciting about this recipe for me is that it is the first time I’ve ever attempted to cook an Indian Curry from scratch! That’s right, from start to finish with no bottled pastes or curry mixes. I’m going to show you just how easy it is to do the same in your kitchen.

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Have you ever visited an Indian restaurant and seen the words “Palak Paneer” or “Saag” on the menu? It’s one of my favourites. I scour the pages, dreaming of creamy English Spinach, simmered with onions, garlic and turmeric, and flavoured with Garam masala, chilli powder or even a pinch of fenugreek. Saag is great with chicken but especially delicious with fresh paneer (cottage cheese) that is cubed then stirred through the sauce until it absorbs all the beautiful spices.

Saag is a one-pot meal and can easily be put together in minutes. Often the spinach is blitzed in a food processor, but to be honest, I was feeling a bit lazy to get it out of the cupboard knowing that I’d have a lot of cleaning afterwards. Luckily it works a treat if you finely chop the spinach by hand, which I sometimes prefer because you can actually taste the leaves and they add a great texture to the dish. Bestselling cookery author Madhur Jaffrey prefer this method and points out that it allows the spinach to stand in equal partnership with any of the other ingredients (you can check out her recipe here).

The most important thing with any curry is the taste. You may find that you need more spice or colour. In these instances feel free to add more chilli or turmeric to suit your taste. Today I’m serving my Saag with Quinoa as I really like the texture and it’s a lighter alternative to rice. You could absolutely serve this curry with steamed Basmati rice if you prefer.

Some of my favourite spices this winter. Photo: Nicholas Rider.

What The Food? Though Saag is the collective term for any cooked ‘greens’ in Hindi, you will also see it used to describe this dish of creamed spinach. Look out for Palak Paneer if you like cottage cheese stirred through the sauce.

INGREDIENTS
For the Saag
  • Large bunch English Spinach, washed
  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 medium brown onion, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 cm piece ginger, finely grated
  • 1 tsp ground turmeric
  • 1 tsp chilli powder
  • 400g chicken breast fillet, diced (or firm tofu, cubed. You can also use Paneer)
To serve
  • Quinoa or steamed Basmati rice, to serve
  • Yoghurt, to serve
  • Poppadoms, to serve
METHOD

Prepare the spinach. Gather the spinach leaves together and finely chop using a sharpened, heavy-bladed knife. For a smoother curry chop the leaves very finely, or leave chunky to enjoy the taste and flavour of the leaves. Alternatively you can place the leaves into a food processor with some water and blitz until you have a finely chopped spinach paste. At this stage you can also prepare the quinoa and poppadoms according to the directions on the packet.

Make the curry. Heat the vegetable oil in a large frying pan or saucepan over a medium heat. Add the onion and garlic to the pan and cook until the onion is translucent. Add the grated ginger and spice and cook stirring for 2-3 minutes until fragrant. If you like a bit more spice feel free to add some more chilli. Add the chicken and cook, tossing to coat in the spice mixture, until golden. Add the spinach leaves and cook for 5 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through. Serve the Saag with the quinoa and poppadoms.

Clockwise from left: turmeric, chilli powder, garam masala, coriander seeds and caraway seeds. Photo: Nicholas Rider.
Clockwise from left: turmeric, chilli powder, garam masala, coriander seeds and caraway seeds.
Cooking the spinach helps to make it tender and brings out the flavour. Photo: Nicholas Rider.
Cooking the spinach helps to make it tender and brings out the flavour.

Photo: Nicholas Rider.

Nick and I had plenty of fun cooking and photographing this recipe. You can check out our foodie adventures via my Instagram page @brendonthesmilingchef.

What are you cooking or eating today? Share your recipes and food photos by tagging #brendonthesmilingchef and #whatsbrendoncooking on Instagram or Tweeting to @bthesmilingchef.

Happy Cooking and Keep Smiling,

Brendon 🙂
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