I feel like I have been playing catch up and dashing around like crazy since I got back from holiday and for one reason or another (well four kid-sized reasons more likely) it doesn’t seem to be easing up. Meals have all had to be under fifteen minute jobs and there’s only so long I can carry on like that. I don’t know about you but need my pottering time. So today I decided to have a couple of hours off and do just that around my kitchen, cooking slowly. Sag Aloo had been on the cards for a while and as I had spinach and potatoes (something of a minor miracle after a weekend in my male dominated house) that seemed as good a place as any to start.
For those of you that have never had it, Sag Aloo is a side dish popular in the UK in Indian restaurants and take aways, but apparently isn’t actually that much of a hit in India itself. I can only imagine that this is because they haven’t tried it. It is a wonderful, comforting combination of spiced potatoes and spinach and is always on our list whenever we descend on the local Indian. It makes me feel like all is not lost, at least I’ve had one serving of veg with my meal. And, to be fair, if you were going to pick one type of veg to eat with any meal, you could do much worse than spinach. Packed full of iron as well as loads of other goodies such as vitamin K (think of your bones), vitamin C, vitamin A and folic acid; it has always been renowned for its energy restoring qualities. Although (and it pains me to admit it) Popeye’s pulsating muscles are possibly pushing its health giving properties a bit far.
At this time of year spinach is everywhere, making it that little bit easier to ramp up the nutritional content of pretty much anything. Wilt it down in a soup or stew at the last minute, steam it as a healthy side, toss it throughout a salad or even use it in your lunch time sandwiches; the options are pretty limitless. But if you love the mildly spiced flavours of Sag Aloo like me, you could do far worse than this Sag Aloo inspired curry. Serve it as you see fit, but with a rack of mushrooms almost past their best mushroom pilau rice seemed as good as any accompaniment. Don’t let my talk of pottering put you off though, if you are a hit the ground running kind of cook and the thought of an afternoon in your kitchen leaves you cold, try it anyway. Both recipes can be perfectly adapted to make the best of leftover boiled potatoes and any leftover cooked basmati rice; in fact that would probably be more in keeping with its spirit anyway.
Sag Aloo Inspired Potato and Spinach Curry with Mushroom Pilau Rice.
Serves 6 (but quantities are easily adjusted)
For the mushroom pilau rice:
350g basmati rice
2 yellow onions
2 cloves of garlic
3 tsps pilau seasoning (if you can’t get any crush together 3 cardamon pods, 3 tsps cumin seeds and 3 tsps coriander seeds, then add a cinnamon stick to the rice as it cooks)
1 tbsp dried shiitake mushrooms
For the Curry:
2 tsps turmeric
1 tsp black mustard sees, cumin seeds and coriander seeds each
2 tsps fenugreek (if you can’t get hold of fenugreek, I would try to substitute fennel seeds but reduce the amount used- it isn’t a perfect match but fenugreek is notoriously hard to match exactly)
2.5 cms fresh ginger, grated
2 red chillis diced (reduce to one of you want a really mild curry, maybe for children)
2 large yellow onions, sliced
3 cloves of garlic
1 x 400g tin of tomatoes
750 ml vegetable stock
600g potatoes, chopped into large bite sized pieces and parboiled for 6 minutes or use any leftovers. If you don’t have 600g see below:
1 x 400g tin of chickpeas (add more of you use less potatoes)
Salt and pepper
fresh coriander to serve
Start by making your rice. Rinse the rice through several times with cold water, then leave to soak for 30 mins or so. Don’t be tempted to miss this step, it will really help make your rice light and fluffy.
Next warm the oven and crush your garlic. Leave it to one side then warm a couple of tablespoons of oil in an ovenproof pan and fry the pilau spices for a couple of minutes.
Dice the onions and add them to the pan once you can smell the spices. Leave to soften for ten minutes or so then chuck the garlic into the pan too and carry on cooking for a minute or so.
Roughly dice the mushrooms and throw them into the pan too and cook for five minutes or so, making sure you cook off any liquid they release.
When your rice has finished soaking, strain it, then get ready to boil it. You’ll need double the amount of boiling water (so in this case it will be 700 ml) and a teaspoon of salt. Put the rice into the pan with the boiling water, salt and the dried mushrooms if you are using them. Bring back to the boil, then turn cover the pan tightly and turn the heat right down. Cook in this way for 12 minutes then remove from the heat. Fold a clean tea towel in half, remove the lid of the pan, cover the pan with the folded tea towel and put the lid back on. Leave to steam like this for 3 minutes, after which you’ll have perfectly fluffy rice.
Once the rice is cooked, stir it through the mushroom mixture and put it the oven to keep warm.
To make the curry, start by grinding the fenugreek, black mustard seeds, cumin seeds and coriander seeds in a pestle and mortar till you get a powder.
Crush the garlic and leave to one side, then warm a couple of tablespoons of oil in a large pan (I use my wok) and cook the spices and turmeric for a couple of minutes. You’ll know when they are ready when you can really smell them.
Add the diced chilli and grated ginger to the pan and carry on cooking for a few minutes. Next add the sliced onions and let them soften in the spiced oil for around ten minutes. Chuck the garlic in when they look nice and soft and cook for two minutes more.
Pour in the tin of tomatoes with the vegetable stock and bring to the boil. When the sauce has slightly thickened, add the potatoes and chick peas and warm them through. When you’re about 5 minutes away from serving, wash your spinach and throw that in too and let it really wilt down into the sauce. Check your seasoning and you should be ready to serve.
Sprinkle over some chopped coriander and serve.