Get ready for a revelation in how good stewed greens can be, because this recipe for Sarson ka Saag is “the bomb.”
Each time I make this dish, I am more and more amazed by its qualities. A ton of greens—packed with nutrition, anti-oxidants, and fiber—are cooked in a single pot, and then flavored with onion fried in pure ghee.
The result is succulent and very well balanced. I love this dish with rice, with flatbreads like roti, with eggs, with toast, or even by the spoonful, like a soup.
Before I discovered sarson ka saag, I always thought leafy greens should be cooked in a way that preserves their vibrant green color.
This meant they could only be barely cooked. Think of broccoli that is perfectly bright green. It isn’t tender right?
Yet when your broccoli is well done and soft, the color doesn’t look good. It is a matter of color versus texture.
It is odd that despite my not really enjoying tough green vegetables, the concept of cooking greens for 30 minutes had not even entered my mind.
I have to ask myself, where have I been?
Nearly every household in Northern India enjoys this dish of stewed greens, they call sarson ka saag, regularly. And in the American south, a place I have not visited, stewed collard greens are a traditional dinner side.
So I now stand corrected on the value of cooking greens really well. And hopefully I have also convinced you of its merit.
Stewed greens are popular with millions of people for good reason!
How to Make Sarson Ka Saag
The traditional recipe in India features a good amount of spinach mixed with mustard greens.
These are cooked for 30 minutes in a large saucepan or pressure cooker with a small amount of water, and a spice mixture of sautéed garlic, ginger, and green chili, for 30 minutes.
After the greens are well cooked, they are mashed. If you have an immersion blender, it would work well here.
Next, grated onion is cooked in ghee, which is otherwise known as clarified butter.
Finally, garam masala (a warm spice mix featuring some variation of cinnamon, clove, cardamom, and anise), and fresh lime juice, are added for flavor.
That’s it folks! These are the stewed greens that are so tasty you’ll strike your happy dance.
Or maybe you’ll sigh in admiration, as I do.
Or you can just savor every bite of balanced perfection and marvel at how lovely it is.
I am sure you will find your own way to appreciate it.
But first you have to make it. It will only take you about 20 minutes of prep time, and it’s a great way to eat your greens.
Why My Recipe for Stewed Greens is So Good!
I generally don’t like to mess with traditional recipes, but with this one I am very proud of my small, yet important, innovation.
This innovation takes into account the fact that Americans don’t enjoy the bitter flavor as much as people in India do.
It also considers that most of us have access to leafy greens such as kale, Swiss chard, and collard greens, which are all vegetables that most Indians don’t know about.
So what I have discovered is that you can combine any greens, and this dish will turn out good.
The trick is to ensure a good amount of spinach, because the spinach contributes to the recipe’s succulent texture. Fresh or frozen spinach works just as well, and I’ve found that a quarter of the total greens is a sufficient amount.
I have found that it's nice to include leeks or scallions for pungency and texture.
Make sure to include at least something bitter, such as mustard greens, dandelion greens, radish or turnip greens.
The bitter greens are essential to make the flavor pop in the end, since bitter of one of the six tastes.
Then choose from the milder greens, like Swiss chard, kale, collards, and/or beet greens.
You will need 12 cups of greens (loosely packed) for this recipe. Mix and match what you have, but for the ideal balance, go for a proportion as follows:
- 6 cups mild greens: choose from kale, collards, Swiss chard, collards, leeks and scallions, etc.
- 3 cups spinach. You can also include spinach in the mild greens category if you want to use more spinach. If you use frozen, use half the quantity since it is more concentrated.
- 3 cups bitter greens: choose from mustard greens, dandelion, radish, or turnip greens, etc.
Why Ghee Goes into this Recipe
As a newcomer to this recipe I was fascinated by the idea of simmering grated onion in ghee, and then adding it to the greens.
First of all, who grates onions? The way I get around it is to process my onion in a mini food chopper. Theoretically, you could try actually grating it. Or you could also mince it finely, and it would work just as well.
But once you’ve got that onion, you get to simmer it slowly in ghee until it starts to caramelize.
This is a beautiful process. Just imagine the scent of onions cooking in butter? It is one of life’s greatest things isn’t it?
Once you’ve reached that glorious allium perfection, you infuse it into your greens along with some garam masala and fresh lime juice.
The greens now have a rich depth of flavor from the ghee, and a perfect balance of tastes.
Ghee is a very pure and healthy fat. It is basically butter with the milk solids removed, so that it’s more like a cooking oil, with a wonderfully subtle nutty flavor.
If you haven’t tried ghee, check out my recommendations below, and also my recipe on how to make your own homemade ghee from butter. It’s super easy.
How to Clean Collard Greens, and More
Cleaning leafy greens is really simple and efficient with my method.
First, remove any hard stems you don’t want. A paring knife run along the edge of the stem will remove the leafy portion.
Or you could tear it off with your hands.
Or try placing each leaf flat, and folded in half, on your cutting board and cutting out the stem from the edge.
Next, chop your prepared leaves into bite-sized pieces. Pile up a portion of the leaves before your start, and chop a few at a time.
Once chopped, pick up the bits with your hands and place them in a large mixing bowl.
Drop the bowl in the sink and fill with cold water.
Now swoosh the greens in the water with your hands, and place the bowl next to the stove.
When you are ready to put the greens into your cooking pot, lift them out of the water with your hands.
Any dirt that was on the greens will have settled into the bottom of the bowl, so it won’t get into your food.
Indian-Style Stewed Greens (Sarson Ka Saag)
Helpful Kitchen Tools:
For the stewed greens
- 9 cups mixed greens, chopped and washed, (see notes)
- 3 cups spinach, chopped and washed, (sub with 1 ½ cup frozen spinach)
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil, (see notes)
- 1 teaspoon fresh ginger root, grated or finely minced
- 1 teaspoon green chilis (substitute with jalapeños), minced
- 1 cup water
- 1 teaspoon Himalayan pink salt
For the cooked onions with ghee
- 2 ½ tablespoons ghee, (see notes)
- 1 cup onion, grated or finely minced
- ½ teaspoon garam masala , or more to taste
- ½ lime, juiced
- Prepare greens by separating the stems and leaves. Discard the larger stems. Roughly chop the remaining stems and leaves. Place chopped greens in a large bowl and fill with cold water. Swish greens with your hand. The dirt will sink to the bottom.
- Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium-heat. Add ginger and green chilis. Sauté 1-2 minutes until you see golden brown bits. Scoop out the prepared greens from the water, and add them to the saucepan along with 1 cup water and the salt. Turn heat to medium-low, cover, and steam for 30 minutes. The greens will become very soft.
- Meanwhile, in a separate small skillet on medium-low, heat ghee and add onion. Sauté until lightly browned (about 10-15 minutes). At the beginning, nothing much will happen, but as soon as the moisture evaporates it will brown quickly, and even burn. So be careful. You want it evenly and lightly browned. Turn off the heat and set aside until needed.
- After 30 minutes of simmering the greens, turn off the heat. Use an immersion blender to blend the greens right in the saucepan, or blend separately in a blender after cooling slightly. (If you use the blender method, be very careful and ensure that the steam has a way to escape so the lid doesn't blow off.) After blending, turn the heat back on low.
- Add prepared onion saute to greens, along with garam masala and fresh lime juice. Simmer until the oil rises to the surface (about 3-5 minutes). Taste, and adjust for salt. If you find it too bitter, add a teaspoon of raw sugar.
For the mixed greens portion of the recipe:6 cups mild greens: choose from kale, collards, Swiss chard, beet greens, spinach, leeks, scallions, etc.
3 cups bitter greens: choose from mustard greens, dandelion greens, radish greens, etc. The recipe also calls for 3 cups spinach. You can also include more spinach in the mild greens category if you want to use more spinach. *If you use frozen spinach, use half the quantity since it is more concentrated. If you do not have ghee, substitute with a mixture of half butter and half vegetable oil. Ghee is a form of clarified butter with a nutty, buttery taste, that is commonly used in Indian cooking. It is generally safe for people with lactose intolerance, it has a high smoke point of 485 degrees Fahrenheit, and is shelf stable at room temperature. Ghee is widely available outside India. To learn more about ghee and where to buy it, see Quality Ghee & Ghee Buying Tips.