It has been pretty cold here lately, and it inclines me to cook warm comforting foods for dinner. This Sunday’s Indian Chicken Saag was no exception. We are loyal to a nearby Indian restaurant called Bombay Palace. The waiters are super friendly and attentive, the naan is crisp, and they serve a free cold rice pudding for dessert. They also see us coming and know our order before we place it. Chicken tikka masala for me, lamb saag for The Hubs. I haven’t cooked a ton of Indian recipes, but I wondered if the saag was something I could tackle at home. It is!!! You too can do this! It is warm, comforting, spicy, spinachy, curried goodness, all ladled over (you guessed it) the previously mastered Persian rice!
Saag is simply a spinach leaf based dish puréed with other ingredients and spices to make a sauce. Use whatever protein you wish, chicken, lamb, mutton (a.k.a. goat, too gamey for me), or tofu. Once the chicken is browned, this dish comes together pretty quickly, so don’t forget to start your rice sooner rather than later!
First things first, heat 1 tablespoon of canola oil on medium in a non-stick pan and brown the chicken pieces on both sides. Unless you have a ginormous non-stick pan, you’ll probably have to do this in batches.
Place the browned chicken in a bowl and set aside. Reserve your chicken pan for later, as those brown bits will make for a more delicious saag. Next you’ll have to tackle the spinach. I know a pound of spinach seems like a TON of spinach, but I swear, it will cook down to like 3-4 cups worth of sauce. With the biggest lidded pan/pot you have available, put all the spinach into the pan and add 1/4 cup of water. Bring the water to a boil and then remove from the heat. Let cool and then transfer to a blender or use your immersion blender to purée, and set aside. The spinach becomes the prettiest, most vibrant green!
I like to get the other ingredients ready at this point. Purée the tomato. I used a large heirloom variety from the farmer’s market. Slice the onion, zest the garlic and ginger and place into one bowl. Place the cayenne pepper, coriander powder, turmeric, ground cardamom and cloves, and salt in another bowl. Use a mortar and pestle (or a spice grinder if you are super fancy) to grind the cloves and cardamom together. (You’ll have to open the cardamom pod and shake out the seeds – discard the pod.) Garam masala goes into the last small bowl. (My friend RG bought me these lovely nesting glass bowls many years ago and I use them every day! Thanks RG!)
Heat another tablespoon of canola oil in a large pan and sauté the zested ginger, garlic, and onions until slightly browned. MMMM, can you smell that??? Add tomatoes, salt, cayenne, coriander powder, turmeric, red pepper flakes, ground cloves, and ground cardamom seeds. Sprinkle with 1 tablespoon of water and simmer for 10 minutes on low heat. Add the chicken and milk, cover and simmer for 30 minutes. This would be a great time to start your rice process. Lastly, add the spinach and garam masala. Cook until the spinach starts sticking to the pan and you’ll notice it will get slightly brown around the edges.
Remove from heat and if you are so inclined, stir in a tablespoon of butter. It will help make the sauce richer. Cover until ready to serve. The chicken will be tender, the sauce will thicken, and the flavors are bright, warm, and spicy.
Serve over rice with warmed naan bread (you can find it at your grocer in the bread section in little packets) and raita (yogurt mixed with diced cucumber, fresh chopped mint, and a pinch of ground cumin). Don’t forget to garnish everything with chopped cilantro! Yum.
Print This Recipe!
Serves 4 people
- 2 large chicken breasts, cut into 1″ bite sized cubes
- 3 cloves of garlic, peeled and zested
- 1 purple onion, thinly sliced
- 1 large tomato, puréed
- 1/2″ piece of ginger, peeled and zested
- 2 tablespoons milk
- 1 lb (large container) of baby spinach
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon coriander powder
- 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
- pinch of red pepper flakes
- seeds from 1 cardamom pod
- 2 cloves
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 2 tablespoons canola oil
- 1/2 teaspoon garam masala
- 1 tablespoon butter
1. Heat on medium high 1 tablespoon canola oil in a non-stick pan and sauté the chicken pieces until browned. Remove from pan and set aside. Reserve chicken pan for later saag sauce use.
2. Using a large pan, wilt the spinach. Place all the spinach into the pan, along with 1/4 cup of water. Bring water to a boil, place lid on pan, and remove pan from heat. Let sit until cooled, then purée. Set aside.
3. Heat remaining tablespoon of canola oil in your chicken pan and sauté the ginger, garlic, and onions until lightly browned. Be sure to scrape up the browned chicken bits into your mixture! Once browned, add tomatoes, cayenne pepper, coriander powder, turmeric, red pepper flakes, ground cardamom seeds, ground cloves, and salt. Sprinkle with 1 tablespoon of water and let simmer for 10 minutes over low heat.
4. Add chicken and milk and simmer on low for 30 minutes.
5. Add puréed spinach and garam masala. Cook until the spinach starts sticking to the pan and browning at the edges.
6. Remove from heat and stir in 1 tablespoon of butter. Cover until ready to serve.
7. Serve over rice with naan bread and raita. Collect accolades!