Sunday, August 31, 2008

Padre Mickey's Slow-burn Saag

I ALWAYS wear a big plastic head when cookifying!

As promised, this is my Saag recipe. I think I found it on the intertubes several years back, but I've been tweaking the recipe ever since. I like bold, in-your-face flavors, so if you prefer a more mild version, cut the spices by third. Last night was its most perfect manifestation.

Here's what ya need:
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 large onions, chopped
a pinch of cumin seeds
4 cardamom seeds (green cardamom)
2 large sticks of cinnamon
4 bay leaves
5 or 6 whole cloves
2 teaspoons ginger and garlic
2 small tomatoes, sliced
2 teaspoons black pepper (whole peppercorns)
2 teaspoons salt
2.5 teaspoons cumin powder
1 teaspoon turmeric powder
2 teaspoons ground coriander
2.5 teaspoons garam masala*
1 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
2 teaspoons tomato puree
1/2 pound fresh spinach, chopped (since I can't find decent fresh spinach here in Panamá, I use two boxes of frozen spinach. It's already chopped! Don't use that stuff with butter sauce. Okay, you already knew that).
2 pints cups whipping cream
handful of fresh cilantro (I use culantro, which is growing in my yard)

I have a slight case of OCD, and for me, it's all about the process. I use these little Japanese rice bowls in which I mix my spices. I mix the cumin seed, cardamom seeds, cinnamon sticks (I break up the cinnamon into small, half-inch pieces) bay leaves, cloves, and black pepper in one bowl and the salt, cumin, tumeric, coriander, garam masala, and cayenne in the other bowl. As far as the two teaspoons of garlic and ginger is concerned, that is just an estimate for those who like measurements. What I actually do is grate about six large cloves of garlic and grate about a two-inch piece of ginger root. I like lots of garlic and ginger, and by grating the ginger you cut back a bit on the debris (what with all them sticks and seeds in the mix). Chop up them onions, slice them 'maters, chop that spinach (unless using the frozen like me, then make sure it's defrosted). I like letting that grated garlic sit a while as it seems to gain strength.

I use a great big pot for this, 'cuz that's how I likesta cook. Heat the cooking oil and add the chopped onions. Saute the onion until it's light brown, about ten to fifteen minutes, on a medium/low heat. Come on, you've been cooking long enough to know when the onions are sauteed. Then add the first bowl of spices (cumin seed, cardamom seeds, cinnamon sticks,bay leaves, cloves, and black pepper), the tomato slices, and the garlic and ginger. Stir it around with the onions for about one minute, enjoying the divine aroma. Watch for the peppercorns; they like to pop out of the pot and into your eyes! Then add the spinach. If using fresh spinach, saute until it changes color to a dark green, which means it is half-cooked but still crunchy. If using the frozen spinach, saute for about ten minutes. Then add the second bowl of spices (salt, cumin, tumeric, coriander, garam masala and cayenne), mixing it into the spinach as it sautes. Once again, enjoy the aroma. I usually cook it for another five minutes or more. Now add the tomato puree and mix it in, constantly stirring, for about a minute. Now, here's the fun part: pour the whipping cream into the spinach (please note the change in the amount of whipping cream: 2 CUPS not 2 pints. Thanks, Doxy!). I love watching the cream change from white to light green. Then add the culantro and stir it all up. Don't let the cream scorch. When the cream begins to boil, cook for another two minutes over high heat. Add the meat. Add another couple of teaspoons of garam masala and mix in just before serving, if you want a really hot version.

Now, I prefer to use lamb, but I've used pork or boneless chicken. If using lamb or pork, I like to roast it on a very low heat (about 150 F) for about twenty minutes, then add it to the saag. Let it cook in the saag at your lowest heat for about twenty minutes or even more. The longer the meat cooks in the saag, the more of its flavor will be absorbed by the meat. Serve it over basmati rice, or use the Bert Leigh method of pouring it over a big piece of naan.

If you don't like spicy foods, don't use this recipe. The combination of spices creates what I call a slow burn which sneaks up on you. But it is great.

*You can buy garam masala, but I prefer to make my own. I use this recipe by Neelam Batra from her book The Indian Vegetarian: 25 black cardamon pods, 3 tablespoons ground cloves, 2 tablespoons ground cinnamon, 2 tablespoons ground black pepper. Grind the cardamom pods with their skin in a spice or coffee grinder until powdered. Pass through a sieve and discard the husk. Place all four ingredients in a small, non-stick skillet and roast over medium heat until heated through, 30 to 40 seconds. Shake the skillet to stir the spices. Cool completely and store in an airtight container.

So, if you try the recipe, let me know how it worked out!


johnieb said...

Tanks a bunch, Padre!

Wormwood's Doxy said...

Two PINTS of cream?!?!?!?! Padre, you should put a warning on this that it's not safe for anyone over 30... ;-)

Also, do you really only roast the lamb for 20 minutes?

This sounds like heaven on a plate to me. I'm not much of a cook (okay--I'm not a cook at all...), but I may have to try this one!


Padre Mickey said...

Yikes! Thanks for pointing that out, Doxy. I purchased the whipping cream in half pint containers and confused my measurements. 2 cups, not 2 pints. I don't think 2 pints of whipping cream would ever turn green!

Dennis said...

I printed out a copy and already have it in my 3-ring binder for recipes. Thanks!

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