Saturday, December 06, 2008

Farm Bulletin: Inspiration From a Customer

I have a sneaking suspicion that one of the prime reasons that Anthony and Carol Boutard of Ayers Creek Farm proffer their wares at the Hillsdale Farmers' Market is to cadge delicious recipes from customers like Rahul Vora, mentioned below. You may remember Rahul from a post on fenugreek earlier in the season and his delicious recipes for utilizing that under-appreciated herb.

Earlier in the summer we were talking with Rahul Vora and made some offhanded remark about cornmeal in Indian cooking. Rahul explained that cornmeal is greatly appreciated in the State of Punjab, and he told us about Sarson ka Saag and Makki ki Roti.

Makki ki Roti is a simple cornmeal bread, similar to the hoe cake of the southern US, served with mustard greens. Rahul tried our cornmeal, but it was not sticky enough to form the thin bread. The State of Punjab is roughly the same latitude as the Alabama but, unfortunately, at our latitude, about 10 degrees further north, we can't grow the softer types of corn suitable to making these simple breads. Like Rahul, we wound up having the Sarson ka Saag with polenta. A good solution.

Sarson ka Saag and Makki ki Roti.

Mustard greens, or Sarson, are popular in the Punjab, and the state's promotional photos often feature yellow fields of mustard in bloom. The Indian races of mustards are typically mild and fragrant. Frank Morton's Bau Sin, an Indian type mustard green, is the most delicate. The leaves are light green with a white rib, and greatly enjoyed by all manner of slugs. The field mustard that yields yellow mustard seeds is also very mild mannered. We will be putting together a mix of these mustards and other greens suitable for the saag and will try to include a fresh Aci Sivri pepper in as many bags as possible.

It is interesting to note the journey made by these two ingredients, the corn and the mustard. The corn traveled from the Americas through Europe and was adopted by people of the Punjab to make a simple cornbread. The mustards, spinach and turnips made their way from Central Asia through Europe to the Americas, and in the their new home they are also cooked until tender and fragrant. In both worlds, there evolved a meal of corn cake and mustard greens. But enough soft-headed contemplation. Here is Rahul's report:

"I made a delicious batch of saag last night with 2 bags of mixed greens I got from you, plus some spinach and some turnip greens. It was wonderfully fresh and fragrant. Unfortunately, the cornmeal was too coarse to make Makki Ki Roti, so I just made polenta and it was great with the saag.

"Here's my version of the saag, specially adapted for the Ayers Creek Saag Bag. - Rahul"

Sarson Ka Saag

1 bag mixed greens (about 1/2 lb.)
1/2 bunch spinach
1 small onion, chopped fine
1 Tbsp. minced ginger
1 green chili such as serrano
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 tsp. coriander powder
1/2 tsp. cumin powder
1 Tbsp. fine cornmeal
1 small tomato, chopped
2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
1/2 cup water
Juice of 1 lime or lemon

Cook the greens (stems and all) and the green chili with the water for about 5 mins. Add the spinach and continue to cook until all the greens are wilted and the stems are soft. Transfer the greens to a food processor and reserve the cooking liquid. Pulse the greens to chop coarsely.

Heat the oil in a medium-sized pan. Add the onions and saute for 2-3 mins. Add ginger, garlic, tomato, cornmeal and the spices. Cook, stirring gently to incorporate all the ingredients for a few minutes. Add the reserved cooking liquid and cook to incorporate. Add the chopped greens and salt to taste. Cook for about 5 mins, stirring and adding water if necessary to maintain a porridge-like consistency. Stir in the lime or lemon juice. Serve with polenta, warm corn tortillas, pita bread or naan and top with a dollop of butter.

Top photo of mustard greens by Karen Morton for Wild Garden Seed. Photo of Sarson ka Saag and Makki ki Roti from the Urdu Poetry Forum at


Mary Bergfeld said...

Kab, this is a really interesting recipe. The photo is gorgeous. I'm bookmarking this for myself but will email this to my daughters who will jump on it. Thanks for posting.

Kathleen Bauer said...

Karen Morton is a very talented photographer and does most of the wonderful photography for their seed catalog. You can see her work on their website...and be sure to look at the enlarged versions!

Rahul Vora said...

Hello everyone, I was in India in Dec-Jan, which is sarsaon ka saag season and was "schooled" in the art of making authentic saag by my my old college friend Jasbir's 82 year old Punjabi grandmother. She politely explained to me that my recipe was a reflection of what they serve in restaurants nowadays deviating needlessly from the simplicity and minimalism of the real saag made in rural Punjab.

Here's the real deal:

Chop the mustard greens coarsely and gently simmer them in water with some grated ginger and green chili until the greens are almost done. At this point, a special wooden tool like a potato masher is used to incorporate cornmeal into the dish my adding cornmeal to the simmering pot and using the tool to mash everything against the side of the pot (on a trip to Rajasthan a week later, I saw a street vendor selling kitchen tools and saw the sagg masher and bought a couple). Once the cornmeal is incorporated and cooked, add a generous dollop of butter (preferrably fresh white butter), salt and some lime or lemon juice. Finally, heat some butter or ghee, add some cumin, toast for a bit and add to the saag.

I did make it on my return and oh yeah, it is something else.. Goodbye restaurant saag!