I adore spinach (palak) based curries and, fortunately, there are so many in Punjabi cuisine. We love our chicken palak, mutton palak, palak paneer, saag aloo, and the mother of them all, sarson da saag, which is traditionally made from mustard greens (sarson) blended with a little spinach, but also tastes delicious when made purely from spinach. My mum was travelling through the Punjab the other day and stopped off at a dhaba, following a visit to the beautiful Golden Temple in Amritsar. A dhaba is a rustic roadside restaurant, traditionally found along the highways of Punjab, serving hearty home style cooking; you are guaranteed to find at least one palak based dish at a dhaba! You can now find urban dhabas all over the world (and not a highway in sight), trying to recreate a sense of rustic Punjabi cooking. My mum said that she had delicious palak chole with paronthas at the dhaba and it reminded me of a time I had made this dish for vegetarians alongside a chicken palak dish I was making for the omnivores. It is delicious and a lot less common on Indian menus than the aforementioned palak dishes – and I don’t know why!
Yesterday evening I told my dad I would be making a healthy version of palak chole for lunch today and was met with a less than enthusiastic grunt! Well, he is now resting in an armchair reading the newspaper, looking like the cat that got his cream! He loved it and he knows his palak curries, because he makes excellent chicken and mutton versions himself. Here is my healthy and very tasty version. I made mine from dried chickpeas, which I soaked in water and 1/2 a teaspoon of baking powder overnight (almost 24 hours, actually), rinsed thoroughly, and then pressure cooked for 20 minutes. If you cook them in a standard pot on the stovetop it should take about 1.5-2 hours of simmering. Canned chickpeas will work fine – I know that many of you are pressed for time or…ahem….just can’t be bothered!
Palak Chole (serves 4)
Preparation time: 15-20 minutes, Cooking time: 30 minutes (using canned chickpeas, see above for dried chickpeas)
200g dried chickpeas (see above) which will yield about 500g of cooked chickpeas or 2 400g cans, drained and rinsed
2 medium onions (about 150g), finely chopped or minced
250g chopped tomatoes
5 cups (packed tightly) finely chopped spinach or frozen chopped spinach, about 200g
2 tablespoons chopped fresh fenugreek (methi) (optional)
2 teaspoons minced fresh ginger
3 fat cloves garlic, minced
2 green chillies, slit into halves
1 cinnamon stick
1 teaspoon coriander powder
1 ½ teaspoons roasted cumin powder
3 green cardamom pods, seeds crushed into a powder
½ teaspoon turmeric powder
½ -1 teaspoon chilli powder
2 teaspoons honey or maple syrup for vegans
Salt to taste
1½ tablespoons sunflower/olive oil
2 cups (500ml) water (I used the water I boiled the chickpeas in)
Use a large non-stick wok or pan.
Fry the onions, the cinnamon stick and the cloves in the oil on low-medium heat, stirring
from time to time until the onions caramelise into a medium brown colour. This will take 5-6 minutes. If it browns too quickly, add a tablespoon or 2 of water to slow the process.
Add the tomatoes, ginger, garlic and green chillies and cook for 2-3 minutes, still on
Add the spinach, fenugreek (if using), coriander powder, cumin powder, cardamom powder, turmeric, chilli powder and salt and stir well. Add the 2 cups of water, increase the heat to bring to a boil and then lower it and simmer this mixture for 15 minutes until most of the water has evaporated and the spinach and tomatoes have come together into a thick, fragrant curry.
Add the chickpeas and the honey and let it cook for another 5 minutes. Taste and adjust
Serve with rice or chapatis and a tomato and onion salad dressed with lime juice!
Per serving: Calories 321, Protein 15g, Carbohydrate 50g, Sugars 11g, Fat 9g, Saturates 1g, Fibre 13g. A good source of Dietary Fiber, Vitamin C, Iron and Copper, and a very good source of Vitamin A, Vitamin K, Folate and Manganese.