This healthy spinach curry is a true representation of an authentic Indian dish: a product of being creative with the five spices. I know this recipe is going to cheer all my vegetarian/vegan friends who love Indian cuisine. The original name of this Bengali preparation is Palong Shaaker Jhol: a must-have in a traditional Bengali family. The spinach curry is healthy, as it is extremely light and non-spicy. The five kinds of seeds (called Indian five spices or paanch phoron) and the bay leaves used for singeing infuse an out-of-the-world aroma to the dish, without making the dish spicy at all! The dry red chilli can be lightly browned in the tempered oil, so that the oil gets the aroma of that, and can be discarded after that, if one does not want the dish to be hot. Typically, we Indians would love the dry red chilli to be right there!
Paanch phoron: Ironically, these Indian five spices are not spicy at all, these just impart a distinctive aroma to the dish! These five spices comprise cumin seeds (jeera), fenugreek seeds (methidana), fennel seeds (saunf), onion/nigella seeds (kalonji or mangrel) and wild celery seeds (radhuni), in equal amounts. My advice is that, use a little extra cumin seeds in these five spices, which improves the taste even further.
This is one curry which the Indian (Bengali) mothers are immeasurably satisfied to feed their kids. In my maternal home, it was compulsory to eat this dish atleast once a week, given its nutritional benefits! Probably, I have been eating this dish, wonderfully cooked by my mother, since I was just eight months old. Till today, I love this dish so much that I am quite addicted to its lightness and unique taste! Now, I am a mother myself, and I get the same satisfaction when my kids eat this vegetable medley, where so many vegetables come together in just one, single dish! Isn’t that lovely?
Bengali cooking is an art in itself, with no exaggeration of spices, and this form of Indian cooking is still relatively unexplored for the rest of the world. Yes, Indian cuisine is more than the naan, samosas, chaat, tandoori chicken and the korma. Every Indian state has its own list of endless delicacies and till today, a majority of Indian women love to spend hours in the kitchen, perfecting themselves even more.
In the Bengali-style cooking, the phoron or the tempering plays a vital role; the seeds tempered should be perfectly brown: neither more, nor less. After the tempering, each kind of vegetable has to be shallow-fried and slow-cooked to a point where each of them are nicely browned and yet firm, but soft just to the point that the pieces break easily when a kitchen spoon’s edge is lightly pressed over it.
So here is the recipe. I did not use radish here, but you might use a little bit of cubed radish for a greater flavour.
Healthy Spinach – Mixed Vegetable Curry with Indian Five Spices
- Spinach, roughly chopped, with stems: 5 cups
- Potato, peeled and cubed: 1 cup
- Ridge gourd, peeled, big cubes: 2 cups
- French beans, cut into half the finger size: 1 cup
- Pumpkin, with peel intact, medium-sized cubes: 1 cup
- Aubergines, medium-sized pieces: ½ cup
- Carrot, peeled, quartered and cut medium-sized: 1 cup
- Indian five spices mix (paanch phoron): ¾ tsp
- Bay leaves, small-sized: 2
- Dry, red chilli: 1
- Green/Red chilli, whole (optional): 2
- Turmeric powder: ½ tsp
- Salt: 1½ tsp
- Sugar: ½ tsp
- Mustard oil, divided: 5 tbsp
- Dry pulses’ drops (bori or vadi): 6-7
Method of Preparation:
Cut the vegetables, as shown in one of the above-shown pictures.
Prepare the five-spice mixture and measure ¾ tsp out.
Lightly brown the dried pulses’ drops in oil, crush them roughly and keep aside.
Add the oil to the skillet and let it reach the smoking point; keep the flame to medium level. Add the bay leaves and the dry red chilli. Now add the five spices. Regulate the flame carefully, so that the five spices are just browned and you just start smelling the aroma. Quickly add the cut vegetables, except the aubergines and the spinach.
Sauté for 5 min. Keep the flame medium. Add the salt and the turmeric powder. Add the cut aubergines now.
Mix well and continue cooking till the vegetables are slightly browned and you can just break each kind of vegetable with the edge of your cooking spoon. It is important not to overcook the vegetables at this stage.
Add the spinach and the sugar. Mix again, add the green/red chillies and the chopped coriander leaves.
Close the lid and keep the flame low. When you open the lid after 15 min, the leafy greens would have released a lot of water into the dish.
Add the crushed bori. Mix well and cook under the medium flame for five more minutes.
Serve this dish with plain, steamed rice.