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Keerai kootu (Photo: Nandita Iyer)
Keerai kootu (Photo: Nandita Iyer)

A tale of two cities seasoned with spinach

Spinach cooked two ways—one references memories of working in a coastal city, while the other imbues flavours of south India

And at least you all know I eat my greens," tweeted Nick Jonas after the Grammy Awards last week when the photograph of something green stuck in his teeth went viral, putting the social media spotlight on spinach for a day.

A common spinach problem (other than it getting stuck between teeth) is that the leaves go soggy within three-four days in the refrigerator. One of the ways to prolong freshness is to wrap bunches of spinach in a thin cotton cloth that will absorb any excess moisture. I follow the blanch and store method that not only makes it easier to add spinach to a variety of dishes but also occupies very little space in the fridge compared to storing it in bunches.

Wash fresh spinach leaves in a couple of changes of water until clean. Discard the thicker stems. Bring a pot of water to boil and keep a bowl of ice water on the side. Immerse the spinach leaves into the boiling water for 2-3 minutes. The leaves will wilt and turn a bright shade of green. Using a pair of tongs, plunge the spinach into ice water for a minute. Drain the spinach, gently squeezing out all excess water and save in an airtight container in the fridge. Use within five-six days.

This spinach can be either chopped up and added to dal and dishes like aloo palak or puréed to be used in the evergreen palak paneer. Chef Harpal Singh Sokhi’s Delhiwala palak paneer video on YouTube is hands down the best way to make this dish that is a vibrant green colour and has a garlicky flavour.

For a newbie kitchen gardener, spinach makes the perfect first experiment to dip your fingers into the soil. Take any multi-purpose shallow plastic tray or container. Make a few holes at the bottom for drainage. Fill with a mix of one part each of potting soil, compost and cocopeat. Sprinkle spinach seeds and cover with a thin layer of soil. Water with a sprinkler so the soil is well moistened. In cooler weather, keep the trays covered with a layer of plastic or newspaper for faster germination. Seeds, soil mix, compost, cocopeat can all be found in your neighbourhood gardening store—and online too. Leaves can be harvested by snipping, in a month’s time. Just a clarification here that baby spinach is not smaller leaves of spinach, but a variety of spinach with smaller and tender leaves, great for salads.

Dal and palak are made for each other, whether it is the north Indian-style dal palak or the south Indian-style keerai kootu from Tamil Nadu and Kerala or keerai molagootal from Kerala. A freshly ground masala of coconut, cumin, black pepper and chillies gives the kootu its flavour in the absence of ginger, garlic, onions and tomatoes.

The other recipe for today used to be my favourite to order from a restaurant opposite my erstwhile workplace in Lower Parel, Mumbai. I am talking about the Palak Khichdi from Jai Hind Lunch Home. The one I make at home never tastes the same, but it comes close.

KEERAI KOOTU

Serves 2-4

Ingredients

1/2 cup turdal

1 bunch spinach (five cups, finely chopped)

1 tsp salt

For the paste

1 tsp coconut oil

3-4 dried red chillies

2 tsp raw rice

2 tsp uraddal

1 tsp black peppercorns

1 tsp cumin seeds

1/4 cup grated coconut

For tempering

1 tbsp coconut oil

1/2 tsp mustard seeds

1 tsp urad dal

1 sprig curry leaves

Method

Wash and pressure-cook tur dal with one-and-a-half-cup water to a soft consistency. Remove and mash well. Keep aside.

Wash and finely chop spinach leaves and tender stems. In a pan, cook the leaves with N cup water, mashing coarsely with a ladle towards the end.

In a pan, heat 1 tsp oil. Fry dried red chillies, raw rice, urad dal, pepper and cumin seeds until the urad dal turns golden brown. In a mixer jar, grind the coconut along with the fried ingredients to a fine paste, using a few spoons of water as needed.

Add the cooked dal and the spice paste to the spinach. Season with salt and bring to a simmer. Thin with N cup water if the kootu is too thick.

Prepare the tempering by frying the mustard seeds, urad dal and curry leaves in coconut oil. Transfer this over the kootu.

Serve hot with rice.

Palak Khichdi
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Palak Khichdi (Photo: Nandita Iyer)

PALAK KHICHDI

Serves 2-3

Ingredients

1/2 cup rice

1/2 cup yellow mung dal

2 tsp ghee

1 bay leaf

3 cloves

1 cinnamon stick

1 tsp cumin seeds

A pinch of asafoetida

3-4 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1/2 tsp ginger, grated

2 green chillies, sliced

1 medium onion, thinly sliced

1 medium tomato, diced

3/4 tsp salt

1/4 tsp garam masala powder

1/2 cup spinach purée (blanch spinach and grind to a fine paste)

Method

Soak the rice and dal in water for 30 minutes.

Keep 1 litre water to heat in a pan or a kettle.

In a pressure cooker or pressure pan, heat the ghee. Fry bay leaf, cloves, cinnamon and cumin seeds. As the seeds pop, stir in asafoetida. Add ginger, garlic and green chillies and fry for a few seconds. Add sliced onion and sauté on medium heat for 3-4 minutes. Stir in diced tomato and salt. Continue stirring on high heat until the tomatoes are soft.

Drain the soaked rice and dal and add to the cooker along with 1 litre hot water. Cover with the lid and pressure-cook for 10 minutes (10 minutes on low flame setting after the first whistle). Open the lid and stir in the spinach purée and add garam masala. Simmer for 2 minutes. Serve hot.

Double Tested is a fortnightly column on vegetarian cooking, highlighting a single ingredient prepared two ways. Nandita Iyer is the author of The Everyday Healthy Vegetarian.

Twitter - @saffrontrail

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