Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Post-Work Dinner

হালকা সাগ ভাজি
Shallow-Fried Spinach

The chilli isn't just to make the dish look pretty

I've written about this before, but growing up I hated most vegetables, especially if they were cooked the Bangladeshi way. I was partial to a few veggie bhortas, sheem (broad beans) and notably, spinach. When I say spinach I don't just mean the (single?) variety one can buy in UK supermarkets, but an entire range of leafy vegetables eaten in Bangladesh: red amaranth, Malabar spinach and even potato leaves. We have a collective word for these leafy vegetables in Bengali, shaag, and our family has always used spinach as the rough English equivalent.

There is good reason for the proliferation of these dishes in Bangladeshi cuisine. The plants in question are widely available, often growing wild, and can be foraged for free if you're eating the more esoteric varieties. This is important to many Bangladeshis who have to manage their diet while exercising limited spending power. Back home, leaves are often fried quite extensively, especially as people tend to use the older, tougher parts of the foliage and stem so as to not waste any part of the plant. The recipe I'm sharing below has a lighter touch. It's also mostly devoid of spices - something I know is often added as part of the typical Bangladeshi preparation - but I grew up without. An easy 15 minute dish that's great if you're running short on time on a weekday evening, although most typically shaag is eaten as a side as part of the bigger meal.

  • 120.00 g spinach
  • 4 cloves of garlic
  • 1 dried whole chilli 
  • Salt, to taste

  • Separate the 4 cloves of garlic from the bulb, discarding the loose skin
  • With the rest of the skin still on, crush with a mortar and pestle - the pressure should "pop" the garlic out of its skin, which can then be easily discarded

Easy prep

  • Once the skin is discarded, shred the garlic by hand or knife, as preferred
  • Heat some oil in a pan on medium heat, then add the garlic and whole chilli
  • Toast the garlic and chilli for a few minutes until the garlic just starts to brown
  • Add the spinach to the pan, scatter salt over the leaves and stir to mix - the 120 g can seem like a lot but it will reduce greatly once it wilts and looses water
  • Leave the spinach on the heat for a few minutes until it wilts to a small mass as seen in the first photo of this post. There should be some water still in the pan at this point, especially if the spinach was washed just before it went in. I tend to leave this, but of course it's down to personal preference
  • Serve with steamed rice

Additional Info
Slice the whole chilli in half if you want to increase the heat, and substitute soya sauce for salt if you want to add a hint of Bangla-Chinese. Fry the spinach for longer if you want the drier variation of the dish, and especially if you have tougher, older leaves. This recipe won't necessarily translate well for all forms of leafy vegetables though, especially the more uncommonly used astringent or bitter leaves. Hopefully after my next trip to Bangladesh I'll have a bit more to share on this. 

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