I would think the most popular Indian spinach dish out there is probably Palak Paneer. Yet there are so many different ways of cooking spinach Indian style. I’m guessing there aren’t too many people who really like spinach. Indians however are very good at turning spinach into something really delicious. An lesser known example is Aloo Palak.
Aloo Palak is a North Indian preparation of spinach and potatoes ( Aloo = Potatoes and Palak = Spinach). It can be eaten with flatbreads like chapathis and parathas or rice depending on whether you prepare it with a thick gravy, thin gravy or no gravy at all.
Aloo Palak is typically potatoes in a reasonably spicy spinach-onions- tomato gravy cooked with Indian spices. There are a lot of different ways of cooking this dish. I prefer to boil and then deep fry the potatoes till golden brown before adding them to the spinach gravy. Most recipes call for plain boiled potatoes.
Most of us in India have access to fresh spinach. You can use frozen spinach too but fresh leaves give you the best flavour. I do blanch and freeze fresh spinach sometimes as I don’t always cook spinach the same day I buy it. Start by removing the roots and parts of mature stalk. Rinse out the leaves really well. I soak all my fresh greens in salt water for about half an hour before I cook them. This takes care of any invisible critters hiding on and in the leaves. Drain the leaves well and blanch in boiling water for a minute. Immediately transfer the spinach to cold water. Drain and freeze.
My preferred method is to steam cook the leaves. Cool them in cold water. Drain and then blend them till smooth or chunky, depending on how I’m going to cook them. Then I freeze this but usually use it up within three to four days. I have never needed to freeze spinach longer.
Since this dish calls for a smooth gravy I blend the onions and tomatoes well before I start cooking them. This also makes for a faster cook. To boil potatoes for this recipe I peel, cube and then par boil the potatoes in salted water. Then I fry them but don’t cook them in the gravy for long and the potatoes are salted perfectly. I also find that ghee (oil is good too) makes for a more flavourful Aloo Palak.
When cooking any Indian dish with spinach leaves, I tend to use a little less turmeric powder. Turmeric tends to change the deep green of spinach to a slightly olive or dirty green colour. It’s just about aesthetics and nothing else. I also prefer not to add cred chilli powder and use only green chillies for the same reason.
- 4 medium potatoes peeled, cubed and boiled
- Oil for deep frying
- 2 bunches of fresh spinach/ palak about 250 gm
- 1 large onion chopped
- 2 medium tomatoes chopped
- 1/2 tsp minced garlic or garlic paste
- 1 inch piece of ginger finely chopped
- 1-2 green chillies
- 2 tbsp ghee or oil
- 1 tsp cumin seeds
- 1/4 tsp turmeric powder
- 1 tsp coriander powder
- 1 tsp cumin powder
- 1/2 tsp garam masala
- Salt to taste
- 1 tbsp Kasuri methi
- 1 tbsp ginger julienne for garnishing
- 2 tbsp cream or thick yogurt for garnishing optional
- Remember to add some salt to the water in which the potatoes are boiled so they’re slightly salty. Drain well. Then deep fry them in oil till they turn a light golden brown. Drain on paper towels and keep aside. You can use the potatoes without deep frying as well.
- Prep the spinach by removing the roots and parts of mature stalks of the spinach. Rinse out the leaves really well. I soak all my fresh greens in salt water for about half an hour before I cook them. This takes care of any invisible critters hiding on and in the leaves. Drain the leaves well and blanch in boiling water for a minute. Immediately transfer the spinach to cold water. Skip all this, if using frozen spinach. Drain and blend till smooth. Keep aside.
- Blend the onions, tomatoes, garlic, ginger and green chillies with very little water till smooth.
- Heat the ghee or oil in a pan and the cumin seeds to it. When they crackle add the onion tomato paste. Turn the heat down to medium and cook it, stirring frequently, till the mixture loses its raw small and the fat starts floating on the side.
- Add the turmeric, coriander, cumin, and garam masala powders and stir well, cooking for a couple of minutes. Stir in the pureed spinach and salt. Add about 1/4 to 1/2 cup water depending on how thick you want the gravy. Bring to a boil then turn down the heat and simmer for a couple of minutes.
- Add the potatoes (boiled or deep fries according to preference) to the spinach gravy and let it simmer for another five minutes or so. Lightly toast the Kasuri methi in a small pan and stir it into Aloo Palak.Garnish with cream or yogurt (if using) and ginger juliennes. Serve warm with chappathis, parathas or rice, a simple salad and yogurt for a complete meal.