I never liked those vegetables that I was told were good for me, as a child. It goes without saying that my favourite foods were mostly those that weren’t as good for me. I used to definitely avoid green leafy vegetables if I could. So Keerai Mashiyal or Seasoned Mashed Spinach was not a favourite. It’s a good thing that sometimes our taste in food changes as we get older. Thirty years later, it’s now something I enjoy.
Greens are a staple in our traditional and vegetarian Palakkad Iyer style of cooking. We cook with quite a variety of leafy greens and these are collectively referred to as “keerai”. The most common leafy greens used are of the amaranth family and drumstick leaves. We rarely eat leafy greens raw and almost always cooked. Raw salads as eaten in the West do not exist in our traditional cooking. The more common leafy greens used in Indian cooking today like spinach, mustard greens, fenugreek greens, etc., are more a part of North Indian or Western Indian cuisines.
Mulagootal is one dish were we cook different kinds of vegetables, including amaranth greens or spinach with lentils and coconut in a gravy. Keerai Mulagootal is one of personal favourites today. It is typically served with Parippu Thogayal and is an unbeatable combination.
Keerai Mashiyal or Seasoned Mashed Spinach is exactly what the name says it is. Keerai is greens and Mashiyal means mashed. This dish is nothing but cooked, mashed and lightly seasoned greens. It is sheer green power in every sense. The seasoning and spices are minimal, as with most everyday recipes from my traditional cuisine. This brings out the flavour and freshness of the greens.
Green Amaranth leaves are generally used to make this Keerai Mashiyal or Seasoned Mashed Spinach. I don’t always have them on hand and spinach leaves work very well instead. Amaranth or spinach leaves are steam cooked with turmeric powder and then mashed very well. I prefer to use a blender to turn them almost into a puree. This is then just cooked with salt for a few minutes and seasoned. This preparation should be somewhat like a thicker gravy in consistency and reasonably smooth in texture.
Seasoning is typically mustard seeds, split Black gram/ urad lentils, dried red chillies and a little asafetida in oil. Some people, including my maternal grandmother, also add a little finely chooped and toasted coconut when seasoning. I quite like it this way. Keerai Mashiyal or Seasoned Mashed Spinach is typically served on the side with rice and Sambhar. I also love it with yogurt and rice.
Keerai Mashiyal or Seasoned Mashed Spinach
- 3 large bunches spinach
- 1/4 cup water
- 1/4 tsp turmeric powder
- to taste salt
- 1 1/2 tsps sesame seed oil
- 1 tsp mustard seeds
- 1 1/2 tsps Black gram lentils (urad dal)
- 2 or 3 red dried chillies (broken into 2 or 3 pieces)
- 1/4 tsp asafoetida powder
- Pick the leaves along with some part of the stem (tender part) and wash them well. Immerse the leaves, for half an hour, in water to which about a couple of tsps of salt has been added. This ensures that any micro-level critters are taken care of! Drain the water out and rinse the leaves a couple of times.
- Lightly steam cook or microwave the spinach leaves with very little water. Usually, turmeric is added to the spinach leaves while cooking. I prefer to add my turmeric much later as it keeps my Mashiyal a nice bright green colour rather than a slightly yellowish green. The taste is much the same and its just a matter of preference. Also turmeric acts as an antiseptic.
- Let the spinach cool and then mash them well. Alternately, break down the leaves using a hand blender. Traditionally, the leaves should not be pureed fine but have a bit of texture to them. I prefer mine pureed.
- Put the mashed spinach into a pan and place it on the stove top. Add salt to taste and turmeric and just bring to a boil and then let it simmer for 2 to 3 minutes. Take it off the heat. Transfer the Mashiyal into a serving dish.
- In a small pan, heat the sesame seed oil and add the mustard seeds. When they splutter, add the black gram lentils. Stir till they start browning and then add the red chillies and the asafoetida powder. Do not let it burn. Stir once or twice and pour the tempering into the mashed spinach.
- Stir well and serve warm as a side dish with rice.