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.