Sindhi Sai Bhaji - Spinach Stew

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

It's November, the weather is cooling, the temperature is hitting single digits, and it's high time to whip up some hearty belly-warming dishes. I'm referring to Sindhi food here. These spice-laden flavourful dishes hark back to my childhood and I have very fond memories of Sunday lunches with my grandma. 

Dishes like Sai Bhaji, Kichani rice congee, fried bhee (lotus stem) are our standard Sunday fare which we would enjoy after watching Little House on the Prairie. Psst ... Nellie Oleson was actually my favourite character! She was such a riot!

I'm forever grateful to Aunty Viveeta for imparting this recipes to me, along with other recipes I feature in this blog ... chicken seyal, fish seyal, sindhi kadhi/curry and koki/loli. They are keepsakes that we get to relive again and again as we enjoy them for years to come and hopefully pass them on to the next generation.

When I first started cooking, I eyed Sai Bhaji with scepticism ... how does one make, then enjoy, a vegetable dish where the greens are 'cooked to death', for it seriously appears so. Only after getting to know the recipe I found out that the spinach is introduced in the last few minutes, and all that green is actually dhal. Now I know ...

In that case, I can make a double batch easily. I cook the paste/sauce up to the last few steps before the spinach goes in. Then one batch gets kept in the fridge, ready for another meal in a few days with only the addition of a large bag of spinach. And the rest is for now. See how handy that is? And that's exactly what I did when I cooked this just now. That thing about reheating spinach is still ingrained in me, even though science has overturned that myth. So I just avoid cooking a lot and having to reheat it.

There's Sai Bhaji on the table now, and another batch waiting in the wings. Score! The kids loved it, the husband loved it, and it was over before I knew it, especially since we were enjoying it with Bhuga Chawal, a Sindhi spiced rice cooked with onions.

Back in the day, my uncle would have his Sai Bhaji on toast. And why not? Roti or mani ... hmmm ... I don't know. This isn't exactly scooping consistency, rather, more like spooning consistency. Confused? Something people who regularly eat with their fingers will associate with this. LOL!

So if you're craving for your childhood favourites or trying something new, this Sai Bhaji is definitely one to try. It's hearty and belly-warming, it's loaded with nutrition, it's downright delicious, and more importantly, it keeps old recipes from waning traditions alive.

2 tbsp vegetable oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 cm cut of ginger, minced
2 green chilies, thinly sliced
3 carrots, diced crouton size
2 potatoes, diced crouton size
4 tomatoes, chopped
1/2 cup mung dhal, washed and soaked (2 hours at least)
1/2 cup water
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp dried fenugreek leaves (kasoori methi)
1 lb spinach leaves

1. Heat the oil in a large non-stick pan and sweat the garlic and ginger until fragrant.
2. Add the sliced chilies, carrots, potatoes, tomatoes, soaked dhal and water.
3. Cover and cook until potatoes and dhal are soft, adding a bit more water if necessary.
4. Stir in the turmeric, cumin seeds, ground coriander and fenugreek leaves, adding salt to taste.

At this point you can cool and refrigerate the 'sauce' for another meal on another day.

5. Stir in the spinach, cook until it wilts.
6. Add a bit of water if needed, then mash with dhal masher or immersion blender.
7. Sprinkle a bit of chili powder or flakes on top before serving.

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