Sarson ka saag or sarson da saag is a wonderful mix of mustard greens and three other leafy greens with a tadka (tempering) of onions and garlic in ghee. Serve with makki ki roti (maize flour flatbread) for an authentic and absolutely delightful vegetarian Punjabi meal. Both instant pot and stovetop recipes included.
Winter's almost upon us and I'm making a very traditional, very earthy sarson ka saag along with makki ki roti for dinner today. My boys, who are generally disdainful of vegetables, especially anything green, love this combination and literally devour it so there are no leftovers. That's how crazy good it is! No kidding.
What is sarson ka saag?
Saag simply means a puree of different leafy greens, and sarson means mustard (here, the greens only). So, this dish is called sarson ka saag. Mustard leaves dominate though other greens like spinach (palak), fenugreek (methi) and lambsquarters (bathua) are also always added to saag.
This dish is a winter staple in India when mustard grows in abundance in the farms of Punjab. If you've ever been on the highway through Punjab in India, you will see fields upon fields of bright yellow mustard crops swaying in the breeze. It is quite a treat for the eyes. And a treat for the stomach too, considering that saag with makke ki roti brushed with dollops of butter or ghee is on the menu of every dhaba (roadside eatery) dotting the highway. There's nothing more delightful than stopping for a hot meal, trust me.
However, since we can't be there, let's make the best of it in our home kitchens. Saag is, at its heart, a very simple and rustic preparation. A few basic ingredients go into it so the taste of the greens shines through.
Note: Exact amounts are mentioned in the recipe card further down. Some of these green leafy vegetables may be unfamiliar, but they are usually found in your local Indian grocery stores. Do call to confirm availability before going though.
- Mustard greens (sarson) - Mustard leaves are the starring ingredient here. They have a slightly bitter taste. More on how to minimize the bitterness later.
- Spinach (palak) - Good ol' spinach also makes an appearance here. Choose baby spinach if you can for a milder taste.
- Fenugreek leaves (methi) - These are also slightly bitter, but we are not going to add a huge amount.
- Lambsquarters (bathua) - Funny name, I know, but these are edible greens that happen to be a staple in saag. Here's an article on lamsbsquarters if you want to know more about it.
- Fresh ginger root - peeled and chopped or grated
- Fresh garlic - for adding in the curry and for tempering later.
- Green chillies - Any kind depending on your taste and preference.
- Maize flour - This is bright yellow in color and it is not the same as cornflour which is white. Maize flour or makai ka atta is used to add more taste and body to your saag. Do not substitute maize flour with cornflour or cornstarch. These are completely different!
- Ghee - for tempering
- Red onions - for tempering
- Chilli flakes (optional) - for garnishing
Here's a picture of the greens you can use for this recipe. I wasn't able to take an image of the mustard greens, but rapini is a good substitute and works perfectly in place of mustard.
Substitutions and variations
- Sometimes mustard greens are not available. In this case, you can use rapini, also known as broccoli rabe. These are the closest in taste to mustard leaves and are found easily in most Indian grocery stores. I have made saag with rapini many times and it turns out just fine.
- Maize flour can be substituted with the same amount of chickpea flour (besan), though if you are making makki ki roti, you would have maize flour at hand. If not, besan will do.
- If ghee is not your thing (why not?), you can use regular salted butter too. In Punjab, white homemade butter is served with saag, but I'm guessing nobody has that unless you want to hunt down the recipe and make it!
- You can add white radish to the saag as well. It tastes quite good in saag. Peel and cut the radish into cubes (about 1 cup) and add it right along with the rest of the ingredients, then puree the saag after cooking it as usual.
What to serve with saag? Well, of course makki ki roti! Saag is traditionally served with an unleavened flatbread made of maize flour. In fact, sarson ka saag and makki ki roti are like the two complementary halves of an inseparable pair. Like fish and chips...or peanut butter and jelly. Incongruous here, I know, but you get the idea.
Needless to say, saag tastes not just okay or good, but totally awesome, as in too freakin' wonderful with makki ki roti! Spread some ghee or butter on the bread, break off a piece and scoop up the saag with it. You won't be able to stop, I promise!
Plus the roti itself is a simple affair. With just two main ingredients - maize flour and wheat flour in the correct proportions - and salt and water, the dough comes together quickly and is not sticky at all.
How to make sarson ka saag
1. Preparation: Wash the green leaves and chop them roughly
- Put each bunch in a colander and rinse the leaves under cool, running water.
- Remove the leaves from the stalks, especially the tough ones, and chop the leaves very roughly. There's no need to chop them fine since it's all going to be pureed anyway.
2. Cooking: Stovetop instructions
- Take a large saucepan or dutch oven and pour ½ cup plain water.
- Add the rinsed and chopped leaves, ginger root, garlic cloves, green chillies, and salt.
- Cook on medium heat, uncovered, for about 20 minutes. Most of the water will evaporate by this time, and the leaves and aromatics will be cooked and soft. Do keep an eye on the pot though and stir the contents frequently.
3. Cooking: Instant pot instructions
- Pour ¼ cup plain water in the steel insert of your instant pot.
- Add the rinsed and chopped green leaves, ginger root, garlic cloves, green chillies, and salt.
- Secure the lid, make sure the steam release vent is sealed and set the timer for 5 minutes on high pressure.
- Once the pot beeps, wait for 10 minutes, then release pressure. Remove the lid.
4. Puree the saag
- When the saag cools down a bit, transfer it (remaining liquid and all) to a blender and whizz to get a coarse puree. Don't puree it too fine or you will lose all texture.
- To make the blending easier and faster, use an immersion or stick blender if you have one. With a stick blender, you can blend anything in the pot in which you cooked it without having to transfer it to a stand blender. You don't even have to wait for it to cool down.
5. Add the maize flour
- Now, put the pureed saag back into the saucepan or instant pot, and add the maize flour.
- If cooking on the stovetop, cook for 3-4 minutes on medium heat. If using an instant pot, switch to the sauté function (normal) and cook for 3-4 minutes.
- The saag will thicken with the addition of the flour, so keep stirring it to prevent it from sticking to the bottom of the pot.
- Once the flour is well incorporated into the saag, add some warm water afterwards to loosen it and cook for a minute or so again.
6. Do the tempering
- Take a small frypan and add ghee.
- When the ghee is hot, add a small, thinly sliced red onion and a clove or two of garlic and fry until golden brown.
- You can also add a few chilli flakes if you wish (not essential).
- Pour the ghee into the prepared saag. It is now ready to be served with some fresh makki ki roti!
- Do wash the leafy green vegetables well. Sometimes, the leaves have soil stuck to them and to get rid of it, you need to wash them under running water.
- Try to get rid of as many stalks and stems as you can. It can be a little time consuming to pluck the leaves, but the taste is better when only the leaves are cooked minus the stems.
- Don't over blend the saag after cooking. It's nice to retain some texture!
Frequently asked questions
Yes, absolutely. Cook and puree the saag, but skip the tempering. Let it cool down to room temperature and freeze it in freezer safe containers or ziplock bags.
The saag could be bitter due to a couple of reasons. One, you added more fenugreek leaves (methi) than necessary. Fenugreek leaves are naturally bitter and too much can make the saag slightly bitter. And two, you didn't remove the hard stems and stalks from the leaves. These can also alter the taste sometimes.
Palak sabzi (especially when pureed) looks a lot like saag, but palak or spinach sabzi is made of, well, only spinach leaves whereas saag refers to a mix of greens. Also, palak sabzi usually has potatoes (aloo palak) or paneer (palak paneer) in it. Saag does not typically have either of these.
More Punjabi style vegetarian recipes
If you dig hearty and rustic fare, you will absolutely love these Punjabi recipes. They are comfort food at its best!
- Kadhi Pakora - A sunshine yellow curry made of yogurt, chickpea flour (besan) and turmeric. Pair it with plain Basmati rice for a delicious and complete meal.
- Dal Makhani - Indian black lentils and kidney beans cooked in tomatoes, spices, butter and cream. Smooth, creamy and intensely flavorful!
- Dum Aloo - Fried baby potatoes slow-cooked in a classic onion-tomato gravy along with cashews, yogurt and spices.
- Rajma Masala - Red kidney beans cooked in a thick onion-tomato gravy and tempered with fried onions, cumin and red chillies. Serve with plain Basmati rice for an iconic dish called rajma chawal.
- Palak Paneer - A lovely cottage cheese and spinach curry. Tried and tested to perfection.
Sarson ka Saag
- Saucepan or Instant Pot
- Immersion blender OR stand blender
- Small frypan
- 16 oz. mustard greens or sarson, 2 bunches
- 8 oz. spinach or palak, 1 bunch
- 8 oz. lambsquarters or bathua, 1 bunch
- 8 oz. fresh fenugreek leaves or methi, 1 bunch
- 5 cloves garlic peeled and chopped roughly
- 1 inch ginger peeled and chopped roughly
- 2 green chilli peppers chopped roughly
- ½ tsp sea salt
- ¼ cup maize flour
Tadka (Tempering Ingredients)
- 2 tbsp ghee
- ¼ cup red onions sliced
- 2 cloves garlic peeled and chopped
- 1 tsp chilli flakes optional
- Wash the greens in a colander under running water, one bunch at a time. Remove the stalks and stems and discard. Chop the greens roughly.
- Keep a big saucepan or dutch oven on medium heat on the hob and pour ½ cup water in it. Add all the greens, garlic, ginger, green chilli peppers, and sea salt. Cook uncovered for 20 minutes or until the leaves wilt and soften and most of the liquid has evaporated. Stir the saag frequently so it doesn't stick to the bottom of the saucepan.
Cooking (Instant Pot)
- Pour ¼ cup water to the steel insert of your instant pot and add all the greens, garlic, ginger, green chilli peppers, and sea salt. Secure the lid, make sure the steam release vent is sealed and press the pressure cooking button (high). Set the timer to 5 minutes and walk away. Once the timer beeps, wait for 10 minutes before opening the pot.
- When the saag has cooled down a bit, transfer the saag to a blender and blend coarsely. Don't make a very fine puree as you want some texture in the saag. Then, put it back in the pot that you cooked it in. You can use an immersion blender if you don't want to wait for the saag to cool down or transfer it to a stand blender.
Add the maize flour
- After pureeing the saag, add the maize flour and cook for 3-4 minutes, stirring all the time. The saag will thicken with the addition of the flour. Add some water to loosen it and cook it again for 1 or 2 minutes more. (Instant pot users - sauté mode, normal)
- Heat the ghee in a small frypan and add the sliced onions and one or two cloves chopped garlic. Fry until golden brown and add chilli flakes if using. Pour the ghee over the saag carefully. Sarson ka saag is ready to be served.
- The greens and maize flour can be found in most Indian groceries. Do call ahead to confirm availability before you make a trip.
- Substitutions: the mustard greens can be subbed with rapini or broccoli rabe if you can't find the former. Chickpea flour (besan) can be used instead of maize flour and butter instead of ghee.
- Try to get rid of as many stalks and stems as you can after washing the greens. It can be a little time consuming to pluck the leaves, but the taste is better when only the leaves are cooked minus the stems.