Thursday, February 21, 2013

Lal Shaak Bhaja – Fried Amaranth Leaves / Red Spinach with Peanuts

Shaak is what we Bengalees call the very well know ‘Saag’ – leaf-based Indian dish. Spinach is the most commonly used Shaak I would say, starting from Palong Shaak er Chorchori – Bengali Vegetable Medley with Spinach, to Palak Paneer’, to ‘Saag Gosht’ – we use Spinach everywhere. What we do not use much is the red variant of Spinach which we call ‘Lal Shaak’, it is called Amaranth Leaves in English or Red Spinach as well.

As a kid, I was a terror when it came to eating vegetables. My Mum tried all tricks she could to make me fall for the greens (in this case, the reds), but I never ever gave in. Now that I do not have Mums eyes hovering on my plate every time I eat a meal at home, my stubbornness for not eating veggies has also vanished. Now, I miss Mum made ‘Shaak-bhaja’ (Fried Spinach) with Bori – Dried Lentil Dumplings all the time. When Mum comes to visit us here or we are back home, we make sure we eat all these simple dishes with aplomb. 

I wanted to get the taste of red spinach for a long time as it has been more than 6 years that I am out of my hometown, but somehow I have never found them in the markets here, neither have I remembered to ask my Mum to make it when I am back home. From my recent trip back home where I was attending a family wedding, we were served ‘Lal-Shaak-Bhaja’ to start our meals on one of the days and I fell in love with the taste all over again, how you mix it with Rice and the Rice turn red in color is indescribable. 

The trip got over, we came back, but my ‘Lal Shaak’ hunt was on until recently when I found the precious Amaranth Leaves with one of the local vendors. I got a bunch for myself ASAP @ Rs 8. I was a little skeptical as one of my friends staying in Karnataka told me that even she buys Red Spinach, but once cooked they turn Green :(

However, I gave it a go and the result was just like back home, simple & subtle. We totally loved it. It is such a simple fry that you can almost do it with your eyes shut :P

Here is what you will need to make Lal Shaak Bhaja:

Amaranth Leaves / Red Spinach / Lal Shaak – 1 bunch
Peanuts – a handful
Whole Dry Red Chilies – 2 – broken from the middle
Salt to taste
Sugar to balance
Cooking Oil for frying

·         Take off the good leaves from the Stems and chop them.
·         Wash them thoroughly – a lot of pesticides are used while growing them and we do not want pesticides on our plate (unless you are using Organic ones of course). Once washed keep them in a strainer for an hour for the water to dry up. (I had stored it in the Refrigerator overnight after washing them)
·         Heat Oil in a Pan
·         Fry the handful of Peanuts till a little golden brown and set aside
·         Add the Whole Dry Red Chilies and let them splutter
·         Add the chopped Red Spinach and stir once in a while

·         The Red Spinach will release a lot of water and cook in its own fluid (NOTE: Never add water to your Leaf based dishes – it will destroy the dish)
·         The quantity will reduce to ¼ th of the pre cooked amount
·         Once all the liquid has dried up, add Sugar and Salt
·         Add the fried Peanuts - mix thoroughly and turn off the stove
·         Serve with Steamed Rice to start your meal  

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