From the village rasoi to the designer kitchen, Bengals own leafy herbs have come a long way. Which is why saags like palang, methi, lal notey, kalmi, thankuni pata and pui are finding space alongside the more exotic asparagus, celery, basil and rocket.
Capturing the global trend for using everyday ingredients in exotic recipes, Sharad Dewan, director, food production, The Park, now serves a seasonal saag of the day at Saffron.
I have been using lal saag for years in my salads; it has one of the most vibrant colours, says chef and t2 columnist Shaun Kenworthy. Following him to his local vegetable market, we got a closer look at whats cooking in some of those posh kitchens. Of course we made a quick stop at his kitchen too for his saag special. Even Calvin will retch no more when he hears spinach.
Know your herbs:
Palang (spinach), scientific name Spinacia Oleracea: Rich in calcium and iron. If this leafy green is good for Popeye, its definitely good for you too.
Pui (Malabar spinach), scientific name Basella Alba: Fortified with vitamins A and C, iron and calcium, pui is low in calories, but high in protein. Consumed widely across India and Vietnam, Portugal and China.
Lal saag (red spinach), scientific name Amaranthus Tricolour: Pretty as a potted garden plant, it has nutritive values too. Rich in iron, it is best eaten raw as a salad. Stir fry it in mustard oil and eat it with rice, the Bengali way.
Thankuni pata, scientific name Centella Asiatica: Best known for its medicinal properties, the leaves are antibacterial, antiviral, anti-inflammatory, make a cerebral tonic and even a circulatory stimulant.
Basak pata, scientific name Justicia Adhatoda: The peppery leaves of this medicinal shrub is the perfect armour against cough, cold and flu. Boil some leaves in water and drink the juice; it works as a decongestant.
Methi saag (fenugreek), scientific name Trigonella Foenum-graecum: Used as a digestive aid for intestinal gas and for treating chronic cough, bronchitis, fever, sore throat and mouth ulcers, it has a bitter-sweet taste. Use it as a stuffing for parathas.
Steamed Bekti & Prawn With Stir-Fried Lal Saag, Kalmi & Pui
Bekti fillet 80g
Prawn with shell 60g
Red cress 50g
Ong choy 50g
Pui saag 50g
Fish stock 50ml
Extra virgin olive oil 10ml
Garlic slices 15g
Salt and pepper (to taste)
Braise the bekti and the prawn in fish stock. Season and cook the asparagus in the same stock. Clean the red cress, ong choy and pui saag and remove the stalks. Heat extra virgin olive oil in a pan, add sliced garlic and stir fry. Stir fry the shitake mushrooms in olive oil in another pan. Arrange the bekti and the prawn with the asparagus, red cress, ong choy, pui saag and shitake mushrooms. Finish with a few drops of extra virgin olive oil.
Grilled Calcutta Bekti, the Bridge Way
Calcutta Bekti (deboned) 150g piece
Lal saag (washed well) 250g
Pine nuts 1½tsp
Garlic 1 clove
Olive oil 1tsp
Kasundi (mustard) ½tsp
White wine 1tsp
Unsalted butter 1tbsp
Juice of half a lemon
Salt (to taste)
Pepper (to taste)
Marinate the fish in salt, pepper, kasundi and white wine for half an hour. Pan-grill the fish. While it gets grilled, wash and clean the saag. Heat a pan and add olive oil. Add the chopped garlic and onions. When they become translucent, add the lal saag and gently toss to stir fry. Add the pine nuts in the end. Now put the saag on a plate and place the fish on top of it. The lal saag should not be cooked in advance to avoid it from going limp. Lemon butter is the most preferred sauce to be served with it. Melt butter with lemon juice in a pan. You can garnish the fish with jhuri aloo bhaja.
Thod (banana stem shredded and rinsed) 20g
Kumro phool (shredded pumpkin flower) 20g
Mocha (coarsely choppedbanana flower) 10g
Thankuni pata 20g
Lal saag 20g
Palang saag 20g
Basak pata 20g
Methi saag 20g
Raw guava (cut into thin slivers) Half
Juice of half a lemon
2tbsp kasundi (mustard)
2tsp liquid nolen gur/honey
½tsp rock salt
2tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2tbsp each of muesli, melon seeds, pumpkin seeds and almonds
Soak the thod, kumro phool and mocha in water so that they lose their stickiness. Take all the saags in a bowl. Pick the young leaves and discard the stem. Take out the thod, kumro phool and mocha, rinse and add them to the bowl of saags. Add the guava slivers and toss it gently. In a separate bowl, pour the lemon juice, kasundi, nolen gur, rock salt and olive oil. Stir well. Now pour the dressing on the salad. Top it off with sliced almonds, melon seeds, pumpkin seeds and muesli for a bit of crunchiness. You could also add crispy fried mourala fish on top.