Recipe: Saag Murgh (Chicken with Spinach)

Readers, this week's post was written by my lovely wife Laura. Enjoy!

Occasionally, Daniel gets a break. Once in a while I take over the cooking, and this week I'm taking over the writing too.

When it's my turn to cook, I usually dive into my Indian cookbooks and our huge stash of spices, and get to work. I still remember my first taste of Indian food back in college, in the vegetarian-infused atmosphere of Ithaca, NY. I was 22 years old, a girl from the provinces, and my Midwestern taste buds could barely process the impossibly exotic flavor of the vindaloo I’d ordered. Never mind the tongue-twisting burn!

Dan's sister had discovered Indian cooking years before that, and one Christmas, knowing my curiosity about the cuisine, she gifted me two excellent Indian cookbooks and a spice grinder---opening up an entire world to me.

From Bengal to Punjab: The Cuisines of India (Smita Chandra, 1991) and An Invitation to Indian Cooking (Madhur Jaffrey, 1973) were written by two Indian expats who share their delightful stories growing up in Indian kitchens, and have graciously adapted their recipes to Western kitchens. Both cookbooks are excellent.

Contrary to its reputation, Indian food doesn't have to be complex and difficult. It doesn't even have to be vegetarian. Today's recipe is healthy, delicious, and surprisingly easy to make. I hope you enjoy it as much as we did.

Saag Murgh (Chicken with Spinach)
from From Bengal to Punjab: The Cuisines of India by Smita Chandra

2 lbs chicken thighs, skinned
20 oz (2 boxes) frozen chopped spinach
2 medium onions, diced
4 large cloves garlic, grated
¾ inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and grated

Seasoning/spice mix:
3 Tablespoons canola oil
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
4 cardamom pods
6 whole cloves
1 inch cinnamon stick
1 teaspoon ground coriander seeds
½ teaspoon ground turmeric
salt, to taste
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
8 Tablespoons plain yogurt
½ teaspoon garam masala

1) Rinse chicken, pat dry and set aside. Thaw the spinach thoroughly and let drain in a colander.

2) In a large saucepan over medium heat, warm the oil. Add the cumin seeds, cardamom pods, cloves, cinnamon stick, coriander seeds, turmeric, salt and cayenne pepper. Cook for 1 minute, then add the onions and saute until lightly browned, about 8 minutes. Gradually add the yogurt, stirring constantly. Cook for 2 minutes, then add the drained spinach. Mix well and cook for 2 minutes more, then add the chicken.

3) Cover the pan, reduce heat to low, and cook for 40 minutes, stirring occasionally. Uncover, increase the heat to medium-high, and boil off most of the liquid. Mix in the garam masala and serve on a bed of cooked rice.

Serves 4 generously.

A note on spices: all the spices included in this recipe are easily found in your local supermarket or ethnic grocery store (more on this last tip in a later post!).

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