Malabar Spinach is freely available in Asian and other shops from Mid Summer, and is a lovely alternative to real spinach and other greens. Today we cook it fairly simply with urad dal for a very earthy dish that has a slight bitterness. It does not use many spices, and is gorgeous with some potatoes with chilli and onion.
Khar is a unique Assamese dish, traditionally served as a starter. Traditionally, pure khar uses kola khar as its main ingredient. Kola Khar is prepared by sun-drying the peels of the bheem khol banana tree trunk, burning them to ashes, and then filtering water through them. It is an alkaline preparation that is believed to have medicinal properties. The dish is served before the main meal to help prepare the digestion for the flavours to come in the main meal.
These days kola khar is often substituted with other items, usually baking soda. Khar can be made with a variety of ingredients – pulpy vegetables such as gourds, papaya, pumpkin, zucchini, eggplant and cucumber, as well as lentils and a variety of greens. Today we are using Mung Beans although toor dal and urad dal are also common. We have seen it made with rice flour and no lentils.
Mustard greens and some chilli leaves are used in our dish today, although Spinach would be equally as fine. I have added a couple of betel leaves, because they are in the fridge and they give a lovely flavour. However, there is no need to be so exotic. Use spinach and/or mustard greens, or whatever greens you have. The recipe has a lot of garlic in it which softens its raw bite due to the cooking and adds a lovely umami flavour. Don’t confuse this dish with Lebon Khar, which is a Middle Eastern dish of cucumber and sour cream or yoghurt with a vinegar and mustard dressing.
When there is an abundance of greens available, what is better to make than Sarson ka Saag. Our green grocer stocks mustard greens now, so for the first time they are easy to obtain. We don’t get bathua greens though. It is traditional to use these but we have to substitute with other greens.
This is a rustic Punjabi dish, common in the Winter when the fields are filled with mustard. It is so loved it can bring tears to the eyes. The dish is easy to make – the greens are cooked with spices until tender, then coarsely pureed. Some people prefer to be pureed to a smooth paste, but traditionally the greens would be hand-ground with a wooden mixer called a mathani to get a puree. However, you can make this to whatever is your preference.
Browse all of our Mustard Greens recipes, our Chilli Greens recipes and all of our Spinach dishes. All of our Indian recipes are here, and our Indian Essentials are here. Or explore our Late Spring recipes.
It was news to me that chilli leaves could be eaten, and now I rue all of those chilli plants over the decades that could have also provided the occasional green dish as well. Chilli leaves are a little earthy, a little bitter, and not at all hot. They are vibrant green when they are cooked – hence they are often included in Thai Green Curry Paste to enhance the colour without adding more green chillies.
My Asian green grocer had these in stock today, so a luscious bunch of large leaves that could not be avoided. She recommended soup, but in fact different countries use them in very different ways – from salads with soy sauce and sesame seeds (blanch the leaves first), to stir fried with garlic, to steamed with tofu. They also go well with noodles, topped with some crispy fried garlic and onion.
I have to thank my Asian green grocer – since I moved into this area we have a number of greens now available to us that were difficult to source or unknown to us previously – tamarind leaves, betel leaves, mustard leaves, amaranth leaves and chilli leaves are the ones that are now part of our kitchen.
Chilli leaves are used from Korea down through Asia and India to Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia and other parts of SE Asia. They are not an everyday green, but common enough. Here we cook them in a very simple Indian dish with peas and spices. You can make it in under 10 mins.
I am lazy when it comes to Indian rice dishes. Often a multi-step process done the traditional way, I am just as likely to throw everything into the rice cooker and press GO. The results are pretty fabulous. This one is made with lettuce greens that can stand heat without collapsing, onion and spices.
I think my laziness comes from my upbringing – rice is rarely a key player in Western cuisines. It is a bland undercurrent to more flavoursome dishes. Like bread, the flavourless but textured item on the plate played host to dishes that were long cooked, perhaps spiced with curry powder (but that was rare), or to dishes that were more Asian in style. Flash cooked vegetables in the wok, some deep fried tofu and sauce, some Japanese miso-baked vegetable. These latter items were from my kitchen, never my parents. In their kitchen, rice was rare, white and bland. It was so rare that when I moved out of my parent’s home I didn’t know how to cook it.
Times have changed, Indian cuisine is a huge part of my life, but for some reason I prefer to cook rice quickly – like you would a quiet accessory to a meal. I can’t quite get the hang of rice being the major component, a dish worthy of standing alone, worthy of having its own accompaniments and accessories.
Yet, who can deny the flavours of Indian rice dishes are spectacular. So my lazy way of making flavoursome Indian-like rice is to put the components all into the rice cooker, so that 20 mins later, with no effort, the rice is ready.
This is how I do it – use the recipe below as a guide and experiment with your own combinations of vegetables and spices.
It is nearly Spring, and salads are all the go for our daily menu. If you have been following our salads, you will know we are mainly doing very simple salads at the moment, as life is busy and wearying. Thank goodness for that mesclun that green grocers sell – by-the-kilo varietal mixes of green salad leaves. The base of any salad is so easy! They are available year round, and you can make this salad in a nest of salad greens in the centre of a big plate. We haven’t done that today, but often serve it that way.
The salad takes beans – green or broad beans, either one, or mix them – and tosses them with asparagus and olives. A little black garlic is broken into small pieces and added.
Are you after other Bean Salads? Try Crispy Green Beans with Ginger and Soy, Italian Flat Bean Salad with Blue Cheese and Walnut Crumbs, Glorious Five Bean Salad, and Green Beans with Lentil Crumble. Also try Baked Asparagus with Wine and Herbs.
Winter is the time for Mustard Greens, and we love them. This recipe, with its origins in Sri Lanka and the South of India, treats them very simply without a lot of spice, and ensures that the flavours of the Mustard Leaves shine through. In fact, any greens can be used in this recipe – spinach, kale, chards and any local greens that might be in your area. Try it with cabbage too, its delicious.
Today we have a lovely dish of mustard greens with a taste of Bali. A quick sambal is made with lemongrass and kaffir lime leaf, which is then mixed with steamed mustard greens. The dish is topped with something crispy – I often use garlic chips or crispy fried tofu, but fried shallots or even potato chips or sweet potato chips can be used.
Note that Kai Choy or Gai Choy is the Cantonese name for Mustard Greens. It is also known as Indian Mustard, Leaf Mustard and Mustard Leaves.
Even Vegetarians need their greens, and sometimes, if we are truthful, we don’t place enough emphasis on bringing these various and beautiful vegetables into our diet. How are you going? Vegetarian or not, we can use some help to bring green beauty into our lives at the kitchen table.
If we look around the world, various cuisines use tricks (I prefer to call them habits) t0 increase our intake of elements that are healthy and perfectly compliment the cuisine of the area. The ubiquity of yoghurt in Indian cuisine, for example, the Salads of Thailand, the Salad course of France, and the Greens before Dinner custom of parts of Italy.
In a time where dimension and complexity are the buzz words of the food world, simple is a welcome point of difference. Simple, where the taste of the ingredients shine through strongly and identifiably.
The Greens before Dinner custom is one that resonates in this household. It is very simple:
Check out some of our other collections:
- Four Asparagus Soups for Spring
- 10 Recipes using Grape Vine Leaves
- 31 Dishes to Make from Broad Beans
Our local green groceries, run by a cohort of Vietnamese and Middle Eastern families, has recently begun stocking Mustard Greens. So we are making the most of them. Today’s recipe pairs them with daikon, the Japanese white radish that is also used extensively in India. When it is cooked, it loses the intensity of its bite and becomes soft and textural with a slight bitterness that is delightful. Matched with some chilli and the mustardy overtones of these greens, the result is a very morish side dish from India.
We use Australian measurements: 1 tspn = 5ml; 1 Tblspn = 20ml; 1 cup = 250ml.