Of leaf vegetables, my kitchen staples are spinach and fenugreek. Till a while ago, cooking with amaranth greens was unchartered territory for me. What better way to start a new year, I thought, than with tackling a new beast?
I had been reading on the goodness of this power food (no wonder that the word "amaranth" comes from the Greek amarantos, meaning "unfading" ) often of late, and then learnt that amaranth in Hindi is chaulai, the leaves of which my grandmother used in chaulai saag. That got me curious, and I was soon trying ways to cook amaranth in my own kitchen.
Amaranth leaves with lentils has come to be a special favorite. I love to mix and match, and this recipe puts that to great use: it’s a combination with boiled dal, which you can make ahead for more than one meal and assemble in different ways later (tomato toor dal another day, spinach dal the meal after?)
This recipe use toor dal; you could try substituting it with another dal like moong dal.
- Toor dal – 1/2 cup
- Salt – to taste
- Tamarind – 1 lemon-sized ball
- Amaranth greens – 1 bunch
- Onion – 1
- Curry leaves – 10
- Garlic – 5 cloves (the small variety)
- Green chilies – 3 (reduce if you want it less hot)
- Dry red chili flakes – 1/2 teasoon
- Turmeric powder – a pinch
- Asafoetida – a ping
- Cumin seeds – 1/2 teaspoon
- Mustard seeds – 1/2 teaspoon
- Oil – 2 teaspoons
- Kasoori methi (dried fenugreek leaves) – 1 teaspoon
Clockwise from the top: soaked toor dal, bowl of spices (red chili flakes, curry leaves, green chilies, cumin seeds), garlic, onion, amaranth leaves (chaulai), tamarind in water.
Three steps to this recipe: boil the dal, prep the amaranth greens, and put it all together. You can do the first two in parallel – while the dal boils, cook the amaranth greens alongside. By the time the amaranth greens are cooked, the dal is ready too and there’s no wait time before you can put it all together.
1. Boil the dal
Wash dal in several changes of water till the water runs clear. Soak in plain water for 30 mins. Drain.
Pressure-cook with 1.5 cups of water and a pinch of turmeric powder – on high heat till one whistle, on low hear for another two whistles. Set aside to cool till the pressure-cooker lid can come off. Mash the dal lightly.
[If cooking without a pressure cooker, you’ll have to add more water and cook longer. I don’t have the precise values as I don’t cook dal without a pressure cooker, and I guess there would be variations based on the size and thickness of the vessel. I’d say the best way is to taste and check for done-ness. But if you want to cook lentils often, do get a pressure cooker!]
2. Prep the amaranth greens
Soak tamarind in half a cup of warm water for 20minutes. Extract the juice and discard the seeds.
Slit the green chilies vertically into 4 strips each.
Chop garlic and onions finely.
Wash amaranth greens well. Pick the fresh leaves and tender stems for use. Shred the picked leaves, discard the rest.
[To the left:
Amaranth leaves in the glorious shades of deep green and purple.
Compared with spinach, amaranth leaves are firmer in texture and need to be cooked longer.]
Heat oil in a pan or kadhai. Add mustard seeds and cumin seeds, let them crackle. Add asafoetida powder, dry red chili flakes, garlic and slit green chilies. When the garlic turns golden, add curry leaves and chopped onions. Cook on medium heat, stirring occasionally, till the onions are golden.
Add chopped amaranth leaves, and cook on medium heat for 5 minutes. The leaves would have wilted by this time. Pour tamarind extract into the pan.
Stir and let the amaranth leaves and tamarind simmer together till the leaves are cooked (5-10 minutes) .
3. Put it all together
To the cooked amaranth leaves, add boiled dal. Add water if you want to thin it down (I prefer it thick).
Continue to cook for another 2 minutes.
Amaranth leaves with lentils is ready to eat. Garnish with crushed kasoori methi (dry fenugreek leaves) and serve with plain rice or chapatis.
My meal today: chaulai dal with chapatis, red capsicum curry and mint raita.
Amaranth greens in India need a lot of picking and washing. Here’s the method I use for it:
Snip off the muddy ends, discard the wilting leaves, and dunk the bunch in a large bowl of water. The dirt settles to the bottom. Then take out the greens from the water, throw away the water and fill the bowl with fresh water. Repeat and rinse till the water is clear and a careful once-over shows no muddy bits stuck to the leaves.