Mama’s Punjabi Recipes – Sarson ka Saag (Mashed Mustard Greens)


Due to popular request by several readers, this recipe is being re-printed. 

Sarson ka saag (mashed mustard greens) is a dish that even those not from the Punjab know very well for its wonderful slightly bitter taste and the wonderful, thick makki di roti (corn flour bread) that it is devoured with. If you add a slice or two of homemade mango pickles (made in mustard seed oil and with fennel seeds) the enjoyment of the dish is complete!
Mustard greens are commonly harvested only in the winter months, so this dish has a special significance during the cold months, along with all the halwas and gajaks (sesame seed crackle). Sarson ka saag is not to be confused with the more common saag paneer which is made with spinach leaves, is found in all the North Indian restaurants in the world and is immensely popular with the young and old alike.

Sarson ka saag is more rustic, but there are a few secrets to make it taste authentic at home. Since mustard greens are normally bitter, it is important to add a little sugar to cut the taste so that the dish does not irritate the back of the throat. Also, to add some body and consistency, it is important to add a little corn flour.
I will give the recipe for the makki di roti next week. Since Fall is fast approaching, these two recipes will bring the taste of the Punjab to your house on a cold day!

• 1 kilo sarson (mustard greens)
• 2 medium shalgum (turnips)
• 2 cups pani (water)
• 2 tbsp makki ka atta (corn flour) or gyon ka atta (wheat flour)
• 1tbsp gur (crystallized molas ses) or chinni (sugar)
• 1 medium payaaz (onion) – peeled and finely chopped
• 1 medium adrak (ginger root) – peeled and finely chopped
• 3 mirchen (green chillies) – stems removed and finely chopped
• 1 cup tael (olive oil or sun flower seed oil)
• Spices (to taste): namak (salt), mirch (red pepper)

1. Cut the mustard green leaves finely and then place in a sieve and wash thoroughly, since these are generally full of loose dirt. Wash twice to ensure that all the dirt has been rinsed out.

2. Peel the turnips and cut into small pieces.

3. Place the cut mustard greens and turnips in a large pot with 2 cups of cold water and bring to a boil for 30 minutes over medium heat. Do not use high heat otherwise the water will quickly evaporate.

4. Test the leaves to make sure they are soft. Then drain over a sieve and collect the water for use later.

5. Mash the leaves and turnips well. Then mix 2 tbsp of corn flour into a ½ cup of the saved water and add to the saag, stirring well all the time. Let the saag come to a slight boil but keep stirring so that it does not stick to the pot and start to burn.

6. Add the gur or sugar to cut the bitterness of the mustard greens. Keep stirring till you no longer see the water and saag is separate, then remove from the heat and keep to the side.

7. In a small frying pan, warm up the oil and throw in the onions, ginger and chillies till they are brown. Throw them into the saag and mix well. Add salt and red pepper to taste. Some people like to add a tablespoon or two of butter for taste.

8. This dish is best served with makki di roti (corn flour chappatis) in a typical Punjabi fashion. I will write that recipe next week.

Shakuntla Malhotra is a skilled cook of Punjabi dishes made in the old-fashioned style that she learnt as a young woman in her ancestral home in Lyallpur, India before it became part of Pakistan after the Partition in 1947. People have often admired her cooking for its simplicity and taste that comes with each mouthful. Even in her mid-eighties, she continues to cook daily and agreed to share some of her delectable Punjabi recipes.