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

Recipe 1in

Come the Fall, acres of fields in the Punjab will turn yellow as the seeds on the mustard greens sway in the breeze. Along with the seeds, mustard greens are commonly harvested in the winter months and cooked into a saag (mash), commonly eaten with a thick makki di roti (corn flour bread) with a dollop of butter on it. This is not the same as the saag-paneer (mashed spinach and cheese) – which is actually made with spinach – that you find in most Indian restaurants.

I remember when I was a girl in Lyallpur that farmers would squeeze fresh mustard seed oil in a kohlu (a grindstone turned by a tethered bull) and people would come to buy it for an 5 old rupees (about 0.25 new cents) for a 10-liter can. The compressed, left over khali (residue), just as atta di chaan (wheat husks), would then be fed back to the livestock. Back then in 1945, you could buy a whole bag of atta (wheat flour) for 2.5 old rupees (less than 0.0125 new cents)!

Mustard seeds and their oil are used in Indian cooking for the aroma and taste they impart. They contain an enzyme called Myrosinase and a glucosinolate called Sinigrin which give it a pungent smell, and high levels of alpha-linolenic acid and erucic acid which are believed to have a protective effect on the heart. In India, the oil has been used for decades for skin and scalp massages to help promote growth and vitality and it is also thought to help cut sugar in diabetics.

Sarson ka saag is a rustic throwback to the rural Punjab, and this recipe gives another way to take out the normally bitter taste without adding sugar. Remember, to add some body and consistency, it is important to add a little flour or besan (chickpea flour).

Ingredients :     
2 large bunches of sarson (mustard greens)
1 large bunch saag (spinach)
1 medium spear of broccoli
2 cups pani (water)
2 tbsp gyon ka atta (wheat flour)
1 medium piyaaz (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 sunflower seed oil)
Spices (to taste): namak (salt), mirch (red pepper)

1. Cut the mustard green leaves finely and then place in a sieve and was thoroughly to since these are generally full of loose dirt. Wash twice to ensure that all the dirt has been rinsed out.
2. Do the same with the spinach.
3. Wash and clean the brocolli and cut into small pieces, along with the tender part of the stalk.
4. Place the cut mustard greens, spinach and brocolli in a large pot with 2 cups of cold water and place in a pressure cooker over medium heat. Do not use high heat otherwise the water will quickly evaporate. Let the cooker sound four or five whistles to make sure the vegetables are very tender.
5. Open the cooker and test the leaves to make sure they are soft. Then drain over a sieve and collect the water for use later.
6. Mash the leaves and broccoli well with a hand masher or with a hand mixee. Do not use a blender as this will make turn the ingredients into a puree. Return the mashed saag to a pot and place over medium-heat.
7.  Now mix in 2 tbsp of wheat flour or besan 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.
8. Keep stirring till you no longer see the water and saag is separate, then remove from the heat and keep to the side.
9. 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.
10. This dish is best served with makki di roti (corn flour chappatis) in a typical Punjabi fashion.



If you live in the South as I do, you know how bad the mosquitoes can be in the great outdoors. You can’t go outdoors or work in the yard or garden without being bitten a few times, and the bites do itch! Generally we will run for a mosquito repellant to spray or rub on.

But there is a natural repellant for the pesky mosquitoes. Just rub on some mustard seed oil before you go out and the mosquitoes won’t come near you. And, in case you do get a bite, rub the mustard seed oil on the area and the itch will go away or at least get more bearable.

mamas recipe inside3

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.