This is a meal that every Sindhi child has made faces over at the dinner table while dawdling over their food. But by the time that Sindhi child has grown up into a Sindhi adult, they begin to crave it with an intensity that is only matched by their craving for home.
When I was the Sindhi child making faces at Sai Bhaji — which translates simply to ‘greens’ — no amount of talking up by my mother about how this meal is a nutritional powerhouse mattered to me at all. Now as an adult (and a mother myself) I’m thinking — a delicious, simple-to-make, nutritional-powerhouse meal-in-a-pot! What’s not to like?
Sai Bhaji is a stewed concoction of spinach and other greens, some lentils, with other veggies thrown in. It is eaten with rice and plain yogurt and possibly something fried on the side.
One of the selling points of this dish is that you can throw in basically any vegetable you have lying around in portions that are too small to make a meal themselves. The taste of spinach and dill is strong enough that all these mini-portions will be swallowed, subsumed, absorbed and spat out as part of the Sai Bhaji empire. Thus adding even more nutrition.
Sai Bhaji (spinach-lentils stew)
- One bunch spinach
- Half a bunch fresh dill
- Two tablespoons channa dal, soaked for half an hour at least. This post talks more about channa dal.
- 1 – 2 tablespoons oil
- One small potato chopped
- Half an onion, chopped
- 1 – 4 fresh chilies, jalapeno/serrano/bird’s eye/cayenne
- Half inch slice of ginger root, minced
- One teaspoon coriander powder
- Half a teaspoon turmeric powder
- One teaspoon dry mango powder (aamchur) or substitute with lime/lemon
- One teaspoon salt
- Optional: 1 cup of other chopped vegetables, such as eggplant, zucchini, tomato, carrots, bell peppers, etc.
Have the channa dal soaking in plenty of water for about half an hour. Wash the green thoroughly in a sink full of water a few times. Chop them up roughly including the stems that are not too woody.
Now start layering the dish in a thick-bottomed pot with a well-fitting lid. First, the oil. Then, the onions, chili and ginger. Then, the potatoes, and the coriander and turmeric powders. Then about half the greens. Sandwiched between this and the other half of the greens throw in the drained channa dal. After the last of the greens, sprinkle the salt over, cover, and bring to a boil. The water from rinsing the greens should be enough to cook, or add about a quarter cup if it seems dry.
Once it comes to a boil lower to a simmer and let it be, covered, simmering for about 45 to 50 minutes.
When you open the lid, the lentils should be softened and the greens cooked down a lot. Add the dry mango powder or lime/lemon juice, and mash it with a potato masher or the handy-dandy mandheera.
Warm it through before serving. This is generally eaten mixed with rice and plain yogurt. Three types of rice dishes work well: rice browned with onions, khichdi rice, or yellow garlic rice (recipe forthcoming).
On my plate, I served sai bhaji, rice and yogurt in three neat sides, with some fried taro on the side. My husband however likes it all piled up, like this:
Far be it from me to dictate which way you choose to eat it, but you won’t be sorry you did.