This spinach dish is redolent of traditional vegetarian ‘thali’ in the western state of Maharashtra, India. The word thali literally means a plate. Thali food is a conventional combination of foods that are served together on a large stainless steel plate. A vegetarian thali would generally have 2 vegetable dishes, a daal ,chappatis , rice, koshimbir (the salad),papad, pickle and chutney, buttermilk or yogurt and a sweet. It is a well balanced meal on a plate. Of the two vegetable dishes, one is invariably a stir fry kind of vegetable and the other is more liquidy, with a curry sauce.
The palakchi bhaji is the liquidy one,wherein the spiced and cooked spinach is thickened simply by adding yogurt and besan (chick pea flour), both adding protein to the dish without adding fat. Soaked chana daal (split peas) and peanuts add more protein and along with the coconut slices, add texture to the dish too. The tamarind and jaggery or brown sugar provide that perfect balance of sweet and sour, and along with the goda masala, create a explosion of flavor. By the way, goda masala is a ground spice mix available in Indian stores.
I used frozen chopped spinach, to make the job easier. I have also made this nutritious dish with kale instead of spinach and my husband happily ate kale for the first time:) Corn kernels are not traditionally used in this dish, but I think they juxtapose very well with the greens…..in my humble opinion, of course.
- 2 teaspoons oil
- 2 cloves of garlic sliced
- ½ teaspoon black mustard seeds
- ½ teaspoon cumin seeds
- 1/8 teaspoon fenugreek (methi) seeds
- 2 or 3 dried red chilies
- 6 to 8 fresh curry leaves
- 1/8 teaspoon asafetida powder
- ½ teaspoon turmeric powder
- ½ teaspoon red chili powder
- 2 (10 oz. each) packages of defrosted spinach, with the liquid
- ¼ cup raw peanuts, soaked in water, about an hour or so
- 1/8 cup chana daal, soaked in water until soft, about an hour or so
- 1/8 cup fresh or dry coconut chips. I used dry and soaked them in water
- ½ cup fresh or frozen corn kernels
- salt to taste
- 1 teaspoon goda masala
- 2 tablespoons jaggery or brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon tamarind pods, soaked in 1/2 cup water and pulp extracted or 1/4 teaspoon tamarind concentrate
- ¼ cup plain yogurt ( I used non fat) blended well with 1/8 cup besan (chick pea flour) and 1 cup water
To make the palakchi bhaji-
- In a 3 quart saucepan, heat the oil over medium heat. Lower the heat and add the sliced garlic, mustard seeds, cumin seeds, fenugreek seeds,red chilies, curry leaves and the asafetida (hing), turmeric and chili powder. Take care that the spices sizzle but not burn.
- Add the defrosted spinach with the liquid and the soaked and drained peanuts, chana daal, coconut chips and the corn kernels.
- Add salt to taste and let the mixture cook, covered on medium heat for about 8 minutes.
- Add the goda masala, brown sugar or jaggery, the tamarind pulp with the soaking liquid and stir well to combine. Let it simmer on low for a couple of minutes.
- Stir in the besan yogurt mixture with the 1 cup water and mix well. Let it simmer on low for 2 more minutes, until the besan cooks and thickens the mixture.
- Remove from heat and serve with warm chappatis, rice and daal.