Saagwala or Palak chicken is a super delicious and mild North Indian curry that requires a bit of effort, but is well worth it. Parts of the dish can be made in advance and the chicken then gets combined with a creamy spinach curry sauce with hints of bay, cumin, ginger and coriander.
Recipe serves 4
900 gms skinless & boneless chicken thighs
800 gms spinach, washed
3 tbsp melted butter
Marinade: (make in in advance – at least 4 hours but preferably overnight)
2 tsp Kashmiri chilli powder
1 tsp ground coriander
2 tsp dried fenugreek (optional)
2 tsp garam masala
1 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 tbsp mustard oil or neutral vegetable oil
1 tsp cumin
½ tsp turmeric
1 tsp salt
½ cup full fat yoghurt
4 tbsp vegetable oil (sunflower or canola)
2 onions, peeled
4 – 5 large cloves garlic
2 medium ripe tomatoes
½ – 1 green or red chilli finely chopped (as hot as you would like)
1 tbs grated ginger
2 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground cumin
1 ½ tsp Kashmiri chilli powder
½ tsp turmeric
2 tsp garam masala
2 bay leaves
1-2 tsp salt + more to taste
¾ cup yoghurt or cream (plus a little extra to serve)
Make in advance:
Cut the chicken thigh meat into half or thirds depending on their size and add to a bowl with all the marinade ingredients. Stir well to coat and ensure the marinade and spices are well mixed. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
Remove the chicken in marinade at least an hour before roasting to bring it to room temperature.
To make the spinach, blanch the washed leaves in a large pot of salted boiling water for 3 minutes. Drain in a colander and rinse under a cold tap. Once cool & drained, puree in a blender until smooth. There should be enough residual water on the spinach to get it to process. If not add a little water. This can also be made in advance.
Preheat he the oven to 200C. Line a baking tray with tin foil and spray with cooking spray. Place the chicken pieces and spread out on the tray and roast for 30 minutes. Remove halfway (after 15 minutes) and drain off any liquid that may have been released in the pan. Turn the chicken pieces over and brush with the melted butter. Continue to roast for the remaining 15 minutes and until lightly golden. This chicken should be very succulent. Season it well with salt when it is out the oven.
While the chicken is roasting make the sauce. It’s advisable to get all the spices measured out and ready. Blend the onion and garlic and a food processor until puréed but still holding some texture i.e. it should not be too smooth. Heat a large nonstick frying pan or skillet and add the vegetable oil. Once hot fry the onion & garlic mixture over a high heat for about 8 – 10 minutes stirring regularly until starting to brown.
Add the tomatoes to the same bowl of the food processor and puree until smooth.
When the onions are browned, add the chopped chilli, grated ginger, coriander, cumin, chilli powder, turmeric and garam masala and cook with the onion mix for a minute or two until starting to smell fragrant. Add the puréed tomato and bay leaves and cook for about 5 – 6 minutes. You want to ensure the tomatoes are cooked.
Add the puréed spinach to the pan and cook the sauce for a further 6 – 8 minutes. Adding additional salt as needed. Add the yoghurt or cream after a few minutes.
Add the roast chicken to the curry sauce and heat through. Check seasoning.
Serve with basmati rice and naan bread.
Easy Naan bread:
1 ¾ cup self-raising flour
½ tsp salt
1 cup full fat Greek style yoghurt
Butter for brushing
Mix the salt with the flour and then add the yoghurt. Mix briefly until it forms a dough.
Tip out onto a floured surface and divide the dough into 8 equal pieces. Roll these out fairly thinly into a rectangular naan bread shape.
Heat a nonstick pan or seasoned cast iron skillet to very hot and then fry the dough on each side for about 2 – 3 minutes a side. Once the bread starts to bubble it is ready to flip over.
Brush each naan bread with butter.
To make this recipe vegan:
To make the curry vegan, simply replace the chicken with 400gms firm tofu (that has been drained and cut into large pieces) and 600 – 700gms of mixed vegetables (such as aubergine, zucchini and mushrooms). You could also skip the tofu and use a mix of roasted vegetable and lightly fried mushrooms. The tofu would not need to be marinaded
To cook the tofu, heat 4 tablespoons of neutral vegetable oil in a large nonstick frying pan over medium-high heat until starting to shimmer. Add the tofu and cook (taking care as the oil could splatter), turning it occasionally until it’s golden brown on a few sides (about 10 to 12 minutes). Remove to a plate lined with paper towel to drain and season well with salt.
Roast the vegetables of choice and fry the mushrooms if using. Set aside.
Make the sauce as per recipe using coconut cream instead of yoghurt. When the sauce is ready, stir through the vegetables and tofu.