For the rest of India, saag is usually the ingredient in a curry, such as saag gosht or saag paneer but the true-blue Bengali raises his left eyebrow every so gently with disdain at such pulverized, spiced and curried stuff. Saag to us is shaag – fresh greens and minimal fussing around with. And the Bengali munches through a lot of different shaags - laal, pui, palak, note and others that are mostly out of reach unless from your own garden.
One shaag that is, however, easy to get nearly everywhere (even in the USA, where Indian groceries sell a perfectly usable frozen version) is methi shaag or fenugreek leaves. It also happens to be one of my favourite shaags, and to top it all is, as you can all see below, extremely photogenic.
Methi shaag has some characteristic differences from other Bengali shaag recipes; firstly there are no spices (methi is quite a strong flavour in itself). Also, it uses peanuts, which is not that common in Bengali food otherwise. And its a bachelor’s dream – very simple to make if you follow the process. Methi shaag has two tricks. One, you have to use peanuts with skin that you fry to a nice darkish colour (the skin improves the colour, no other reason really). Two, you have to cook the methi for a bit to ensure that all the moisture has evaporated – otherwise it will be a little bitter. Also it helps to chop the saag finely to avoid long entangled noodles of methi that tie up in knots. The stalks of methi, unlike that of mint, are quite edible and though people often sit around peeling off only the leaves, this is quite unnecessary. The dried red chilly glistening in the picture is purely for cosmetic effect; don’t put anything genuinely spicy.
The dish is quite a texture and taste contrast. There are those neutral, soft yielding potatoes, the chewy, slightly bitter methi and the crunchy peanuts - not to mention the wonderful smells from both the fried peanuts and the methi. Sunanda approved.
So here’s the haiku of a recipe. Cut potato into small cubes and boil till done, set aside. Fry peanuts till browned and set aside. Fry methi till dry, then add the other two ingredients and mix. Add salt to taste at the end. Serve with rice and panache.