When I think of this dish, and how the words “chana saag” are now familiar to so many people, it makes me thankful for all the Bangladeshis who first came to England from Kolkata at the end of the British Raj. Many of them jumped into the restaurant trade, keen to bring Indian dishes, popular with Brits in India, to our high streets. It’s thanks to them that chana saag is (almost) as popular here as it is in India.
This is my take on the classic. It’s a bit perkier than your average curry-house chana saag, and uses just-wilted spinach.
Serves 4 as a main course
3 tablespoons canola oil
½ teaspoon black mustard seeds
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
2 large onions, diced
5 cloves of garlic, crushed
¾-inch piece of ginger, peeled and grated
1 x 14-ounce can of plum tomatoes
2 x 14-ounce cans of chickpeas, drained
1½ teaspoons ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground red chile
½ teaspoon ground turmeric
1 teaspoon salt
1 pound baby spinach, washed
Put the oil into a large lidded pan over medium heat and, when hot, add the mustard seeds and cumin seeds. Stir for a minute, or until they pop, then throw in the onions.
Fry for 10 to 12 minutes, until they turn translucent and start to caramelize, then add the garlic and ginger. Stir-fry for around 3 minutes, then add the tomatoes, pouring them in with one hand and crushing them with the other. Fill the empty can a third of the way up with water and add that to the pan too.
Cook for 10 minutes, until quite dry and paste-like, then add the chickpeas. Warm them for a couple of minutes, then add the coriander, ground red chile, turmeric, and salt. Toss the chickpeas around in the paste, and add the spinach—trying to fold it all in will be like pushing a duvet into a magical handbag, but it will wilt and shrink fairly quickly.
Cook for around 5 minutes, until the spinach is soft and tender, and serve with chapatis (see here) or basmati rice, and a dollop of yogurt.