Photos by 
Jessicarobyn Keyser
Jessicarobyn Keyser

I'm Not Saying This Recipe Cured My Childhood Farsightedness, But I'm Not Saying It Didn't

by 
Manu Moudgil
June 15, 2021

“Do you think you look smart wearing these glasses?” asked the lady passing by on the street.

“It’s for vision,” replied my cousin, making it clear that I was not wearing the round spectacles for fun.

“Really? Do kids also need glasses?” the lady wondered.

I was six. Born with farsightedness in early 1980s, when TV sets were uncommon in India and most people had only seen elderly people wearing glasses, came with its own hazards. I was the only child with spectacles in our neighborhood, and the only one in the primary section of my school, often getting bullied for wearing them.

“Give him more green leafy vegetables, carrots etc.,” the ophthalmologist advised my parents, listing down the good sources of vitamin A for a vegetarian family. But the problem was I was a fussy eater. I had a revulsion against all vegetables and preferred lentils for dinner instead. This aggravated the guilt of my mother who already blamed herself for not taking in a healthy diet during her pregnancy. She experimented with different styles of cooking to have me eat a nutritious diet, but had little success.

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It was thus with some anxiety that Mustard Greens with Spices, the culinary pride of north India, was introduced to me. The most leafy of all Indian dishes, it is loaded with vitamin A, sodium, calcium, iron, phytonutrients and dietary fiber, and also is said to reduce bad cholesterol and oxidative stress. Preparing and consuming mustard greens, called Sarson ka Saag colloquially, is a cultural event which announces the arrival of winter the season when mustard greens are grown. The dish is usually cooked in large quantities and shared with relatives and friends. Many believe the taste gets better with time as each batch gets additional tempering of spices when taken out of the refrigerator.

Such is the fanfare around this particular recipe that India exports tons of its canned variant to the country’s diaspora every year. Another version of the dish made with spinach is also very popular. One of my elderly aunts, who mostly refrained from kitchen work due to health issues, would be on her toes come winter to prepare mustard greens in the traditional manner blending the leaves through a handheld churner and slow cooking the mix on an earthen stove using fuelwood instead of a common gas stove.

The minuscule minority of Indians who dislike this dish often face ridicule. Considering my food preferences, there was a greater chance that I would also fall in the same category. But to the relief of everyone, especially my mother, I loved the dish. Taken with flatbreads made of corn flour and a good helping of clarified butter, the smooth texture and tangy-sweet flavor of mustard greens resonated with my tastebuds. There were times when I would finish off my school friends' plates when they brought mustard greens I couldn’t get enough.

In time, the dish also groomed my palate to tolerate other vegetables, and by the time I hit 15, the power of my lenses had halved. This made me the lifetime cheerleader for mustard greens.

Sarson Ka Saag (Mustard Greens with Spices) Recipe

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Serves 4

Ingredients

5 cups mustard greens, washed and chopped with stems removed

2 cups Fifth Season spinach

1 cup Pigweed or Chenopodium (optional), washed and chopped

3 tbsp corn flour

1 tbsp neutral cooking oil

1-inch knob ginger, finely chopped

¼ tsp Asafoetida or hing

1 cup onion, chopped

1 clove garlic

1-4 fresh green chillies, depending on taste

1 cup tomatoes, chopped

1 tsp cumin seeds

1 tsp ground coriander

1 tsp red chili powder

1 tsp turmeric

Salt to taste

White butter or regular unsalted butter for garnish

 | 
 | 
Serves 4

Ingredients

5 cups mustard greens, washed and chopped with stems removed

2 cups Fifth Season spinach

1 cup Pigweed or Chenopodium (optional), washed and chopped

3 tbsp corn flour

1 tbsp neutral cooking oil

1-inch knob ginger, finely chopped

¼ tsp Asafoetida or hing

1 cup onion, chopped

1 clove garlic

1-4 fresh green chillies, depending on taste

1 cup tomatoes, chopped

1 tsp cumin seeds

1 tsp ground coriander

1 tsp red chili powder

1 tsp turmeric

Salt to taste

White butter or regular unsalted butter for garnish

Ingredients

5 cups mustard greens, washed and chopped with stems removed

2 cups Fifth Season spinach

1 cup Pigweed or Chenopodium (optional), washed and chopped

3 tbsp corn flour

1 tbsp neutral cooking oil

1-inch knob ginger, finely chopped

¼ tsp Asafoetida or hing

1 cup onion, chopped

1 clove garlic

1-4 fresh green chillies, depending on taste

1 cup tomatoes, chopped

1 tsp cumin seeds

1 tsp ground coriander

1 tsp red chili powder

1 tsp turmeric

Salt to taste

White butter or regular unsalted butter for garnish

Directions

1. Boil 2 quarts of water in a stock pot. 

2. Add mustard greens, spinach and Pigweed to the pan and boil for 2-3 minutes. Drain out the water and keep the greens aside for 2-3 minutes to cool.

3. Blend the leaves to a coarse paste in a food processor or by using a hand blender.

4. Heat the oil in a shallow pan and add cumin seeds. Add garlic, ginger and asafoetida and cook on medium for 30 seconds. Add onions and green chiles and cook until onions turn translucent.

5. Add tomatoes, coriander seeds powder, red chili powder and turmeric powder. Cook until the oil begins to separate from the mixture.

6. Add this mix of spices to the prepared paste of greens and cook on a medium flame for 5 minutes. Add corn flour to thicken the ‘Saag’. Throw in the salt and simmer for another 5 minutes, while stirring continuously.

7. Serve hot garnished with a dollop of white or unsalted butter.

About the Author

Manu Moudgil

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