As we move inexorably towards …dare I say the word, “winter”, heart warming soups, stews and curries reign supreme at the dinner table at our house. I don’t know about you, but somewhere around mid-October, as the crisp New England air ushers in fall and winter, the salads get elbowed out of the menu to make room for hearty, full-bodied soups and piping hot, crock-pot meals. As a Registered Dietitian, I am always looking for ways to keep vegetables with their multitude of nutrients center-stage, and this notion is what inspired me to post this heirloom recipe passed down to me by my mother who in turn inherited it I am told, from her mother…
Medley of flavors: This soup is a treat for the taste buds as the recipe artfully blends tart and sour from tamarind with the spicy heat of hot green chilies as well as a mildly sweet flavor imparted by the jaggery, all in one dish! The end result is a soup that will leave the family hankering for more, I promise. This versatile dish may be served as a curry or side dish with whole wheat Indian rotis or basmati brown rice. Better still, you may just dig right in and slurp it up with a soup spoon. Either way it is sure to please the palate!
Servings: 7, 1 cup servings
- 4, 10 oz packages of frozen, chopped spinach, thawed.
- 4 tbsp peanut oil, divided
- 10-12 curry leaves
- 1/2 tsp mustard seeds
- 1 tsp cumin seeds
- Hing, or asafoetida*, 1/4 tsp divided.
- Garlic, 2 large cloves, slit lengthwise into 3 pieces each
- 3-4 small, very hot green chilies, seeded and slit lengthwise
- 1/4-1/2 tsp turmeric powder
- 1/2 tsp chili powder
- 1/4 cup raw peanuts
- 2 tbsp channa dal or split chickpeas, Figure 1.
- 3.5 tbsp jaggery
- 8 tbsp tamarind paste (home-made, from soaking tamarind, not the store-bought concentrated paste, Figure 2).
- 1.5 tsp salt, or to taste
- 2 tsp besan or chickpea flour, dissolved in 1 tbsp water
- 5-6 cashews for garnish
- Soak a palm size ball of tamarind in 4-6 oz of warm water for a few minutes. Gather up the tamarind and using the fingers and palm of the hand, squeeze tightly to extract the juice into a medium bowl. You will need about 7-8 tbsp of this extract. Refrigerate the remaining tamarind in a small, glass, air-tight container. (Will last for up to 1-2 weeks depending upon humidity).
- In a pressure cooker or steamer, steam the peanuts and channa dal until tender, but somewhat firm. Set aside.
- In a large thick bottomed sauce pan, heat 2 tbsp of the oil.
- Add just a pinch of the hing, and the green chilies till they sizzle.
- Add the thawed spinach and saute for a few minutes.
- Place the lid and allow to cook through on low heat. (This might take approximately 10-15 minutes)
- Allow the cooked spinach to cool a little bit.
- Working in 3 batches, transfer the cooked spinach to a blender, add approximately 1/2 cup of water to each batch of spinach and blend on high speed until the spinach takes on a smooth, pureed appearance. (Figure 3)
- Wash the pan used in steps 1-6 and add the remaining 2 tbsp of oil on medium-high heat.
- Add curry leaves, chopped garlic, mustard seeds, peanuts, channa dal, cumin seeds and the remaining hing, until the seeds begins to sizzle.
- Add the pureed spinach and saute for 2-3 minutes.
- Add turmeric, chili powder, and the jaggery, stirring the spices into the mixture for a couple more minutes.
- Add 3 cups of water and let the mixture come to a boil.
- Turn down the heat and stir in the 8 tbsp of tamarind extract and salt into the mixture.
- Add the besan or chickpea flour dissolved in water and let simmer on very low heat with the lid on for another 5-10 minutes, until heated through.
- Garnish with cashews if desired and serve hot.
A Registered Dietitian’s tip: Popeye was right. Spinach can pack a hefty punch owing to it’s impressive nutritional profile which includes the powerful antioxidants, Vitamins A, and C as well as the key mineral, iron. In addition, like most leafy greens, spinach is a potent source of Vitamin K, the B vitamin folate (think “foliage”), and the minerals potassium and magnesium. A good source of fiber, spinach offers all of these wonderful nutrients in a very low-calorie package. To increase the protein content and add more crunch to this dish, consider tripling the amount of channa dal that this recipe calls for and/ or doubling the peanuts if desired.
Combating oxidative damage: Spinach has important nutrients called lutein and zeaxanthin that may possibly have a protective effect against age related macular degeneration by acting as antioxidants that quench free radicals (single, highly reactive oxygen molecules), that may damage the eye as a part of the aging process.
Chef’s tip: *Asafoetida, a spice and flavor enhancer, is an integral part of Indian cuisine. It is added at the time of tempering vegetable and lentil dishes (dals), along with cumin or mustard seeds. Also called “hing”, asafoetida is available as a fine powder in Indian grocery stores, and should be used very sparingly as it is pungent. Just a pinch is all one needs to give selective Indian dishes a very distinctive flavor.