Three-time James Beard award-winner Raghavan Iyer is always a welcome chef an teacher at our cooking school, La Cocina Que Canta. “A good recipe,” he says, “should teach you what to do in steps. Focus on what each step is telling you, what’s the end result. This is more important than the time that’s suggested.” In his classes at The Ranch we learned that finding the balance of texture, aroma and colors is key. Recently he shared his recipes for delicious tortilla-like Griddle-Cooked Corn Bread and Pureed Greens with Clarified Butter which are from his book 660 Curries.
Pureed Mustard or Braising Greens with Clarified Butter
“Sarson da saag”
A classic dhaba (truck-stop roadside eatery) food, these pureed greens offer nutritious respite to Punjabi lorry (truck) drivers when they step down from their ornately painted vehicles and wipe their brows under the hot afternoon sun. A simple meal of Sarson da saag, Makkai ki roti , homemade pickles, and conversation provides fuel for the long, lonely journey ahead.
2 tablespoons mustard oil or canola oil
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
4 large cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
2 dried red Thai or cayenne chiles, stems removed
2 fresh green Thai, cayenne, or serrano chiles, stems removed
1 pound fresh mustard greens, well rinsed and coarsely chopped, or any combination of braising greens
1 teaspoon coarse kosher or sea salt
2 tablespoons ghee (an Indian clarified butter) or butter
2 tablespoons yellow or white cornmeal
Juice of 1 medium-size lime
Additional ghee or melted butter for serving (optional)
- Heat the oil in a large saucepan or skillet over medium-high heat. Add the cumin seeds and cook until they sizzle, turn reddish brown, and are aromatic, 5 to 10 seconds. Immediately throw in the garlic and the two varieties of chiles. Stir-fry to take the raw edge off the garlic and to gently blister the chiles (especially the green ones), 1 to 2 minutes.
- A handful at a time, drop the mustard or other greens into the spiced oil and stir-fry until they wilt. Repeat until all the greens have been added and wilted. Continue to cook the greens, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until their liquid evaporates and leaves a slight sheen on the leaves, 8 to 12 minutes. Stir in the salt.
- Pour in 2 cups water, scraping the pan to deglaze it, releasing any browned bits of spice and greens. Bring to a boil. Then lower the heat to medium, cover the pan, and simmer, stirring occasionally until the greens are tender and olive green, about 15 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat.
- Transfer the greens, liquid and all, to a blender jar. Puree, scraping the inside of the jar as needed, to make a smooth puree. Return the puree to the pan, and fold in the 2 tablespoons ghee and the cornmeal. Place the pan over low heat, cover, and cook, stirring the greens occasionally, until the cornmeal has absorbed the liquid and the mixture has thickened, about 15 minutes.
- Fold in the lime juice and transfer the puree to a serving bowl. If you like, pass extra ghee to drizzle atop the tart, slightly bitter, curiously nutty-tasting saagfor added succulence.
Would it surprise you to know that there are more than fifteen varieties of mustard greens in the world, with quite a few of them available in today’s marketplace? The most common American mustard, with curly leaves, is not as bitter as its Asian counterpart, a variety known as wrapped-heart mustard or dai gai choy. This Asian kind closely resembles the varieties of mustard that are eaten in large quantities all around the northern regions of India. Be sure to clean greens carefully.
Griddle-Cooked Corn Bread with Ginger and Chiles
“Makkai ki roti”
You say “Makkai ki roti” to a Punjabi, and he or she will reply, “Sarson da saag.” This flaky, grainy, succulent bread is a must for scooping up mounds of ghee-drenched mustard greens, providing a perfect balance to the greens’ bitterness. This simple food satisfies the hardworking individual, especially at lunchtime: all that’s needed is a stack of these breads, a mound of pureed greens, and a few fresh green cayenne chiles to bite into in between mouthfuls of addiction.
Makes about 10 breads
2 cups finely ground yellow corn flour (like the Mexican masa harina; see Tip)
1 1/2 teaspoons coarse kosher or sea salt
8 lengthwise slices fresh ginger (each 2 inches long, 1 inch wide, and 1/8 inch thick)
8 fresh green Thai, cayenne, or serrano chilies, stems removed
Ghee or melted butter for brushing
- Combine the corn flour and salt in a medium-size bowl.
- Combine the ginger and chilies in a food processor, and pulse until minced. Add this to the flour mixture.
- Drizzle a few tablespoons warm water over the mixture, stirring it in as you do so. Repeat until the mixture starts to come together to form a ball; you will use about ½ cup warm water altogether. Feel the ball: it should be slightly moist, and there should be no flour in the bottom of the bowl. With your clean, dry hand, gently knead the ball to form a soft dough—which will feel bumpy, thanks to the onion and chilies (do this in the bowl or on a lightly floured surface).
- Divide the dough into 10 portions, and shape each portion into a ball. Keep the balls covered with plastic wrap or with a slightly damp paper towel.
- Tear off a large sheet of aluminum foil, fold it in half lengthwise, and set it aside.
- Preheat a small nonstick skillet over medium heat.
- Place a ball of dough on a piece of wax paper (leaving the others under cover). Press it down to form a patty, and then use your fingers to stretch it out as you press it into an evenly thin round, roughly 4 to 6 inches in diameter and 1/8 inch thick (the shape might be not be a perfect round, especially the first few times you try this). Gently peel the round off the paper and plop it into the hot skillet. Cook until the underside has a slight sheen with light brown patches, 2 to 4 minutes. Flip it over and cook the other side, 2 to 3 minutes (this side won’t get that sheen; instead, it will look like a parched landscape). Brush the sheen side with ghee and flip it over to sear it, about 30 seconds. Brush the parched side with ghee and sear that side too, about 30 seconds. Slip the round between the layers of foil to keep it warm. (The steam created inside the foil will drench the parched side and make it just as appealing as the pretty side.
- Repeat with the other dough rounds.
- Serve immediately.
Look for bags of masa harina (corn flour) in the ethnic-foods aisle of your supermarket. You can also find it in Indian and Pakistani markets, as well as Hispanic groceries. Regular cornmeal yields a grainier texture and does not hold together as well to make a spreadable dough.
You can see these and other recipes in Raghavan Iyer’s book 660 Curries.