Aloo Palak (Spinach with Potatoes)

After the popularity (and blog success) of Shakuntala’s Aloo ki Ras Bhaaji, I had been trying to get her to teach me something new. She hails from Western UP in North India and I incorporate a lot of North Indian influence in my everyday food. This essentially makes my everyday food only a variation of hers. Last week I decided to try her version of Aloo Palak (spinach with potatoes) that is a variation on my Punjab-type.

Aloo palak is a popular no-fuss Punjabi dish. A long long time ago we lived briefly in West Delhi where the population is mainly Punjabi. On the way back from grocery shopping my Mom would sometimes pick a kulhar (a disposable terracotta take-away container) of aloo palak from Sardarji’s dhaba to serve at dinner.

Palak Paneer 03

Those were days when there were open, unbuilt-upon areas available where a woman could set up a make-shift tandoor, dug into the ground, and provide roti-making service to other harried housewives at lunchtime in the peak of summer. I remember my mom occasionally sending me and my younger sister with some dough, flour, and ghee to get them made into hot tandoori rotis. There was some nominal charge per roti for the baking and the lady also got to keep the dry flour and any ghee that did not get used up.

It used to be fascinating to watch the woman pinch off the dough and pat it into a thick roti, place it on a hand-held cloth padding for the final slap onto the hot surface of the glowing tandoor. One by one they would go in. She would then pick her hooked metal spike and dislodge one from the clay surface and flip it onto the hot coals to briefly cook the other side before pulling it out.

A big city like Delhi no longer has such communal informal activities. There are no neighbourhoods that need these services nor any service providers. Another quaint quirk to be relegated to memory. Things pass.

But you can still get tandoori roti. And aloo palak. There is no home-substitute for tandoori roti. No, the home-oven is not the same as the tandoor. But you can make a swell aloo palak at home.

The UP-style aloo palak is similar to the Punjabi kind. It relies on just a few ingredients and no dry spices for a very satisfying greens dish. Where I use ginger and onions in my Punjabi version, the UP version relies on garlic and heeng. While I mash the spinach for the former, the latter uses chopped spinach. Both have the flavour of green chillies and no turmeric, to hang on to the green of the greens.

Aloo Palak I (Uttar Pradesh style)
(Spinach with Potatoes)

1 kg fresh spinach, rinsed and chopped fine
3-4 medium potatoes, rinsed and diced (1/2 inch cubes)
6-8 cloves of garlic, crushed
6-10 green chillies, chopped
2-3 T mustard oil
a good pinch of strong heeng, such as Bandhini brand

Heat oil to smoking. Add heeng, and the garlic and let it sizzle till the edges are a bit browned. Add the green chillies to the hot oil and let these fry a bit; half a minute. Now add the spinach, the potatoes, and the salt. Mix well. Cover and cook till the potatoes have softened, stirring occasionally. Serve with rotis, any raita, and some achar.

Aloo Palak II (Punjabi)
Punjabi-style Spinach with Potatoes

1 kg fresh spinach, rinsed
3-4 medium potatoes, rinsed and diced (1/2 inch cubes)
1 T grated fresh ginger
1 large onion, chopped fine
1 tomato, chopped fine (optional)
6-10 green chillies, slit into two
1-2 T mustard oil
a good pinch of strong heeng, such as Bandhini

Cook the spinach in boiling water. Mash with hands or use an immersion blender. Heat oil in a karahi. Add heeng, followed by ginger. Stir for a minute and then add the onions. Sauté onions till they turn transparent. Add the green chillies and the tomatoes, if using. Sauté till the tomatoes are pulped. Add the potatoes and the salt. Cover and cook 10 min or till the potatoes are almost done. Now add the mashed spinach and let simmer till the potatoes are cooked through. Serve as above.

This is my entry to JFI-Greens: Jihva for Ingredients, this month back at its birthplace – Indira’s Mahanandi and being co-hosted by Nandita (Saffron Trail).


Published by Anita

A self professed urban ecologist!

36 thoughts on “Aloo Palak (Spinach with Potatoes)

  1. that is a truly beautiful shade of green. i refuse to eat palak in restaurants, because 9 times out of 10, it is grey.

    Will you believe if I tell you that first pic is of pressure cooked palak?! I have a secret way that my Mom revealed after years of hearing me complain that my greens don’t turn out as lush as hers!

    I will tell when I post on haak!

  2. I’d heard of those ladies who made your rotis for you. I always thought that was way cool!

    Both versions sound delectable. I use a lot of baby spinach these days.

    You know the potatoes I get out here don’t cook in tomatoes. I don’t know why and no-one else has said they have the same experience. So if I am cooking potatoes with the rest of the ingredients (ie not boiled before hand), I add them and cook them before I add the tomatoes. It’s a royal pain.

    It used to happen with my tamatar aloo – so I would part cook the potatoes before adding the tomatoes and then they would not turn out like Mom’s! So now, if I am pressure cooking then I add them as the last step – no bhuno – and close the lid. Voila – the potatoes are falling apart and the tomatoes are cooked to pulp! Depending on your recipe, you may or may not be able to use this trick.

  3. Lovely recipes and pictures. Ah! tandoori rotis, kya yaad dilaya aapne! That fragrance is out of the world…..and to have those rotis with hot sabzi and dahi! wah wah! He he, we Punjus make aloo-palak with chopped palak also,just like the UP recipe.For that recipe, lil’ or no tomatoes are used and its more like the bhurji with aloo (just like aloo-methi).

    So, Musical – this (I and II) is authentic Punjabi then?

    You and I have to together dispel the popular belief that all Punjabi dishes must use garam masala!

  4. Hey Anita,

    Garam masala 😀 i know what you mean 🙂 i use only a pinch of garam masala and that too for certain dishes. am on my way 😀 (remember the emphasis on just a pinch of garam masala or NO garam masala)…..he he.

    Yes they are very Punju, from what i have eaten. Though hing and ginger are rarely used together. But then again, a lot of UP and Punju dishes have overlapping tastes. I have had the Palak-bhurji at my UP friends’ homes as well. Hing in Punjabi cuisine actually is a very interesting topic. Varies from place to place and family to family. Hing is essential to good Punjabi wadis and some summertime dishes instead of ginger as ginger is believed to be “garam”(but the use is very selective). Though i don’t one bit believe in that as an ardent ginger fan 😀 Those who have their roots in West Punjab use it quite commonly in some bhurjis, like say palak and mooli, but not with methi or some other therapeutic “garam taseer” greens (like another bitter Pendu green called Maina, looks quite like methi). Same applies to garlic, strictly depends on your personal preferences.

    Am eager to know your secret of green greens 😀 Do you use mitha soda or some other trick.

    Never heard of Pendu/Maina greens! Common?

    Well, you are on to the greening bit – but soda is only part of the trick! 🙂

  5. [sighs] Alu, alu, alu…without them what would she do…

    Are sweet-cassava roots available there?

    Actually, this is a cool post… and interesting to see these two recipes side by side… I was stunned not to see the greens pureed with a hefty dose of cream, but I do know better, though once in awhile it’s not a bad thing…

    “garam” means “heat-inducing”? How about “gudang”? 😀

    Cassava is available at specialty stores that cater to Delhi’s South Indian population. I have never cooked or tasted cassava! You recommend…?

    And gudang garam – stay away – hot or not. 🙂

  6. Those greens in the first pic looks gorgeous , Anita.
    I always chop my greens,even when I am making them punju style (less onion, more ginger). I save the cream dunked pureed version for when I am entertaining.
    You dare show up at my place as a guest, Bam! here’s a spoonful of cholestrol for you! 😀

    Kidding, Kidding, y’all!

  7. I don’t understand why we cook spinach before. Here people use raw spinach as salad. Lately I am not boiling at all and I don’t see any difference.. Is there any? And about Tandoori Roti, during my last visit thats what I used to eat almost every night:-) Tandoori roti..*sigh* I remember my bhua used to live in R.K. Puram and there was one guy who had tandoor in the market for that.

    I precook palak and then add it to the almost finished dish in the end – keeps it lush green like the first pic!

    Thankfully the tandoors and the dhabas are still there. Naturally, they use their own dough 😦

  8. After reading the comment about garam masala I had to write;-) I am punjabi too and my grandma never used to use any masala in greens or garlic ginger. According to her it makes them turn bitter.. I have used the ginger garlic with methi & palak and I like them alot but no garam masala in saag or any other greens:-)

    oh is salt & lemon juice ur secret ingrid. for the color.;-)

    Nope – it is a pinch of soda and…you gotta keep coming back! Yeh raaz janne ke liye milenge issi jageh kissi qaqt

  9. Anita… yes, I definitely recommend cassava…but be careful; there are two kinds: “bitter” cassava which is grated, pressed to remove toxic (cyanide compounds)juices, and dried- sabudana is made from this kind- the “sweet” cassava still contains small traces of the compounds; don’t eat them raw- to deep fry: peel, boil the pieces for 20 min, drain the cooking water, then batter and deep-fry…or use them in a dish like this or mashed/ pureed…I actually like them more than potatoes… very similar flavour and texture, but just slightly sweeter with a flaky, melt-in-the-mouth texture…

  10. Very simple and tasteful recipe. I was surprised to see no other seasoning except for heeng and salt. Have two boxes of frozen spinach in my freezer, will definitely try it. does it taste as good if I make it w/o onion? btw what is Bandhini salt?

    Hi Nalini. Bandhini is a brand of strong heeng. You may want to make it without onions – Kashmiris do that all the time! But then we add sonth and a pinch of veri (a spice mix) – you may want to use some garam masala in that case! 🙂

  11. Anita a lovely write up. I always love to read abot the old times and the slow life. I am fascinated by te cooks working on the rotis and the tandoors when I visit the outdoor style dhabas.I’m not able to see the pictures…dunno if the problem is at my end OR..

    Well, I have changed my photo display/hosting – I am now using Flickr. You will need to ‘allow Flickr’ to see the pics. WordPress allows limited capacity for ‘free’ – this way I will be able to stretch! 😉

  12. Copied your recipe, will have to give it a try.

    Hey there justlearningman! Welcome to the Party. Let us hear about it when you try!

  13. Anita, I made an alu palak last week by putting whatever came to my mind. It tasted great but it was not any authentic recipe. I wish I had seen this post before. Will definitely give it a try soon.

    Hi Shilpa. If it was good, that is what is important! You can always try these next time!

  14. anita, you sure have a fan from my family , my husband.he is partial to anything that is UP since he is from there. The Alu sabzi you prepared, he calls it Raseeli subji and works well with tinda and lauki too. He visits your site to check out the UP dishes!! I love the pressure cooked palak picture!

    Good to know about the fan, Dee! I’ll look in earnest for more authentic recipes from UP! Shankultala is on chutti for a couple of weeks to visit her hometown. I’ve asked her to bring me something special from there!

  15. Hi Anita,
    We are looking forward to being fed with all the delicious food on our next visit 🙂
    BTW, I tried the tomato chutney. Yummy!! It was a hit. In the Aloo Palak subji, I add a pinch of kasoori methi. It gives a slightly different flavor.

    Hi Anjali. You mean no Pindi? 🙂
    I have a jar of kasoori methi I dried – will try with the palak next time.

  16. You know I’ve always been reading your blog for the longest time although I never noted(or did I once?). Cos I don’t cook indian food although I love it, and I never know what to comment anyway. So I was very surprised to see your note in my blog!

    Anyway, enoki mushrooms are great and they soak up the flavour in soups. Usually it is used in japanese/korean/chinese food. So i think you can find it quite easily if you have some asian grocery shop around. It’s real easy to prepare too, If you have some clear chicken soup kinda recipe you can just add it in.

    I’ll continue to drool over your food everyday!!

    I have only Indian Asian groceries everywhere! I would love to get my hands on them – they look so delicious!

  17. Ooh! I discovered enoki mushrooms recently. I didn’t know what to do with them so I made a spicy stir fry. They were delicious.

    You get enoki in India, Anita? If you do, I’ll bet you dry them! 😆

    I don’t think I would 🙂 First, they must cost the earth (here anyway, if they can be found). After drying they will surely not be visible – and I cannot pay the earth and the moon for nothing.

    I continue to drool over the pictures…they look soooo pretty.

  18. Oh…those enoki mushrooms….I’ve tried those…once in a while I see them fresh, but they are always available canned in salt-water. Anita, they don’t taste like anything at all! I think they’re more of a texture and visual ingredient- though maybe they have some health or longevity property. I would just substitute spaghetti- and tie a knot in each one before serving… 😀

    Thanks for the tip, Pel! You always know how to make it better! 😀

  19. You got that right! 😉

    Now…about that sheer chai… 😀

    That’s right – a heavy meal, and a chai topped with cream to help digest it! 😀

  20. Must be all that Toro Bravo or that Nam Prik in play! 👿 They have a very delicate flavor. I ate them raw and loved them. They retain their texture if they are added towards the very end of the stiry frying or whatever you are cooking. And apparently they are better cooked than eaten raw because the body can better assimilate the nutrients then.

    Substitute with knotted spaghetti? 😆

  21. Delicate flavour…….sublime! understated! the palest shade of mushroom! Perhaps if they were sliced, length-wise, in half and laid just so atop a finely-cut fillet of halibut… 😀 like a miniature spray of flowers…(in a group of 3 or 5 of course)…with raw sesame seeds as leaves… a single drop of lemon juice misted over it for a bold contrast…………let us contemplate this for a moment…

    😯I know, I know – it’s time for a new post!

  22. Oh! I’m sorry, I thought I was at A Mad Tea Ceremony…. 🙂

    And if it was, you would be…

  23. Hey – I tried out the Punjabi style aloo palak and it turned out really awesome 🙂 .. though I did reduce the number of green chillies. Isn’t 6-10 of them a little too much?! Or are those chillies of the non spicy variety?

    6 if they are hot, 10 if they are not! 😉 Add to your own taste….

  24. I ran out of Onions, so I tried the first style and it was really delicious. Thanks for sharing it!

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