Sometimes, when I’m suffering from a creativity block, all I need to do is take a stroll through Whole Foods… the freezer aisle in particular. Yesterday I did just that and saw a frozen dinner called Chana Saag. I didn’t look too closely, I just saw chickpeas and spinach and knew that’s what I wanted to eat. Yummmmm.
I made this Indian Style Creamed Spinach a while back and although it was a little complex to make, it was one of the best things I had ever tasted. So, I decided to simplify that recipe, add chickpeas, and call it a day. I can proudly say that it was a very good day.
This recipe can be made either hot or mild depending on what type of curry powder you use, but either way the fragrant spices will be heady and flavorful. The evaporated milk adds just the right amount of natural sweetness and creamy flavor to balance those Indian spices. You can probably use coconut milk in its place, but be sure not to let it come up to a simmer or else it may curdle (I learned that the hard way in previous recipes).
I suggest serving this over rice or with some homemade naan to sop up the sauce. I served mine with some rice and while I usually go for jasmine rice, the Chana Saag was so flavorful that plain white rice did the job nicely.
- 2 Tbsp olive oil ($0.32)
- 1 medium onion ($0.36)
- 2 cloves garlic ($0.16)
- 2 inches fresh ginger ($0.15)
- 1 Tbsp curry powder hot or mild ($0.30)
- 1 tsp cumin ($0.05)
- 3/4 tsp salt ($0.05)
- 1 large tomato ($0.84)
- 1 lb frozen chopped spinach ($1.53)
- 19 oz can chickpeas ($1.65)
- 12 oz can evaporated milk ($0.99)
- 1/2 cup water ($0.00)
- Dice the onion and mince the garlic. Add both to a large skillet with the olive oil. Use a vegetable peeler or the side of a spoon to scrape the skin from the ginger. Once peeled, grate the ginger on a cheese grater straight into the skillet. Sauté the onion, garlic, and ginger over medium-low heat for about 5 minutes, or until the onion is soft and transparent. While these are cooking, dice the tomato.
- Add the curry powder and cumin to the skillet and continue to stir and cook for one minute more. Add the diced tomato and salt. Continue to cook for about five minutes more, or until the tomato has broken down and is no longer holding its diced shape.
- Drain the chickpeas in a colander and give them a quick rinse. Add the rinsed chickpeas, frozen spinach, and a half cup of water to the skillet. Stir everything together and then bring it up to a simmer over medium heat. Let the mixture simmer for five minutes so that the flavors can meld and everything heats through.
- After five minutes most of the water should have simmered away. Turn the heat down a bit (medium-low) and add the evaporated milk. Depending on how thick you want the sauce, you can either just heat through or let it simmer until thickened. If you prefer a smoother Chana Saag, you can use an immersion blender to purée some of the mixture, or transfer half of it to a blender and carefully purée it.* I left mine chunky. Once it’s heated through, adjust the salt and curry powder to your liking.
*Remember, never purée hot mixtures. Allow it to cool slightly before puréeing in a blender.
Step By Step Photos
First dice the onion, mince the garlic, and grate the ginger. Add them all to a large skillet with the olive oil. In the south we refer to as bell pepper, onion, and celery as the “holy trinity,” but in my house, THIS is the holy trinity. SO GOOD.
If you’ve never used fresh ginger before, this is how I do it. I just use a vegetable peeler to remove the skin (some scrape it off with the side of a spoon) and then use a small cheese grater to grate it. If you don’t have a small cheese grater, a larger one will also work, you’ll just have larger pieces.
Sauté the onions, garlic, and ginger over medium low heat until they’re soft and transparent. Then add the curry powder and cumin, and sauté for a minute more. The spices will stick to the bottom of the skillet, but it’s okay because the juice from the tomatoes in the next step will dissolve it off. Just make sure that the heat is not up so high that they burn.
While the onions are sautéing, dice tomatoes. Add them to the skillet and sauté for about five minutes more, or until they tomatoes break down a bit. Oh yes, add the salt too because that will help them break down.
After five minutes it looks something like this. I have to admit, it smells and tastes pretty amazing at this point.
For this recipe I prefer to use chopped spinach that comes frozen loose in a bag. It has much less moisture than the kind that is frozen in a block, so I can just add it to the skillet without thawing or draining. If you use the block kind, you’ll have to let it thaw and then squeeze out a bunch of water. Also, make SURE to get chopped or else you’ll have stringy, long pieces of spinach.
Drain and rinse the chickpeas, then add them to the skillet along with the frozen spinach and about a half cup of water. Turn the heat up to medium and let it all come up to a simmer. Let it simmer for about five minutes.
After it simmers for a few minutes, turn the heat down a touch and then pour in the evaporated milk.
Stir everything together, heat it through, taste, and adjust the salt and curry powder to your liking. You can let it simmer a bit longer if you want a thicker, less soupy mixture, but I kind of like that so that the rice or naan has something to soak up. If you want a smoother, less chunky Chana Saag, you can use an immersion or stick blender to puree some of the mixture, which will also thicken it up some.
Whatever texture you choose, it’s freaking delicious.