Chana saag is a delicious vegetarian curry made with leafy greens, aromatic spices and chickpeas. This protein, fiber and vitamin filled dish makes a wonderful lunch or dinner option for the family. Bored of serving restaurant style chana masala? This comforting saag and chana variation will make you eager to cook a chickpea dish again. The dish is deceptively simple but tastes divine.
My aim in creating this recipe is to provide you with a simple, quick and delightful dish that makes weekend meals satisfying and special.
What is saag?
Saag is literally any curry dish that has cooked greens as the star ingredient. This could be any leafy green from spinach and mustard leaves to fenugreek leaves (methi) and beet greens.
If you’re familiar with Punjabi food, you’ve probably heard of a particular food synonymous with the Punjabi culture – saarson da saag and makki di roti (mustard leaves and corn rotis).
This nourishing chana saag is one such variation, though not popular in the Indian households, you will find this on the restaurant menus outside India.
Most Indian curries or stews have a base sauce or gravy. Some like the simple saag or my chana saag use a spiced curried greens and tomato base to add richness and tang to the dish.
What is chana saag?
Chana saag is an Indian dish where cooked chickpeas and leafy greens are immersed in a tomato-onion gravy that has been steeped with aromatic Indian spice powders.
Chana saag makes a good meal prep option as you can cook the different elements in advance and then bring them to a simmer on the day you serve. You can batch cook this tasty side to rice or rotis for potlucks and family get-togethers.
About this recipe
My chana saag has a spicy spinach and tangy tomato layer over which the rest of the delectable dish is built. This chickpea and greens curry is perfectly spiced with flavorsome garam masala.
What makes my recipe unique is the tadka or tempering that I often add to take this recipe to the next level. You can, of course, skip this tempering step without losing out on the authentic taste of a chana saag.
I do recommend using the fresh and organic greens (spinach in this case) that you can find. This not only provides the vibrant green color to the curry but maximizes the amount of nutrients you can get from leafy vegetables.
Frozen spinach is an excellent option when you’ve run out of fresh greens. Use either baby spinach or the bigger leaves, or better still, a mix of both.
How to make chana saag (stepwise photos)
Prepare the chana (chickpeas)
Rinse and soak 1 cup of Kabuli chana for at least 8-10 hours, preferably overnight. Drain the water and rinse the chana well. If you’re using previously cooked or canned chickpeas (around 3 cups), skip this step.
Add 1 cup of water to the chickpeas and cook it in the pressure cooker until you hear 3 to 4 whistles. The cooked chickpeas should be tender and soft, but not mushy. If you’re using the instant pot, cook it for 16 to 18 minutes. Let the pressure release naturally.
Make the saag (curried spinach)
Add 1½ tablespoons of oil in a deep pan or saucepan on high heat. Reduce the heat to medium and add 1¼ teaspoon (¾ inch) of finely chopped ginger, 2 minced cloves of garlic, and 1 to 2 slit green chilis. Sauté for 30-60 seconds. Reduce the amount of green chili if you don’t want a hotter dish.
Add 1 cup of finely chopped onion (1 large onion) and sauté until it’s fully cooked and turns golden brown.
Add 4-5 cups of rinsed and roughly chopped spinach or palak.
Sauté for 3 minutes, until the leaves have just wilted & the raw smell has gone completely. Remove from heat and transfer to a bowl or plate to cool.
Now transfer the cooled saag ingredients to a blender. You may want to set aside one of the green chilies at this stage. Taste test and add later. Add ¼ cup of coriander (cilantro leaves).
Blend to a coarse or smooth paste, according to your preference. I prefer a smooth paste for the chana saag.
Make the chana saag curry
While the saag cools, prepare the rest of the dish. Chop the tomatoes. I deseed the tomatoes before chopping. Heat 1½ tablespoons of oil in the same pan. Reduce the heat to medium and add 1 cup (2 medium) chopped tomatoes and 1 teaspoon of salt, or as per your taste.
Sauté the tomatoes for 4-5 minutes, until they turn mushy and soft. Stir frequently to ensure the food doesn’t burn. Now add ¾ teaspoon garam masala.
Add cooked chana. Add 1½ cups of water (chana water and extra liquid).
Cover pan with lid and let the chana simmer for 4 to 5 minutes. This allows the spice flavors to mix with the chickpeas.
Reduce heat to low and add the blended saag mixture.
Stir well to combine and cook the chana saag for 1 -2 minutes or until the curry starts to bubble. Taste and adjust seasonings. Overcooking at this stage will darken the saag. Remove from heat and pour into a large serving bowl.
Make the tempering (optional)
Heat a small saucepan and melt 1 tablespoon of ghee or butter on low heat. Add 2 dried red chilies and 1 to 2 chopped garlic (1 tablespoon). Pan fry on low heat for 1 minute or until the garlic turns light golden brown. Add ½ teaspoon of hing (asafetida) and turn off the flame. Do not overcook garlic as it tastes bitter.
Drizzle this tempering over the chana saag and serve it with cooked rice, roti, paratha or butter naan. Drizzle some lemon juice.
- Use green chilies with caution. Saute 2, blend one & set aside another. Use the other one only if required later. You may just chop and add it later.
- For add ½ cup of methi or fenugreek leaves. You’ll be sauteing the methi in oil and before cooking tomatoes. This helps remove the slightly astringent flavor of fenugreek leaves.
- If you don’t have picky eaters at home, you can simply skip sautéing and pureeing onions with spinach. Instead saute the chopped onions before the tomatoes. This also adds some texture to your saag.
- Don’t have the time to soak and cook chickpeas? Use 3 cups of canned chickpeas in a pinch. If you’re adding the liquid from the can, go easy on the salt and reduce the amount of water mentioned in my recipe.
- For extra saag (gravy) in the recipe, reduce the chana to 3/4 cup or 2 cups cooked.
- Use the tangier chole or chana masala instead of garam masala.
- Make it vegan by subbing the ghee and butter in the tempering with oil.
Ingredients (US cup = 240ml )
- 1 cup chana (dried chickpeas or 3 cups soaked/cooked)
- 4 to 5 cups spinach (palak)
- ¼ cup coriander leaves /cilantro (15 to 18 grams)
- 1 cup onions (fine chopped, 1 large, 160 grams)
- ¾ inch ginger sliced
- 2 garlic cloves sliced
- 1 to 2 green chilies (slit, adjust to taste)
- 2½ tablespoons oil (divided)
- 1 cup tomatoes (fine chopped, 2 medium, 250 grams)
- ¾ teaspoon garam masala
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1½ cups water (more if needed)
To temper (optional)
- 1 tablespoon ghee or unsalted butter
- 2 dried red chilies
- 1 to 2 garlic cloves chopped
- ⅛ teaspoon hing /asafoetida
- Rinse and soak chana overnight. Later drain them and rinse well. Pressure cook them with 1 cup water for 3 to 4 whistles until soft and tender. To cook in instant pot, pressure cook for 16 to 18 minutes and let the pressure release naturally.
- Pour 1½ tablespoon oil to a pan and heat it. Saute ginger, garlic and green chilies for a minute.
- Add onions and saute until golden and fully cooked. Then stir in spinach and cook for 2 to 3 minutes, just until wilted. Transfer to a plate and cool this completely.
- Later transfer the cooled ingredients to a blender and add coriander leaves. You may want to set aside one of the green chilies, taste test and add it later. Make a fine or coarse paste as per your liking. We prefer smooth paste.
How to make chana saag
- While the greens cool, heat another tbsp oil in the same pan. Add tomatoes and salt. Saute and cook until soft and mushy.
- Add garam masala, cooked chana and 1½ cups liquid (chana cooked water plus more water).
- Cover and simmer chana for 5 minutes. Then reduce the heat and transfer the saag paste to the pan.
- Stir well and cook just for a minute or 2 until chana saag begins to bubble.
- Taste test and adjust salt and more garam masala if required. Turn off the heat. Transfer chana saag to a serving bowl.
Tempering (optional, but recommended)
- On a low heat, melt 1 tbsp butter or ghee in a small pan. Add dried red chilies and chopped garlic. Fry on a low heat until garlic turns slightly golden but not brown. Add hing and turn off.
- Quickly pour the tempering over the chana saag.
- Skip sautéing and pureeing onions with spinach. Instead saute the chopped onions later before the tomatoes. But the taste of the saag is different with this method.
- Do not increase the quantity of coriander leaves in the recipe. Use only tender stalks and avoid mature ones as they tend to leave a soapy flavor.
- If you are using spinach it is just fine to cook for a shorter period of time as mentioned in the recipe. But all leafy greens are not the same. They need longer cooking else they can upset the stomach. So if using other greens cook them longer.
- You can use half cup methi leaves. Saute them in little oil before adding the tomatoes.
Alternative quantities provided in the recipe card are for 1x only, original recipe.
For best results follow my detailed step-by-step photo instructions and tips above the recipe card.
NUTRITION INFO (estimation only)
© Swasthi’s Recipes