Murgh Saagwala – Spinach Chicken

Sinfully Spicy : Murgh Saagwala (Spinach Chicken) #indiafoodWhenever I pick up a bundle of palak(spinach) at the grocery store -all organic & prewashed & ready to serve and what not, always, without a miss, I think about the vegetable patch(es) in my grandmother’s house,a house where I lived in some 18 years back, having a backyard planted with tomatoes and okra during summers and cauliflowers & potatoes during winters.One where the air would strongly smell of agarbatti (incense sticks) in the evenings which were often lighted to wade away the bugs from the eggplant bush, one which had rows dotted with yellow and orange marigolds & english roses.One where each morning,I strolled along the narrow, wet sidewalks brushing my teeth,bending down to sniff the strong fragrance of tulsi (holy basil) plants.One where I spent a lot of childhood days,counting the ready-to-pluck green beans and tearing leaves apart to spot the cabbage buns. A backyard where you could find us after coming back from school, dressed in printed cotton frocks,bare feet, digging mud and playing hide and seek within the squash creepers.

I visited India last year and everything is the same, the yard still planted with seasonal crop but now more taken care of by maali (gardener) than the family. Mom made dal and she sprinkled a bunch of chopped coriander leaves on top,picked from there. I plucked a few narangi (indian kumquat) from the bush which has now turned into a small tree in all theses years and popped it into my mouth with a pinch of salt, the burst of citrus tang running goose pimples all over my body, bringing memories with itself of the days when squirts of that sweet acid graced our daliya (breakfast porridge) every now and then. I tore up a few spinach and methi (fenugreek) leaves and chewed on them, a wish which I had nestled for so many years to experience that unforgettable earthly, delicate taste all over again.

I wanted our daughter to play  and get her hands dirty in the mud but she could barely crawl at that time, so that fun has to wait till our next visit. But, embraced in all these memories, I made this murgh (chicken) saag (any leafy green) last week and she really loved it. This recipe is a perfect balance of greens and protein to nourish kids and adults alike.You would have seen this dish on indian restaurant’s menus a lot. But it is not something I grew up with. I started making it regularly a couple of years back, mostly around my pregnancy years when I craved spinach all the time. This recipe has evolved a lot from the first time I cooked it.

Ingredients (Serves 3-4)

For the Spice Rub on Chicken

  • 4-5 whole dry kashmiri red chilies (adjust to tolerance)
  • 2 tbsp whole coriander seeds
  • 5 cloves
  • 1/4 tsp fennel seeds
  • 1.5 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1/4 tsp methi dana (fenugreek seeds)
  • 2 small black cardamom pods, cracked open
  • 2 tsp black peppercorns (adjust to tolerance)
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric powder
  • 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1.5 lbs boneless chicken thighs, cut into 2″ pieces
  • 1 tsp canola or sunflower oil

Rest of the Ingredients

  • 6-8 oz fresh spinach leaves (~ a little more than 1 cup spinach puree)
  • 5 tbsp mustard oil
  • 1″ cinnamon stick
  • 1 bay leaf, preferable indian
  • 3/4 cup finely chopped onions
  • 1 fat garlic clove
  • 1 cup finely chopped tomatoes
  • 1/2 -1 tbsp thinly Julienne fresh ginger (adjust quantity to taste)
  • salt
  • 1/4 tsp garam masala 
  • 1 tsp heaped kasuri methi (dried fenugreek leaves)
  • 1/4- 1/3 cup water (depending on desired consistency of sauce)
  • 3-4 tbsp heavy cream

Method

Wash thoroughly and pat the chicken pieces completely dry. Set aside. In a small pan, dry roast the kashmiri chilies, coriander seeds, cloves, fennel,methi, cumin and black peppercorns. Transfer to a coffee grinder and coarsely grind. Mix the ground spices with turmeric, nutmeg and salt. In a large bowl, add the chicken, drizzle the oil and sprinkle half of the ground spices and rub so that all the pieces are covered in the spices. Reserve the rest of the spice rub. Cover the bowl and set in the refrigerator for at least 3-4 hours or preferably overnight to marinate.

Once ready to cook,take the chicken out from the refrigerator and let sit on kitchen counter.Bring 2-3 cups of water to a boil in a pot. Put off the heat.Add the spinach leaves to the water and let sit for 1-2 minutes. Drain out the spinach leaves and puree in the food processor using little water if required. You can reserve the boiled water to thin out the sauce later if you want. 

Meanwhile,heat up the mustard oil in another wide, heavy bottomed pot. Add the cinnamon, bay leaf and let crackle. Add the onions and garlic next. Let cook for 5-8 minutes on medium low heat until the onion starts to turn brown. At this point, carefully add the chicken pieces to the pot in a single layer (if possible), and on medium high heat, let the chicken pieces sear on one side. Flip and let sear on all sides. Next, add the tomatoes, ginger and remaining ground spice powder to the pot. Stir around and let cook on medium heat till you see, tomatoes turn soft and oil just starting to separate on the side of the pan.It might take 8-10 minutes since the chicken will also release its juices but keep on cooking.

Once you see that the chicken is about 80% cooked, add the pureed spinach along with the garam masala. Combine and cover till the spinach blends in the sauce, the raw smell is gone, it turns down in color to dark green and the chicken is completely cooked, about 10-12 minutes on medium heat. You will see little glistening spinach bubbles on the top.Open the lid, add the kasuri methi and water (depending on the consistency you want). Let simmer for another 1-2 minutes.Add the heavy cream, check and adjust the salt, let simmer for 2-3 minutes more (but do not boil).

Let sit for 2-3 hours before serving.Warm up and serve.

Notes :-

  1. You can use bone in chicken for this recipe. Use dark meat portions and make incisions in the flesh with a sharp knife before you marinate it.
  2. When you puree the spinach, do not make a smooth paste out of it (that’s why I do not use a blender). Use as less water as possible when grinding spinach.
  3.  If you like a bit of smoky flavor then you can grill the chicken but I prefer searing it in the cooking pot itself.
  4. You could use a mix of greens – kale and spinach work beautifully, so does spinach and methi(fresh fenugreek).
  5. The addition of heavy cream makes the dish a lot tastier and rich but you can skip the cream if you want.

Enjoy & Thanks for Stopping by!

22 thoughts on “Murgh Saagwala – Spinach Chicken

  1. This sounds delicious – healthy, balanced. And the photos and your story of your last visit to your home in India – both so beautiful.

  2. John Vaillancourt – Boston, MA – I'm John, a licensed dispensing optician in Boston MA who has been in the industry for ten years this coming April. I've seen a lot of changes in that time, none as big as the trend toward online ordering of glasses. This has freed the consumer from the limitations of shopping for glasses in the past - we can compare and contrast styles with the click of a mouse and save a bunch of cash doing it. This has also forced a lot of the decision-making onto the consumer as well. With freedom comes responsibility, and sometimes making those choices aren't as clear-cut as they are when you're in the optical shop with an optician to guide you. As a result, sometimes not-so-good decisions add up to a pair of glasses that are either difficult to wear, impossible to see through, or worse, both. I'm here to help you with that! I can help you figure out the best style for your face, walk you through the mishmash of lens options, and help you to order a pair of glasses that will work for you the way you intended them. Stylish, functional glasses are within your reach, even when you order online!
    John Vaillancourt on said:

    My wife and I love cooking Indian at home. Spinach chicken is one of our favorites!

  3. FrugalHausfrau – Twin Cities – Hi, I'm the Mollie, the Frugal Hausfrau. In a moment of insanity, I decided to put my two cents worth out there and start this blog about frugal shopping and cooking. See, years ago, my daughter showed me a few blogs about bringing in dinners on a budget. I thought, “Weeeeel, maybe I could do that! I’ve been doing that all my life.” (Yeah, my head talks to me like that.) I had no computer skills, no photography skills and a crappy camera. Seriously, I didn’t even know how to upload a photo, let alone edit one. I don’t know if I’ve done any better than those other blogs or not, but I’ve persisted. Over the years, my blog has grown and grown up. It’s given me a platform to share tips and recipes that might help you save some hard-earned cash all while eating well. It’s also given me a platform to connect and visit with you! I love chatting with you and hearing your comments. I've been cooking since I was tall enough to pull up chair to stand at the counter, sink and stove – over 50 years now, and I never tire of reviving the old or exploring the new. So I’ll keep giving you my quirky Grandma recipe box, a mix of new and old, and I hope you’ll keep following along! I love that you’re here for the ride, and thank you!
    Frugal Hausfrau on said:

    This looks so gorgeous – I’ve pinned it so I remember to make it! Now to find fenugreek leaves!

    • easily available at indian stores. Even if you don’t thats okay. They lend a nice aroma to the dish but can be skipped if you do not find them

      • FrugalHausfrau – Twin Cities – Hi, I'm the Mollie, the Frugal Hausfrau. In a moment of insanity, I decided to put my two cents worth out there and start this blog about frugal shopping and cooking. See, years ago, my daughter showed me a few blogs about bringing in dinners on a budget. I thought, “Weeeeel, maybe I could do that! I’ve been doing that all my life.” (Yeah, my head talks to me like that.) I had no computer skills, no photography skills and a crappy camera. Seriously, I didn’t even know how to upload a photo, let alone edit one. I don’t know if I’ve done any better than those other blogs or not, but I’ve persisted. Over the years, my blog has grown and grown up. It’s given me a platform to share tips and recipes that might help you save some hard-earned cash all while eating well. It’s also given me a platform to connect and visit with you! I love chatting with you and hearing your comments. I've been cooking since I was tall enough to pull up chair to stand at the counter, sink and stove – over 50 years now, and I never tire of reviving the old or exploring the new. So I’ll keep giving you my quirky Grandma recipe box, a mix of new and old, and I hope you’ll keep following along! I love that you’re here for the ride, and thank you!
        Frugal Hausfrau on said:

        Thanks, that’s so nice to know. You have such a lovely blog and I’m excited to explore it more!

  4. A Famished Foodie – Food geek, wannabe Parisian, and lover of polka dots. Author of A Famished Foodie and Superior Spider-Talk contributor. Bold wine, sour beer & dessert make me nerd out.
    A Famished Foodie on said:

    This looks like it tastes phenomenal! I’m also incredibly impressed with the photography- I always find Persian/Indian/etc type of food hard to photograph since the stews and such don’t always translate well on camera.

  5. Deepa – Foodie + writer + fledgeling photographer = food blogger with a weakness for all things yum.
    Deepa on said:

    Your grandmother’s garden sounds wonderful! The Indian climate is so good for growing things.
    I love this dish….I’ve made a version of it where I just throw things in at random but I will try your recipe!

  6. And never been a fan of spinach chicken. Think of them as gooey glops. But this recipe makes me want to try it. Not pureeing the greens is the key in your recipe. Great detail. Its Saturday and I know what we are eating for lunch. Thanks Tanvi.

  7. Fantastic recipe!!! Definitely a new family favorite!! I doubled it because of an overload of greens from our CSA and it worked out beautifully!! I didn’t measure the spices (in true Indian form), but kept the proportions the same as listed. I did sear the chicken in batches, which adds just that much more flavor overall. GREAT note to not over process the greens. I think what I loved most about this recipe is that the flavors meld together beautifully, but the greens flavor really comes out and it tastes so incredibly fresh. Thank you so much!!!!

    • Yes you can. Not more than 2 weeks though. Spinach loses its taste beyond that. Do not add the heavy cream when you prepare it for freezing.
      On the day you want to serve, add the frozen spinach -chicken gravy to a pot, heat up, add the heavy cream then, simmer on low for 5-7 minutes and serve. Hope this helps.

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  9. We have cooked this recipe about 5 times now and it is perfect. Such a delicious flavour with all the spices, seems like a lot but tastes great. Fabulous.

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