Thursday, 30 August 2012

Substitution on the table!

Choysum (Sarson) saag and Makki ki Roti
 I am teaching the simple present tense to my beginner level Omani students.
Drawing a substitution table with columns for the subject, verb and object onthe whiteboard, I invite class to insert a suitable item in each column. We havefun selecting and substituting items and making a range of sentences






ice cream.




And so on...

“Miss, I don’t hate chocolates, I hate vegetables.” says one bright student, happy he was able to offer a new word and chuffed at the instant guffawing in the class!
The simple souls have more fun making sentences like “I hate spinach.” And “I love spiders”.  The list goes on until I think we have had a good drill. Then, I ask the students to arrive inductively at the rules of the verb in simple present tense and the subject-verb agreement...

At home that evening, I am picking greens to make a bhaji, with the vehement and almost unanimous choice of “I hate vegetables” echoing in my ears.
Is it their nomadic roots in the arid land, depending on livestock for food? Is it the imposition of the red meat, mainly beef eating culture of the western world?

Why has packaged and cheap meat substituted many of the ethnic foods in these countries? A neo-imperialism of sorts, or just is it just the generation?
I am lost in thought and don’t realise how I finish cooking the ‘takatli bhaji’ - spinach in a yoghurt tart sauce that my first born loves and my younger one is beginning to enjoy with her soft mashed rice.

Two decades later, in another hemisphere a new kind of substitution occurs all the time. Disappointed by tinned sarson ka saag as well as the apology of a dish presented by the “open till late” taxi drivers dhabas in Melbourne, I long to make the mustard greens in a dish that lives up to the expectations we have of this iconic dish.
Experimenting with new vegetables, I have discovered the Chinese Choy Sum, a kind of mustard greens and Silver Beet or Swiss Chard, a generic and therefore versatile green vegetable that can substitute greens ranging from spinach to colocasia leaves!

Sarson  greens replaced with Chinese choy sum, spinach with Swiss Chard , butter with extra virgin olive oil, chatti ki lassi with buttermilk from a carton, Punjabi makki ki roti made with maize flour made in US, sourced from an Italian gourmet store in Melbourne ...

I now have new items in my substitution for the table.

I love choysumsaag.

I love maizeki roti.

Choy Sum Saag

2 cups choy sum (Chinese mustard greens) washed and chopped

2 cups Swiss Chard (silver beet) deveined, washed and chopped

½ tsp or more lemon juice

½ tsp garam masala

1 tsp maize flour

1 small onion, cut into quarters

2 green chillies

2 large garlic cloves

¾ inch piece ginger

1 tbsp olive oil

1 tbsp ghee

Salt to taste

Ginger juliennes to garnish

Heat a pan and add 1 tablespoon of olive oil, add ginger, garlic and onion and sauté for a minute or two.  Add the choy sum and spinach and stir. Add some water and the green chillies. When almost done, remove from heat and cool and grind the mixture into a textured paste. Pour the saag back into the same pan and add salt to taste, lemon juice and the garam masala. Dissolve the maize flour in a little water and introduce into the bubbling mixture. Take care not to let it splutter onto you. Stir and check again to adjust all the tastes.  Simmer for another two to three minutes.

Garnish with ginger juliennes and serve hot with makki ki roti.

Makki ki roti

2 cups maize flour
½ cup whole wheat flour (atta)
Salt to taste

Warm water

Oil for frying

Mix the flours and salt and mix a smooth stiff dough with warm water. Knead well for a few minutes. Roll out small discs and cook them on a hot griddle(tava) like chapatis, with a little oil on each side.
Serve hot with the saag.

This post has prompted my facebook friend and blogger Suranga Date  to quip poetically, in two languages in her blog post Home is where the saag is!




  1. उलटे ऋतू असलेल्या देशात
    सासरी आलेली ती ,
    स्वप्नात मोहरीचे मळे,
    पिवळी धम्म फुलं,
    ताज्या लोण्याचे गोळे
    आणि शेतात शिजवलेली
    मक्के कि रोटी आणि सर्सोन का साग बघते.

    आज कालच्या ई युगात
    पालेभाज्या सुधा एकमेकांना ईमेल करतात .

    आणि मग एक दिवस अचानक
    सौ. चोय्साम्बाई मोहरीमल चिने,
    गडद हिरवा शालू नेसून,
    जरा वयस्कर सौ. चान्देरीबाई बिट्यान्चासह तिच्या घरी पोचल्या ....
    पदर खोचून कामाला लागल्या .
    "अग मिर्चे , नुसता "आले आले" काय म्हणतेस,
    त्याला कान्देभौजीन्बरोबर, लसण्यासकट घेउन ये,कि !
    ऑलिवआजी थांबल्या आहेत केव्हाच्या ....."

    शेवटी त्या दोघी स्वतः ही त्यात पडल्या,
    आणि येणाऱ्या नवरात्रीच्या भोंडल्याची आठवण व्हावी
    इतक्या गोल गोल फिरून
    मजेत मिसळल्या....
    थोडंसं पाणी , किंचित लिंबुरस, आठ्वणीन्चा मसाला,
    आणि एव्हड्यात दमलेल्या सगळ्यांवर
    त्या सासुर्वशिणीने हलकेच पिठाची शाल पांघरली.

    मनात खूप आठवणी दाटल्या ,
    तिचा चेहरा बघून तव्याला काय वाटले कोण जाणे ;
    मक्याच्या पीठाकडे त्याने लाल डोळे वटारले,
    पटापटा रोट्या चुपचाप तयार झाल्या .

    ती जेवायला बसली.
    हौसेने खाल्ले .
    आणि मग ती संगणकावर बसली
    तेव्हा भारातात्ल्या पालेभाजीने पाठवलेली ईमेल दिसली ...
    "लेक किती वर्ष्यात माहेरी आली नाही,
    चोय्साम्बाई आणि चान्देरीबाई,
    जरा माझ्या लेकीच माहेरपण कराल का ?".......

  2. In English also :

  3. Subscribed! Now I have to wait for updates. Love the stories you weave around your recipes as much as I enjoy the poems Suranga weaves around them!


Welcome weary web wanderer!
I hope you have found whatever you were looking for!
I would love to know what you thought of my recipes and posts- so why don't you drop a line?!