Kale chicken saag curry

Say what you will, grad school was fun.

Right after I returned from my big research trip to China, I shared an apartment in Palms (LA) with my fun friend, Gautham.

It was actually a fairly rough area. The building has since been refurbished, but we used to speculate about the previous life of our apartment, specifically whether it had been used for porn shoots or the scene of a murder. I forget the details, but remember that we found what we thought was specific evidence for each theory.

Of course, there was some good news. There was an Indian grocery about 15 minutes away, and they had a pretty great steam tray take away, and two chairs for those of us for whom sitting in the store was still a better alternative than going home.

I remember especially that they had a really great saag paneer that was made from mustard leaves instead of the more commonly seen spinach. The heavier greens gave it a nice body and bite.

And of course, it’s kale season here in Ithaca.

Now some people talk about kale season in the same way they would flu season, or zombie snail season. But not me, I love the stuff, although even I will admit that getting a giant bunch of kale each week in the community veggie coop does eventually start to test the ol’ culinary creativity.

So why not start by trying to recreate the saag of my poorly considered youth?

Kale chicken saag curry

Lightly fry four chicken thighs, and chop into large pieces. Set aside.

Chop fine one bunch of kale. We used Russian kale, which has a stronger taste, and other types, or any other heavy greens can be substituted. (Of course that means that all the spices will need to be adjusted to taste). Wilt the kale and remove from pan.

Add two tablespoons oil (normally you would be using ghee, which we didn’t have. Don’t use regular butter, which will scorch) Add 1/2 tablespoon of cumin seeds, 1/2 tablespoon of mustard seeds, 4 slices fresh ginger (about one tablespoon) and 6 cardamom pods and fry over low heat until fragrant.

Stir in one chopped onion, two cloves chopped garlic, and the powdered spices: 1 tablespoon turmeric, 1 teaspoon coriander, and some shakes of white pepper, 1/2 tablespoon cayenne pepper. (Note that all spice measurements are extremely notional. The operative word here is “some”)


Reintroduce the kale (hello, kale!) to the pan, add ½ can chopped tomatoes, and fry lightly to mix in with the spices. Add 1/2 can evaporated milk, and get out the ol’ stick blender (the one essential kitchen tool, IMO) and puree. Expect to be surprised how little is left of that mountain of kale. This is the stage I like to add salt, since it’s easier to do this to taste.

Reintroduce the chicken (hello, chicken!) and the rest of the can of tomatoes, cover and cook on low heat until the mixture becomes a paste. Unlike spinach, kale resists cooking down after a certain point, so there’s no need to keep this on the stove too long.

Of course, the best way to finish this dish is with butter. Serve with basmati rice (Japanese rice is shown in the picture) or naan.


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