Winter brings a whole lot of greens with itself. No we aren’t going to make that very obvious GoT reference. Leaves get a lot of flak for being healthy, or you might find yourself stuck in the kale fad, but its time to get acquainted with some of the local and seasonal Indian greens.
1. Bathua (Lamb’s Quarter)
Bathua leaves are an inexpensive and naturally available source of nutrients. You could easily find these power-packed local greens by foraging in your vicinity as these humble leaves grow wild almost everywhere. Mostly cultivated by local communities in North India, bathua is rarely grown commercially.
These wild leaves posses an earthy yet bitter-astringent flavour. While the young leaves usually have a mellow flavour (we use them for our salads), the older the leaves, the more bitter they get. Simply sautéing these will help reduce the bitterness considerably. They are also highly fibrous and dense in texture.
A close cousin to spinach, you could easily replace bathua leaves for spinach in almost any recipe. But come winters, we simply love sautéing these greens with olive oil, garlic, ginger and lemon juice to make a perfect side dish. You could also add these to your curries, raitas and flatbreads for a nutritional punch.
Rich in vitamin A, B-complex vitamins, vitamin C, calcium, potassium, phosphorous, irons and antioxidants, bathua greens are good for the liver, spleen and gall bladder—making this an excellent blood purifier. We hear drinking a 10ml shot of bathua juice daily to helps keep digestive issues at bay.
2. Amaranth Leaves (Chaulai)
Also known as chaulai in hindi, amaranth is both a grain and a leafy vegetable mostly grown in the foothills of the Himalayas. The leaves come in bright and colourful varieties—from purple and red to green and gold. Though the seeds of this plant gained much international popularity courtesy their ‘super-food’ status, the leaves are yet to receive mainstream popularity.
Younger amaranth leaves are refreshingly smooth in flavour with a hint of sweetness. The older leaves are thicker and have a dense bitter flavour. Similar to bathua leaves, you could reduce the pungency of amaranth leaves by lightly sautéing and boiling these leaves.
From whipping up the unique amaranth pesto to making a traditional Kerala-style cheera thoran (amaranth leaves stir-fry), these iron-packed leaves are a brilliant green addition to any curry.
Amaranth leaves host an incredible variety of natural nutrients and healing powers. According to Ayurveda, the juice extracted from amaranth leaves help in treating diarrhea and hemorrhage conditions. They are also a mine of vitamin C and iron.
3. Fenugreek Leaves (Methi)
Popularly known as methi in India, fenugreek is a highly aromatic leafy plant that proves to be a crucial ingredient of Indian households during winters. This plant is often used in three forms: a spice (fenugreek seeds), dried herb (kasuri methi) and in its original form (fresh fenugreek leaves).
Fresh fenugreek leaves are aromatic and highly flavourful. The seeds on the other hand remain a bit bitter (lightly roast these seeds to reduce the bitterness). Kasuri Methi, native to India, is often used as a herb in many Indian preparations to enhance flavour.
Herbal tea made with fenugreek seeds, lemon and honey is brilliant health infusion. Homegrown dishes like methi aloo (cooked in smoked mustard oil!), methi paratha and methi meat prove to be an Indian winter household favourites.
A storehouse of vitamins such as vitamin A, B6, C and folic acid, fenugreek leaves are also a rich source of minerals such as copper, potassium, calcium and iron.
4. Spinach (Palak)
Watching Popeye down pop-tops of these iron-packed leaves, spinach inevitably became a legendary winter green. Often described as a “functional food” for its wholesome and nutritional attributes, spinach is one of those versatile greens that can be cooked into any cuisine and preparation.
Raw spinach usually has a mild taste and turns slightly metallic when cooked (due to the copious amounts of iron present in it). Fresh spinach should always be medium-dark in colour, if you’re looking for a tell-tale sign.
When cooking spinach opt for steaming and sautéing rather than boiling to preserve the nutrients. We love our winter staple of palak paneer to satiate our spinach cravings. If you get hold of some baby spinach, make sure to whip up a light and nutrient packed salad for your supper.
These wonder leaves are a rich source of iron, vital antioxidants, minerals and vitamins such as; vitamin A, C, K and vitamin B6, potassium, zinc and magnesium. Being exceptionally low in calories and containing high amounts of dietary fibre, spinach is recommended by most dieticians for cholesterol control and weight-loss.
The term ‘florentine’ is internationally used to describe any dish served on a bed of sautéed spinach.
5. Mustard Leaves (Sarson)
The aromatic and über flavourful mustard greens give us a yummy visit every winter. From the rustic and traditional Sarson ka Saag, to the spicy mustard seeds tempering poured over lentil curries, mustard sure has a special place in our winter kitchens.
Similar to kale, cabbage and collard greens, mustard greens have strong peppery and spicy attributes. When cooked, mustard leaves taste a lot like spinach. Look out for deep-green, large, broad leaves with flat surface (avoid those pale wilted ones).
While the leaves are responsible for the creation of one of the most iconic Indian-Punjabi dishes Sarson ka Saag, the seeds and oil play a very crucial role in day-to-day cooking across Indian kitchens.
Use mustard seeds in combination with curry leaves and dried red chillies to make the most flavourful south-indian style tempering to pour over your dishes—we pour this tempering over almost everything from lemon rice to yoghurt based raitas.
Regular consumption of mustard greens aids in preventing arthritis, cardiovascular diseases, asthma and anaemia (iron deficiency) amongst others. Being a rich source of vitamin K and vitamin A, these leaves are known for their anti-inflammatory and cancer preventive qualities.
Photos Courtesy Of: Manasa