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Winter months can be very chilly in the San Francisco Bay Area, despite the promise of balmy Californian weather. It’s time to prepare substantial meals that contain protein and complex carbohydrates to keep our bodies warm, and plenty of leafy greens to provide nutrition and prevent viral diseases.
Dark leafy greens are among the most nutritionally concentrated plants; they are even more nutritious than so-called “mega vegetables” such as broccoli. Leafy greens are rich in protein, calcium, potassium, iron, and vitamins A, B, C and K that protect the body against disorders such as diabetes, vision impairment, calcium loss, and cardiovascular disease.
Concentrated greens such as wheat grass juice and green algae can be added to our diet as supplements to defend the body against cell damage, and to reduce the risk of cancer.
Indian restaurants in the United States usually serve only spinach and, occasionally, mustard greens. However, back home, many kinds of leafy greens are found fresh daily in the markets and cooked the same day for maximum nutrition. In addition to green spinach one might easily find spinach with a purple tint (amaranth greens), spicy mooli (radish) greens, bitter methi (fenugreek) leaves, thick bhindi (okra) leaves and large patra (taro root) leaves, to list but a few. Many of these vegetables are not easy to find in California, but locally grown dark leafy greens such as kale, chard, mustard, collards, and watercress can easily replace them in familiar recipes.
Leafy greens can be stir-fried, steamed, or incorporated into soups, breads, and fritters. All kinds of young greens can be consumed raw in salads or added to health-promoting smoothies. Here are two recipes using easy-to-find greens that will provide a nutritional boost for your family.
Shanta Nimbark Sacharoff, author of Flavors of India: Vegetarian Indian Cuisine, lives in San Francisco, where she is a manager and co-owner of Other Avenues, a health-food
Quick and Easy Stir-Fried Leafy Greens
(Makes 6 servings)
3 cups each collard greens, spinach leaves, and Swiss chard leaves (or a similar combination)
2 to 3 tablespoons peanut, corn, or olive oil
4 to 6 cloves of garlic, minced
½ teaspoon cumin seeds
Juice of 1 lemon or lime
Salt and cayenne pepper to taste
Remove all thick stems and any roots. Keeping the various kinds of greens separate, soak them separately in large bowls of water to remove dirt. Soaking before chopping allows the dirt to settle to the bottom of the bowl, and keeps the nutritional value intact.
Drain the leaves thoroughly and, using a knife with a wide blade, chop them coarsely and set them aside. Heat oil in a frying pan over a moderate flame. Add garlic and cumin seeds. Saute for two minutes, then add the collard greens. Cover and cook for a few minutes until the greens begin to soften. Then add the spinach and chard together. Stir-fry the mixture for a few more minutes. When the greens are tender, add the lemon or lime juice, salt, and pepper.
The whole process should take no more than 10 minutes. Leafy greens cook very fast, and over-cooking can reduce their flavor and nutritional value. Serve with rice or bread.
Muthia with Three Greens
(Makes 6 to 8 servings)
Like falafel or meatballs, muthias can be made of a variety of ingredients, including leftover rice and/or vegetables. In fact, Gujaratis may have invented muthia to use up leftovers. The word “muthia” literally means “fistful;” they can be shaped into patties or logs before frying or steaming. In this recipe they are shaped into logs and fried until crispy golden. Fried muthias can be served as appetizers or cooked in a spicy tomato sauce for a colorful entrée.
1 cup garbanzo flour (besan)
1 teaspoon baking powder
cup corn meal
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon powdered coriander
1 jalapeno pepper, minced after removing seeds and core, or teaspoon cayenne pepper
3 to 4 cloves garlic, minced
¼ cup chopped cilantro
Juice of 1 lime or lemon
1½ cups to 2 cups cooked brown or white rice (leftover brown rice works the best)
1 cup each washed, drained and finely chopped spinach, curly kale, and watercress
1 cup or less safflower, peanut, or corn oil for deep frying
For the sauce:
1 cup finely chopped onion
4 cups fresh or canned chopped tomatoes with juice
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon garam masala
Cayenne pepper to taste
If you do not have leftover rice, first make the rice. Be sure the cooked rice is completely cooled by spreading it in a thali or on a platter. Rinse and drain the greens thoroughly before chopping.
Sift the garbanzo flour with the baking soda into a mixing bowl. Add the cornmeal, salt and the spices and mix well. Mix in the cilantro and lemon juice. Then add the rice and the chopped greens using as much as needed to make a mixture that can easily be pressed into patties or logs using the palms of your hands.
Sprinkle some garbanzo flour on the surface of a cutting board. Take a handful of the muthia mixture and roll it in the flour to form a log that is about 4” long and 1” in diameter. Finish making all the logs and set them aside. You will have about a dozen rolls.
Heat a cup of oil in a sauce pan and fry the muthias three at a time, turning until they turn crisp and golden on all sides. Remove them with a slotted spoon and set them on paper towels. The fried muthias can be served hot with chutney as appetizers. Or turn them into a main dish with the tomato sauce as described below.
Prepare the sauce as follows: Fry the onion in a saucepan until soft. Add the tomatoes, salt, and spices. Cook the sauce for 20 minutes, stirring to break up any lumps.
Cut the muthias into halves to make two rolls out of each log. The muthias can then be cooked in the tomato sauce either on the stove top, or in an oven preheated at 350° F.
To cook them on stove top, pour half the tomato sauce in a pot with a lid. Arrange the muthias in the pot and pour the rest of the sauce on top. Cook covered for about 15 minutes over a low to medium heat. Check to see that they do not stick to the bottom. To bake, pour half of the sauce in a casserole dish or a pan with a cover. Arrange the muthia pieces on top of the sauce in a single layer. Pour the other half of the sauce over them, cover the pan, and bake for 20 minutes.
Serve the muthias hot with rice and/or flat bread.