Monday, 3 March 2014

Murgh Saagwala - Punjabi Chicken Curry with Spinach

Let's have another one!

Dare I say it, I think this dish ticks all the boxes if you like a chicken (and spinach) curry - it's healthy, it's easy to cook, it can get children (and grown-ups) to eat spinach who don't like it, AND if you've got a reasonable storecupboard, the chicken, spinach, onions and tomatoes will come to under £1 a head! (If you see chicken drumsticks half price, about £2 a pack, for about ten GRAB THEM -they're perfect for a family dinner, or freeze the leftovers).

Murgh Saagwala - Punjabi Chicken with Spinach 

Serves a generous four. Calories per serving between four: 338 if using drumsticks/thighs and frozen spinach, 350 if fresh spinach. (If using chicken breasts, deduct 78 calories per portion so 260/272 calories per portion). [Calories shown in square brackets next to ingredients]

A really tasty and healthy version of a classic Punjabi dish. If preferred you could blitz the spinach with a little water into a puree in a blender, but my personal preference is to chop it up as I think it looks more attractive and prefer the texture. This dish is really easy to make, with a nice warm heat to it, but not too spicy to share with the family – and a great way to get children to eat spinach! If you’d rather use chicken breast (110 calories per 100g), you could cook out the sauce for 20 minutes, and then add the cubed chicken breast near the end for a few minutes until cooked through but I wouldn’t add it near the beginning as it will dry out.

If you use chicken drumsticks and frozen spinach this is an incredibly economical dinner to make for a family (which would stretch to 5 or 6 portions with 2 adults and the rest children) as a large pack of drumsticks can be bought for £2-3, and frozen spinach costs about £1-1.20 per kilo (so for this recipe, about 30p’s worth in total!). [Calories in square brackets]

  • Chicken: 12 small (raw) chicken drumsticks (800-900g), skin removed or 550g skinless, boneless thigh fillets, all visible fat trimmed [864]
  • (or use 500g skinless chicken breast fillets/mini-fillets/tenders cubed if you prefer, see above, for 550 calories)
  • 500g fresh spinach / baby spinach (RECOMMENDED), or 350g frozen spinach [125 fresh, 77 frozen]
  • 3 large fresh tomatoes (RECOMMENDED) or 400g tin chopped tomatoes [50]
  • 6 cloves garlic, [36]
  • 2 inches ginger root, peeled and sliced (or 2 large cubes frozen ginger puree) [11]
  • 1 tbsp ghee/coconut oil/oil of choice [135]
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 4 cardamom pods, bruised
  • 1 x 3 inch cinnamon stick
  • 2 medium onions roughly chopped (pulse briefly in a food processor, if you wish) [82]
  • 3 small green chillies, pricked a few times with the tip of a sharp knife (use less or more to taste, this is for a mild-moderate heat)
  • 1 tbsp ground coriander [18]
  • 1 tbsp garam masala [21]
  • Salt to taste (1- 1 ½ tsp – remember, you can start off with one, and add more, but you can’t take it away!)
  • 4 tbsp plain, or Greek yoghurt (I like to use Greek yoghurt for its richness, e.g. Total, for Paleo substitute coconut milk or cream) [58]
  • Wedges of lemon to serve (optional).

Defrost the frozen spinach, or if using fresh spinach, wash, then put in a pan over a medium heat for a couple of minutes, stirring until just wilted, then remove from heat. Squeeze the excess water out of the spinach, then chop (or if preferred, puree in a blender) and set aside.

Put the tomatoes, garlic and ginger in a blender/food processor and blitz to a puree and set aside.

Heat the oil in a large, heavy pan (preferably non-stick), and add the bay leaves, cardamom pods and cinnamon stick, stirring for about 30 seconds. Add the onion and green chillies, stirring for a few minutes until starting to brown. Add the ground spices and the chicken (if using drumsticks or thighs) and brown lightly, taking care not to burn the onions.

Add the tomato, ginger and garlic puree and 1 tsp salt, initially, and gently stir or toss to coat the chicken. Bring to a gentle simmer, cover and cook over a low heat for twenty minutes, turning once and shaking occasionally. Remove the lid and add the yoghurt, gently shaking or stirring to incorporate. Continue cooking for a further ten minutes with the lid off, to reduce the sauce, occasionally stirring or shaking. (If you’re using chicken breasts, you could add to the sauce for the last 2 or 3 minutes, before adding the spinach). Add the chopped (or pureed spinach), and continue to cook for a further two or three minutes (or until your chicken is cooked through - especially if using breast) – your sauce will have become quite a dry consistency by now (see the photo above), but you can add a little hot water to loosen it, if you feel it has become too dry. Taste the sauce for seasoning, and add further salt if required.

Serve with a wedge of lemon to squeeze over, and rice, cauliflower rice or flatbreads, depending on what day it is! (Cauliflower is 38 calories per 100g. To make cauliflower rice, simply whizz up in a food processor or grate, then cook in a dry, non-stick frying pan for a couple of minutes, or microwave if preferred. You could fry with some chopped onion, and a couple of sprays of oil spray, some cumin, turmeric and seasoning if you fancy giving it a bit more flavour!).


For a tasty vegetarian alternative, substitute the chicken for a mixture of cubed sweet potatoes (3 or 4) or butternut squash / pumpkin and chickpeas (one 400g tin). Add the sweet potato / squash instead of the chicken at the same point in the recipe but reduce the time to 10 to 15 minutes, and add the chickpeas 5 minutes before the end.

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