As a child, I used to be fascinated with the concept of a red coloured vegetable and immediately made it my favourite. What tickled me pink was the rice turning pink when mixed with red spinach. Seems it was officially my favourite food and the only time I liked the colour pink!
Yes, I never appreciated the various hues of pink until I grew older and wiser and discovered hot pink. But that’s a story for another day.
Going back to the red spinach or lal shaak as it is known in West Bengal, this lesser-known cousin of Popeye’s favourite food is filled with all things healthy. It should be noted that the two leafy vegetables are cousins only owing to the name and the huge scientific category – or is family a better word? – they belong to.
Look closely and you will notice that the red spinach, also called the Chinese spinach is not purely red. It’s a mix of greens and reds with hues of a deep purple. I’ve never seen a prettier bunch of leafy vegetables, have you?
The lal shaak has been around in the Bengali kitchen for several years now, often finding space as the healthy side dish during lunch. Best eaten with rice, this shaak is loved for its earthy flavour and the minimal seasoning it requires to cook.
There are, however, a handful of things to remember before you cook the red spinach.
- Wash the spinach thoroughly, at least 3-4 times to remove all the dirt attached to the stems and leaves
- Twist the leaves off the stems for this dish but retain the stems, they can be cooked or steamed for use later.
- The leaves need to finely chopped, thinner the shaak, the better it cooks and tastier it is.
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- 200 grams Red spinach leaves
- 2 tablespoons Mustard oil
- 3-4 cloves Garlic
- 2 Green chillies slit
- ½ teaspoon Salt
- ¼ teaspoon Turmeric
- ½ tablespoon Jaggery/Sugar
Clean the red spinach leaves to remove any dust or sediments. Chop and set aside to drain.
In a wok or kadhai, heat mustard oil (buy here).
Add lightly crushed garlic cloves to the hot oil and stir till golden brown.
Add the chopped red spinach leaves and mix well.
Add the green chillies, cover and cook for 3-4 minutes.
Switch off and remove from flame.
Serve with steamed rice and a dash of kashundi (buy here).