Eat To Live

Healthy Indian vegetable curry packs spicy punch

This Indian dish is excellent as you can serve it with rice or bread and a meal is on the table. The spinach turns silky and sumptuous and the potatoes, after absorbing the flavours from the spices and the spinach, are irresistible.
This Indian dish is excellent as you can serve it with rice or bread and a meal is on the table. The spinach turns silky and sumptuous and the potatoes, after absorbing the flavours from the spices and the spinach, are irresistible. ST PHOTO: DIOS VINCOY JR

Indian spices make this delicious spinach and potato dish - full of fibre, vitamins and potassium - simply irresistible

Why are we looking far and wide for healthy recipes when we have so many healthy Indian dishes right under our noses?

Yes, healthy and Indian.

You see, there's a range of Indian dishes that would fit this description. Like the Chinese, the Indians have an entire cuisine dedicated to vegetarians. And the good thing about their dishes is that, not only do they focus on vegetables, but they are also extremely tasty, thanks to the spices found in them - giving them an intriguing lift.

While many of the recipes also specify ghee to cook with and cream to finish them off, I omit both as the dishes are delicious enough, without.

Take that excellent curry, aloo palak, which the North Indians cook regularly. It is spinach, sometimes pureed though I prefer it chopped, cooked with potatoes in a lightly spiced gravy. This recipe is particularly useful, as I always have spinach in my fridge to finish off.

Vegetables are delicious with spices. There is a complexity of taste, which helps to make them the star of the table despite the lack of meat.

  • ALOO PALAK

  • INGREDIENTS

  • • 3 potatoes, cubed

    • 2 bunches spinach, chopped

    • ½ tsp cumin seeds

    • 2 onions, finely chopped

    • 2 green chillis, slit lengthwise

    • 1 clove garlic, chopped finely

    • 1 thumb-sized knob of ginger, chopped finely

    • 1 tsp red chilli powder

    • 1 tsp coriander powder

    • 1½ cups water

    • 1 tsp salt or to taste

    • Pinch of garam masala powder

    • 2 tbs oil

  • METHOD

  • Fry the potato cubes in 1 tbs of oil, till they turn a light golden colour. Lift out and set aside.

    Heat 1 tbs oil in a wok, add cumin seeds and let them splutter.

    Add the onions and green chilli and saute till onions soften and turn transparent. Add the chopped ginger and garlic and fry for a few more minutes till they turn fragrant.

    Add the red chilli and coriander powders and stir well to combine.

    Add the spinach, followed by the potato cubes. Add the water and salt and cook on medium heat till the potatoes are tender enough to poke a fork through.

    Finish with a pinch of garam masala and serve hot with an Indian bread or steamed rice.

  • SERVES 4 TO 6

Spinach is one of the vegetables I buy regularly, because it is green and full of iron and fibre, and then I don't always cook it up, bored as I am with the usual ways of cooking the vegetable, such as poached with eggs or stirfried with garlic.

This Indian dish is excellent as you can serve it on its own with rice or bread, and a meal is on the table.

The spinach turns silky and sumptuous at the end of it all and the potatoes, after absorbing all the flavours from the spices and the spinach, are irresistible.

Indeed, there are many tips to pick up from Indian cooking. One is the use of spices to perk up flavours. Vegetables are delicious with spices. There is a complexity of taste, which helps to make them the star of the table despite the lack of meat.

In aloo palak, cumin is used to flavour the oil used to saute the greens, while chilli and coriander add heat and sweet fragrance. Spinach is usually used for this dish, though you could also use kale and kailan or Chinese kale.

Both potato and spinach are healthy foods. According to the Health Promotion Board's 2010 food composition guide, 100g of raw potato has 15.5g of carbohydrate, 2.1g of fibre and 198mg of potassium, said Ms Rddhi Naidu, dietitian at Parkway East Hospital.

Although some potassium may be lost during cooking, as it leaches into the water, potatoes are a good source of carbohydrate and potassium. It's a starchy vegetable which gives us energy to perform our daily activities, said Ms Rddhi.

The same amount of raw spinach has 2.6g of fibre, 207mcg of vitamin A, 1,242mcg of beta carotene, 116mg of vitamin C, 1mg of iron, 471mg of potassium and 152mg of calcium. Spinach is thus a good source of dietary fibre, beta carotene, potassium, vitamin C, vitamin A and calcium, said Ms Rddhi, even though cooking may reduce the amount of water-soluble nutrients, such as vitamin C.

But it is still good for you to consume. Popeye certainly knew a thing or two about his spinach.

•Sylvia Tan is a freelance writer and cookbook author. Her previous recipes for Eat To Live can be found in two cookbooks, Eat To Live and Taste.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 18, 2015, with the headline 'Healthy veg curry packs spicy punch'. Print Edition | Subscribe