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I Failed again at making saag :(

Hello, I’m trying to learn how to make saag but I’ve been having really bad luck with it. It’s probably my most favorite curry so I really want to nail it down. This is the third time I tried using this recipe:

Saag Paneer

The only thing I didn’t have was the methi and paneer. Couple of things I noticed after I tasted it:

– Way too spicy. I bought the only green chili peppers that were available from my local Indian supermarket (serrano) and I don’t think it was the right one to use.
– Apart from the spiciness, it tasted really bland! I don’t know if the measurements of the spices are correct in that recipe (teaspoon seems small), but I felt like this definitely needed more salt.

Any tips or suggestions on what I should do?

37 thoughts on “I Failed again at making saag :(

  1. I make my saag similarly except I use cumin and salt as well. I dont use chili since my wife and her family can barely tolerate any spice. When I dont add salt, my saag comes put bland as well.

    1. Yup, I am no Indian expert, but if a recipe turns out bland, I start by upping the salt. It will bring out your ingredients’ flavors.

      1. indeed, also, they’re missing one ingredient: turmeric! I also always marinade my paneer in oil, salt and turmeric before hand.

      2. Another thing about salt is that restaurants put a LOT of salt in their food, and some use MSG / umami uppers also, making it taste extra yummy.

  2. In my experience, Methi often brings out the “typical” restaurant-like flavour in saag Paneer. Also, did you prepare paneer yourself or did you end up using a substitute?
    I also completely agree that salt brings out many other flavours as well.
    You could also try to experiment with the amount of oil you’re using – always put whole spices in oil and let them sizzle a while before adding the other ingredients.

    1. Fenugreek leaves aren’t widely available where I’m at but I do have a small box of Kasuri Methi. Would Kasuri Methi be a reasonable substitute?

        1. Just to add to that: Fenugreek *seeds* and leaves (=Kasoori methi) are obviously different things. You can add Fenugreek seeds at the beginning when you let all the ground spices sizzle.

        2. I thought “Kasuri” Methi was specifically dried fenugreek leaves and Methi was fresh green fenugreek leaves. Like there are a few things I would l say dried parsley is not at all an acceptable substitute for fresh parsley in Italian cooking. Are you saying the difference between fresh and dried fenugreek is small enough not to worry about in Indian cooking? I’m relatively new to cooking Indian myself.

          1. You’re right. Kasuri methi is dried fenugreek leaves, while saag is made from fresh fenugreek leaves. They won’t taste the same.

            However, if you have no source for fresh fenugreek leaves and are forced to make saag from spinach or something else instead, adding some kasuri methi will enrich the taste and give it the very slight bitterness of methi saag. Spinach doesn’t have a strong taste of its own, so adding kasuri methi helps. Still won’t taste like real methi saag, but it’s worth making anyway.

          2. >adding kasuri methi helps. Still won’t taste like real methi saag, but it’s worth making anyway.

            Exactly the answer I was hoping to hear. Thanks for replying!

          3. Thanks for the clarification. Also, i had no idea people really made saag entirely from fenugreek leaves.

            FWIW I bought a fenugreek plant from my local garden store and had it in my herb patch last year. The leaves were 100% flavorless though… I’m wondering if they sold me a clover plant instead 😛 The dried fenugreek leaves I have in my spice cupboard are distinctly fragrant.

          4. Yep. They make saag out of a whole variety of different leaves in India. Methi ka saag (fenugreek leaves), sarson ka saag (mustard leaves), bathuwa ka saag (goosefoot leaves), were some of my favorites. Much more flavorful than plain old spinach, though spinach goes uncommonly well with paneer, or stuffed in a pizza.

    2. I wanted to go for just plain saag so I didn’t add any paneer or substitute. I’ll try to cook the spices in the oil longer next time.. thanks!

  3. The base needs onion, turmeric, coriander, lotsa lotsa ginger garlic, fried in ghee or oil and the smokiness is from Garam Masala….remember to not cook it but add after cooking everything and then covering the lid so that the aromatics do their stuff and mildly flavour your saag instead of burnt masala

  4. too spicy: did you remove the seeds from the chilis? deseeding them makes a big difference; you still get some heat and the fresh green chili flavour, but it cuts down the heat level a lot.

    too bland: perhaps a bit more salt, but also i’d recommend browning the onions properly before adding any of the other ingredients, and finishing it off with a squeeze of lemon juice right at the end.

    1. I didn’t remove the seeds. That’s interesting, I didn’t realize the seeds made such a huge difference. I’ll spend more time on the browning next time too. Thanks!

  5. Perhaps try a different recipe if this one is not working for you.

    Both chillies and salt are personal preferences, so taste as you cook. Start with small amounts and add more as needed. A rule of thumb for chilli is to add about 1/3 of what the recipe states – allows for different chillies and different tolerance levels – and add more until you reach your taste preference.

    Also, another word about salt in Indian cooking. Often it is not needed, so if a recipe is bland and relying on salt for its flavour, chances are the spice mix is not right. Have a look at other recipes and see what difference there are.

  6. This is a basic saag recipe that should yield a perfectly fine result.

    Several things you might be doing wrong:

    First, salt the water you use to blanch the greens. Second, drain the greens well, and press them in a colander to remove all of the water (you can always add water to your saag later if you need to).

    As to green chilis, I like to split them lengthwise and remove the seeds (where most of the heat lives in the chili). You might want to use Jalapenos as your green chili – they are milder than serrano.

    Taste and reseason at the end. If it needs salt, just add it.

      1. I make saag once or twice per month. Otherwise, I’d grind 2 tablespoons of whole corriander, 1 tablespoon of cumin, and add that to your masala (spices), along with a 1/2 tablespoon of ground turmeric and about 10 fenugreek seeds (ground). I sometimes add a tablespoon of whole mustard seed (that I grind) and this dish will need a few tablespoons of good kosher or sea salt (again, add at the end, while tasting for effect).

        Some people like to add a splash of cream at the end. I myself usually add a nice heaping pat of unsalted butter.

  7. You didn’t fail, you just found another way how not to make it.
    I failed lots of times with chicken curry, now I make the best.
    Keep at it.

  8. Seems I’m a bit late to the party. I agree with prior tips, like adding salt and removing the seeds of the serranos.

    I have a suggestion to improve depth of flavor: cook your onions longer. It looks like you started adding liquid (i.e. tomatoes) too early. Let them go for at least 20 mins at low/med temperature until they get deep and brown — not golden, which is when you should add the ginger/garlic/chili pepper — and then make a bare spot in the center of the pan to toast the spices. When the spices are hot and fragrant, mix them with the aromatics, and THEN add tomato, etc. Should come out better!

    1. Thank you, I didn’t really spend that much time cooking the onions (maybe like 5-10 mins). I will spend more time on this part. Thank you!

      1. Brown-frying onions is one of the defining techniques of Indian cooking. They will form the base of your flavor, and give your dish savory depth. Think about all those complex sugars you’re creating, and how well they play against the spices and other flavors — beautiful!

  9. Also, don’t be discouraged! You will get the feel of indian cooking faster than you might think. I used a useful introduction to some principles in general (as well as a pretty solid basic Saag Paneer recipe) on – be aware that it’s a paid site, though there is a 30 day free trial (I think), which is plenty of time to complete the indian cuisine course. PM me if you want me to send you their saag paneer recipe (they have one on video, I wrote down the steps and needed ingredients for myself).

  10. That recipe is a bit different than what I use but the most glaring difference is: lime/lemon juice. Saag tastes pretty bland before you add acid. Keep adding more until it tastes right. Try it next time.

    In recipe I probably double or triple the red chili powder and add 1.5x coriander as red chili powder. I also fry a few whole cloves, 6-8 cardamom, inch of cinnamon, and use a decent amount of mustard seeds and cumin seeds to start.

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