November 01, 2003
Guerillas in the mist

Well: I haven’t posted anything here for over one week - because I’ve been real busy! Life is a bit of haze at the moment. In fact, come to think of it - life has been a bit of haze for quite a while. I don’t know about you - but over the last few years or so - life has seemed to be a constant haze of URLs, meetings, emails, text-messages, meetings, laptops, emails, meetings, text-messages, laptops, URLs, wireless LANs, websites, meetings, BBC News 24 and so on - all mixed up in a fuzzy sort of haze - where it’s impossible to work out whether the thing that’s occupying your mind is something that was stimulated by something that someone said - or whether it was stimulated by something that you read on an email or on a web-page, or on BBC News 24.

Or perhaps it was something I read whilst in the men’s bathroom at work? Read on … (and thanks to Ritu for providing the stimulus for this topic!)

Because modern-day living involves being bombarded with these 21st century things that we take for granted - e.g. emails, URLs, text-messages, 24-hour news, laptops, websites, meetings etc. - from the moment we step out of the door on the way to work in the morning - to the moment we get into bed last thing at night, a new kind of advertising is becoming commonplace. I call it “bathroom advertising”. This form of advertising acknowledges the fact that 21st-century living involves being bombarded with all things URL and text-message. It acknowledges the fact that today’s busy work-life (and home-life) involves being inundated with information. A very real information overload - where everyBODY and everyTHING is competing for as many brain-cycles of attention-span as possible.

Yep - bathroom advertising has arrived. For example - if you were to visit my office at work - and more specifically, if you were to visit the bathroom at my office - you would notice that there are bits of paper stuck to the wall: at eye-level just above the mens urinals - or at eye level on the large mirror just above the row of washbasins - or stuck to the chrome of the hand-dryer. And even outside the bathroom: just above the “call-lift” button of the lift-lobby on every floor - and even inside the lift - next to the button panel. And even on the the dispenser of the Flavia coffee machine - the bit that you insert your sachets of coffee-ground into when you go to the kitchenette to make yourself a cup of tea. Each little advertisement competing for your attention: Advertising the fact that email viruses are deadly - or that somebody is having a leaving do - or that some department has changed its processes or that there has been a recent departmental reorganisation. Whatever: it’s obvious that corporate culture is acknowledging the fact that corporate “global” emails do not have the impact that they once had. And this is entirely down to the fact that we are suffering from information overload; it’s not surprising that the only few moments of free time that we get are those that we spend in the bathroom pissing - or stand at the hand-dryer drying our hands, or standing in the lift-lobby waiting for a lift to arrive.

Totally unsurprising actually: ask yourself: how many of you have had lunch with your laptop lately? (i.e. sandwiches from M&S, Tesco or Pret - taken at your desk.) Or no lunch at all - because the only time that you can get a meeting room is at lunch time? Many I bet. (I reckon that I clock up at least 3 “no-lunch days” every week.) Ask yourself how many unread emails you have in your inbox? Emails that you haven’t read yet - or simply won’t read at all - ever. Your decision to read or not to read being made by “sophisticated subject line scanning technique” - or “senders name judgement”. I bet you’ve got loads of unread email with subject lines something like “Departmental Workstack Report for Week 43” or from senders something like “IT Department”. Just hope that people aren’t making judgements about you based on non-returned read receipts … (Have you ever been embarassed by someone coming up to your desk and bringing up a topic that they feel that you shoudl already be aware of because they sent you an email about it a few days ago? The embarassing moment arising when you swing round to your inbox and scroll back to emails from a few days ago - where said person watches over your shoulder and notices such large quantities of unread email - including all the ones from themself. Oops!)

The “ordinary members of the public” have even resorted to such forms of “dead time” advertising: I was sitting on the bus home earlier this week and I noticed a bit of “marker-pen” graffiti the back of the seat in front of me advertising the URL of somebody’s website - perhaps a blog site? Guerilla Marketing .…

Anyway - all this 21st-century information overload caused me to go back to basics: Tonight - being a Saturday night - Ms.79 and me decided to cook a simple but delicious dinner for ourselves: simply saag. A simple, uncomplicated, wholesome and very fulfilling Punjabi dish that we try to make a tradition of cooking every Saturday morning - to eat on Saturday night. And here follows the recipe:

All you need is a couple of medium-size finely chopped onions. some spices: haldi (turmeric), garam masala, ground coriander, salt - as well as some thawed, frozen lumps of chillie, garlic and ginger from your freezer. (For an explanation of what I mean by “thawed lumps” - you have to read a previous recipe) And some maize flour (otherwise known as polenta or cornmeal). Oh - and you also need some spinach leaves and leaves of “spring greens”.

Basic ingredients

Got these pretty cheap from Asda

We got some green leaves from the supermarket. Spinach and Spring Greens - 300g and 500g respectively. See how cheap they are! Wash all the leaves in your kitchen sink - and then chop them up in batches into coarse ribbons on a chopping board. Dump the chopped-up leaves into a large-ish pan one-third full of boiling water on the stove. (Thanks to Ms.79 for providing the graceful, sexy and sensuous, saag-cooking hands modelled in the kitchen photos.)

Boil the leaves for about 1 hour on a semi-agressive simmer

After about 45 mins of semi-agressive simmering - use a magi-mix blender to “zap” the mixture in 5 or six very-short bursts in order to break-down the coarse, stewing ribbons of leaf into more finely shredded bits:

Zap the mixture about six times in very short 1-second bursts

After another 20 minutes of simmering - give the mixture a good stir - and then prepare the cornmeal mixture: put two heaped dessert-spoons of maize-flour (polenta/cornmeal) into a glass and then add some water from the tap. Give it a good stir - ensuring that there are no lumps - and then add to the simmering saag mixture.

Add the polenta mixture to thicken the saag

Let it simmer for a few minutes - and then chop a generous knob of butter and add to the pot - stirring until melted.

You will especially enjoy the fact that at this point - the saag is not simmering as such - instead large bubbles start to form just below the surface of the mixture - and erupt like mini-volcanoes - making a gloopy sound - and splattering your kitchen in a 2 metre radius around the pot. So make sure that you keep a lid handy - just haf-covering the pot so that some of the water evaporates and thickens the mixture. Simmer like this gently for another half-hour - stirring occasionally - and then turn off the heat after it has reached your desired consistency.

The pot has been simmering for around 1.5 hours now.

Then get another small pot - put in a little oil - heat up and then add onions. Fry until the onions are slightly golden-brown. Then add the ginger, garlic and chillie. Stir-fry for a few minutes until the smell of it all spreads across the kitchen.

Then add the spices to the browned onions: 2 teaspoons salt, 3 teaspoons turmeric, 3 teaspons garam masala, two teaspoons ground coriander. By now - the special aroma will be wafting its way out of your kitchen and into your garden - and from there - onwards into the kitchens of your next door neighbours. They will be envious.

Add the spices and stir-fry until the spices are roasted and the aroma prevails

Then add the onion-spice mixture to the saag pot - and stir until well mixed:

Adding the spices to the saag

Then - when you are ready to eat - heat-up the completed saag until it’s just about to boil - serve into a bowl and accompany with either fresh roti - or naan bread (or pitta bread) and a fresh salad of chopped cucumber, halves of cherry tomato, chunky strips of carrot, halves of small radish, and chunkily-chopped red-onion - all tossed in a few dashes of tangy vinegar. Simply delicious!

Serve with fresh roti, naan or pitta bread - and a colourful salad!

Now turn up the volume loud, click on the red button below, close your eyes and immerse yourself in the sound and rhythm of traditional bhangra music as you imagine that you are a Punjabi village farmhand celebrating the end of a harvesting season by feasting on saag-roti, drinking whiskey and dancing into the night …

If there’s any saag remaining in the pot - just put it away into a microwaveable container with a lid - and store in your fridge. It will keep for around 2 days. Just take out of fridge at any time and put container in microwave for a few minutes of reheat - stirring and reheating until piping hot. You can even store in freezer - and will keep for weeks like that. Just make sure you defrost for a few hours before attempting to reheat in microwave. You could also try making “aloo saag” or “paneer saag” with the leftovers: in either case you simply get some cubes of potato or paneer and fry them until golden brown - perhaps adding some more masala spice and salt to the frying cubes - and then stir them into the saag and serve piping hot. Wonderfully simple - very nutritious and extremely delicious!

It’s funny - cos whilst I was researching links to embed in the above posting - I happened across a page with some interesting stories and facts regarding “Chicken Tikka Masala” as the UK’s national dish - even more popular than Fish & Chips. I just had to laugh when I heard that Chicken Tikka sandwiches from Marks & Spencer are the most popular!

Posted by jag at November 01, 2003 10:36 PM

damn…you do have a nice blog jag. jealous beyond reason…i am…

i also want to get back into re-designing mine again…you are an influence mr.79.

to you and the mrs: happy diwali.

Posted by: mamatha on November 2, 2003 11:23 PM

Cheers to you M ! And thanks for the compliments!

Posted by: Jag on November 2, 2003 11:36 PM

Wow, ambient ads and cookery in one post, nice one Jag.

I’m wondering what sort of loo advertising was in the toilet that Cheryl Tweedy from Girls Alout (sic) was in when she assaulted the toilet attendent.

“Eau de Klaine - for every jumped up little pop star in the world who’s going to be forgotten in a year’s time. Because you’re not worth it!”

Posted by: Annie Mole on November 3, 2003 01:31 AM

This post really struck a chord with me.…I too am suffering from 21st century overload, and found myself agreeing with practically everything you said! Particularly the bit about unread emails…I think sometimes at least half my incoming emails are deleted without even opening them, and another quarter are only skim read. Sometimes it feels like i’m skim-living my life the way i skim read emails - ruthlessly eliminating stuff from it without even giving it a try, through lack of time. I think I need two lives :-(

Your recipe sounds delicious! And I love the photo by photo instructions…it must have taken you ages. Looks like a labour of love. I’m definitely gonna try this at home.

Posted by: sue on November 3, 2003 09:28 AM

Mouth Watering!

Posted by: Chakra on November 3, 2003 04:19 PM

Annie: very appropriate! Definitely a jumped up little pop star. They’re all like that these days. (But I suppose they always were too.)

Sue: “skim-living” - I like that. That’s exactly what it is. I’m sure we’re not the only ones either …
The act of taking the photos for the recipe didn’t take very long. But I have to admit that selecting/sequencing/resizing/annotating them for these pages took a while! And yes - do try it. But remember to relax and let “the force” do it’s work - don’t be too fussy about exactness of the quantities and preciseness of the timings …

Chakra: It sure was tasty!

Posted by: Jag on November 3, 2003 06:32 PM

Another nice entry, Jag ! Had me laughing aloud couple of times. Mr & Ms Route79 sound like a “desi” partnership say between Nigella Lawson and Jamie Oliver…hmmmmm…your very own food blog. The simplest things in life are the most profound as someone said to me the other day and I thoroughly enjoyed reading your clear, step by step recipe. I wondered how to cook polenta but now I at last have a recipe!! And, by the way, at this restaurant here called “Some Place Else” they serve tandoori chicken pizza…and it’s yummy!!

Posted by: Ritu on November 4, 2003 02:26 AM

I had written a long comment so this is the other bit…you know, Mr & Ms Route79 sound like desi competition to say a partnership between Nigella Lawson and Jamie Oliver…hmmm…I can see your very own food thing taking off here.Simple recipe and sounds yummy…I am off shopping for spinach and polenta today.

Posted by: Ritu on November 4, 2003 02:38 AM

Hi Ritu - it seems that for some reason - a “double pling” (pling=exclamation mark) appears to hide some text in the comments - so I deleted one of your “plings” and the hidden bit of comment magically re-appeared!

I am flattered that you liken us to competing with Nigella and Jamie! And I would also agree with you 100% that the simplest things in life are the most profound.
Glad to have made you laugh. It was fun for us too!

By the way - I am told formally by my Italian colleagues at work that “Polenta” is actually the “end-result” of cooking maize-flour (or cornmeal that it is otherwise known as) into chunky bits that solidify when boiled. However, it seems that many manufacturers refer to maize-flour as “polenta” on the assumption that you are actually going to use it to make “polenta” - when in actual fact Indians tend to use maize-flour as a natural thickening agent - which is perfect for saag. You could always use cornflour as well - but maize-flour (the yellow stuff) is what is traditionally used in saag. (or so my mum says anyway!)

Yes - there are many pizza parlours around this part of NW London that also do tandoori chicken tikka masala pizzas too. Cool!

Posted by: Jag on November 4, 2003 08:32 PM

Yes…life is a many mails go unread and then the excuse comes if asked “Did you get it?” and I reply “No, must’ve been my gets iffy most of the time!” or the mails that need to be replied to..the posts at forums that need to be replied an application for an organisation post and not going for the interview cuz u realise u have no time for it and a whole lotta things..where’s the time to do all of it?

The saag looks lovely..Whenever I do try my hand at cooking I’m going to dig into your archives and find this post! :)

Posted by: Amrita on November 8, 2003 01:34 AM

Thank you! This is the very best saag receipe I’ve found! Been looking for it for a while, after eating some stuff that I bought in a little (very expensive can) from my local health food vendors and loving it. Couldn’t figure out how to duplicate it .….this is it though. Many thanks.

Posted by: bobbie on August 1, 2004 09:31 AM

Hi Bobbie - many thanks for your feedback! Enjoy.

Posted by: Jag on August 1, 2004 10:31 AM

I love saag served in Indian restaurants here in Baltimore, Maryland. It never is bitter. And fresh spinach as used in green salads is not bitter either. About a year ago, I abandoned trying to make saag at home because I could not find a way to cook spinach without it becoming bitter.

You cook the saag for a much longer time than I did. Does that ameliorate the bitterness problem?

Posted by: ron on September 1, 2004 07:31 AM

Hi Ron - thanks for your comment. I’m not sure what I do specifically to avoid the bitterness - but I suspect it’s because we actually use more “spring greens” leaf than spinach. Actually - the spinach simply adds more substance to the mix rather than taste - because spinach loses its flavour after just seconds of boiling - so maybe that’s the explanation - I’m not really sure. Perhaps it could also be addition of a generous knob of butter near the end that cancels the bitterness. I will ask my mum and see what she says!

Posted by: Jag on September 1, 2004 01:00 PM

I’ll try again, thanks to you. A new look at my cookbooks by Yamuna Devi and Neelam Batra shows things I didn’t see before.

Posted by: Ron on September 4, 2004 10:30 PM

Thank you so much for this recipe! The photos are very helpful. Your saag recipe is by far the best that I have found.

Posted by: Rhonda on December 31, 2004 10:15 PM

Loved the colour pictures at different stages of saag making. Now what possessed me to look up saag recipes in the first place? :o) I suppose the Punjabi tastebuds were at work.
The recipe looks easy and I will try it when I need to. Until then mum-in-law can keep churning out her saag. Oh, she’s making some today for Lohri tomorrow.
Happy Lohri !! And Happy saag consuming :o)

Posted by: Raj on January 12, 2005 01:25 PM

Lovely pictures of the entire process and a great idea too!

I tried the recipe and added some chana daal at the boiling stage and used a pressure cooker instead of normal pot. Turned out fine!

Thanks again

Posted by: Radhika on February 15, 2005 06:15 PM
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