Chicken Saag-wala: My favorite chicken dish (with spinach!)

Some thanks for this recipe should go to a college-mate from Oxford, but I've taken all kinds of liberties with it, of course.

Components of this great dish:
  • About 2 pounds of chicken ( ~ 2 breasts, and 2 legs)
  • 2 medium onions
  • 2 medium tomatoes
  • garlic paste
  • ginger paste
  • cloves
  • cardamom
  • bay leaves
  • 2 boxes frozen chopped spinach (10 oz each) OR about 2 medium bunches
  • Heavy cream (optional)
  • Olive oil
  • Optional: a cup of chicken broth, One 6oz can of tomato paste


  • Start by cubing the chicken breasts into 1-inch cubes, and halve the legs. I've found that the curry tastes better when you have some pieces with bones in them, hence the leg pieces.
  • Chop the onions into think slices.
  • Cube the tomatoes.
  • Turmeric, garam masala and chili powder (all available in the cool lil' Indian stores on Lexington and 28th in NYC. For other cities, look for stores that stock regional cooking ingredients.)
  • Defrost the spinach. (If you're going with fresh spinach, rinse the spinach BEFORE you chop it up, since you'll lose nutrients if you wash after you chop the leaves.) The reason I prefer frozen spinach is that it's easier to fit into the pot. Fresh spinach will first take up a lot of space, but will settle down as it get's heated up.

Cooking time!

  • Heat 2 table-spoons of olive oil in a large cooking pot (I love non-stick pots, since you can use less oil.)
  • Flavor the oil with a couple of cardamoms, a clove and a large bay-leaf.
  • Reduce the heat to medium. Put in a teaspoon-ful of ginger paste and garlic paste, then add in the onion and cook till they are translucent.
  • Toss in the tomatoes, and cook till they get separate out into a bit of a sauce-like consistency.
  • Put in a large table-spoon of garam masala, a quarter TEA spoon turmeric and stir.
  • This is when you make a bit of a decision about chili powder. If you, or the kids, are new to spices, then DON'T use chili powder, but add in a dash of pepper. If you're ready for the taste explosion, I'd suggest about a half teaspoon of it. Stir in well into the onion and tomato mix.
  • Mix in the chicken, so that all the pieces are covered in the onion-tomato mix. A good technique is to ladle the mixture to one side of the pot, lay the chicken on the bottom, then move the mixture onto the chicken pieces. Keep going around the pot, till all the chicken is nicely coated with the mixture.
  • Let the chicken cook in this mixture for about 15 minutes on a medium flame. Ideally, there will be water coming out of the chicken that keeps it moist. If you're worries, you can pour in a cup of chicken broth.
  • Test the chicken (it should be flaky at the end of 15 minutes). Stir in the spinach.
  • Let the mixture simmer on a low flame for about 10 minutes.
  • Stir in one cup of cream to give the curry a creamy flavor (If you're watching the calories, or can't mix meat and dairy for dietary or religious reasons, you may choose to skip this step, or use the can of tomato paste instead.)
  • Take the dish off the heat once the spinach gets very tender and the chicken goes from flaky to very tender.
  • Serve with rice.

As with everything, you have a couple of choices to make, depending on your audience and taste. How much chili powder you use can be critical to a good experience (you know you've used too much if your pals all turn a little red! Yogurt is great for mitigating the effects of a flaming curry!). I've also stopped using cream in my cooking, but it makes for a delicious curry.


Anonymous said…
I tried this - replacing the chicken with veggie meatballs. Worked out well.
Emily said…
Thanks for this recipe - I plan to try it soon! I'm a huge fan of chicken saagwala, as I've recently discovered just how awesomely rich Indian food can be. This is the only recipe that appears to replicate my first experience with it, so I am totally thrilled!

Can't wait to see more of your blog.
Claudine said…
Have you tried using a thick yogurt (Fage 0%) in place of the cream? It wouldn't add fat, and would add creaminess.
Claudine said…
Have you tried using a thick yogurt (Fage 0%) in place of the cream? It wouldn't add fat, and would add creaminess.
Great idea, Claudine. I have used Fage to leaven a couple of dishes where I over-salted and that worked well. I'll update you as soon as I try this!
shelly.anderson said…
Looking forward to trying this recipe! My boyfriend and I have a favorite Indian restaurant in Toledo, OH, and he gets the Lamb Saag-wala EVERY time... Now that we've moved away, he's been begging me to attempt the dish. Your recipe sounds delicious, and I can't wait to try it! Thanks so much for sharing.