The Yellow Fields of Punjab: The Origins of Sarson ka Saag
Journey with us to the Land of 5 Rivers, where creamy lassi and rich, desi ghee seem to flow in the very veins of the earth, and rolling landscapes and endless fields capture the imagination with their vibrant colours and rustic allure. A state defined by the warmth, hospitality and bravery of its people, Punjab is a land of colours and song, where food, drink, and celebration abound.
Nothing encapsulates the very essence of lively Punjab as perfectly as the never-ending fields of golden-yellow flowers of the countless sarson ke kheth (mustard fields) that border the winding highway roads. The location of many a tearful Bollywood reunion on the silver screen, this mesmerising blanket of yellow spread across the foothills of the towering Himalayas is a sunny visual that is quintessentially Punjabi in more ways than one.
A regional dish heavy with both cultural and historical significance, sarson ka saag is an earthy, flavourful preparation rich in immunity-boosting nutrients and wholesome flavours, typical of the region from which it originates.
°A Rustic Delight
Indigenous to the region for upwards of 5 millenniums, the sun-kissed yellow fields of sarson are in full bloom, ready to be harvested in both the winter and springtime. The seasonal fare and abundance of the crop have earned it the undisputed position of a Punjabi delicacy and crowd-pleasing favourite for centuries, dating back to the agricultural days of rural Punjab.
A wholly vegetarian delight, sarson ka saag is prepared from the leaves of the mustard crop, defined by their distinctly earthy and wholesome flavour. A traditional meal originating from the historically rural peoples of the region, the freshly cultivated, desi ghee laden saag was (and is still) considered the perfect meal to come home to after long days of working the fields, tending to the fertile land in preparation for the harvest season. Owing to the laborious lifestyle of rural farmers and workers, the inclusion of desi ghee, makhan, lassi and chaas, once a necessity, has since translated into an array of staple accompaniments to any and all Punjabi fare.
A simple preparation of mustard greens, chillies, spinach and fenugreek with a dash of salt and pepper, slow-cooked over a fire and hand-stirred in its own juices until the consistency of freshly-churned, creamy butter, the authentic version of the dish is still prepared using very little added masala, a testament to its vibrant and punchy flavours.
°A Rural Affair, An Urban Phenomenon
As the old adage goes, “Mother knows best”. While modern and urban renditions of the dish feature many additions and tweaks to the traditional recipe, the truly authentic cooks, traditionally comprising of mothers and grandmothers who follow the age-old traditions of family recipes, passed down from generation to generation, swear by its nutritional benefits.
Rich in antioxidants, iron and dietary fibres, mustard greens have been widely celebrated for their ability to control cholesterol levels, keeping bad cholesterol in check in patients suffering from irregularities. Packed with the nutritious Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin K and Vitamin E along with a number of phytonutrients, the leafy green winter vegetable has been credited with improved eye health, as well as the ability to keep one warm in the chill of the winter.
While once a rural delicacy, sarson ka saag has been reborn in a modern avatar in the city, spiced with exotic flavours and paired with gastronomically-fused creations that claim to elevate the dish from its ancestral predecessor. While these renditions have their own merit, nothing truly compares to the authentically prepared green stew, topped with a hearty helping of homemade white butter and fried onions, and served with a thick, crispy, ghee-infused makkai ki roti (a bread made using maize).
So, the next time you find yourself in the Land of 5 Rivers, be sure to stop off at the closest dhaba for a taste of authentic Punjabi cuisine, born from the yellow fields of Punjab. For TheVibe’s picks for the best spots for truly authentic Punjabi fare, check out Gulati Restaurant, Made in Punjab, Gulshan Dhaba and The Masala Trail.
In a country as diverse as India, with a population of over 1 billion strong, our palettes, much like our languages and cultural nuances, change with every few hundred kilometres. The land of spices, TheVibe takes us on a lip-smacking, mouth-watering, tummy-rumbling journey of flavours from across all 29 states, deep-diving into the history, culture and tastes that define a region. Welcome to TheVibe Originals series, 29 States, 29 Dishes, an exploration of our nation’s many colours and flavours through the medium of the food we call our own.
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