Serve up a sumptuous Sai Bhaji

For the very best of reasons, Sai Bhaji is a favourite dish of the Sindhis. Prepared at least once a week in Sindhi households, this delectable medley of split chickpea, green leafy vegetables and other vegetables such as tomato, potato, bottle gourd, carrot and brinjal, is as delicious as it is healthy.

While the traditional version uses certain vegetables such as spinach, dill leaves and fenugreek leaves, you can make it with any vegetables of your choice and it will still taste great. The traditional version was simmered on low heat, but this version uses the pressure cooker, which makes for a no-big-deal experience that can be rustled up in a short time.

The more colour you add, the more nutritious it is for you

I chose this dish because summer temperatures are beginning to dwindle our appetites. Moreover, seasonal vegetables such as milk gourd, ridge gourd, snake gourd, apple gourd (tinda), pumpkin and the like begin to taste the same after some time.  Sai bhaji offers the unique advantage of metamorphosing these bland vegetables into a nutritious power-packed single dish that can be teamed up with rice or rotis, to make for a sumptuous meal that you will relish to the last morsel.

My kids were vociferous in their protests after some time, and I was in a dilemma, as to how I would feed them these summer vegetables, which should be consumed to keep them cool during the summer months. Thankfully, Sai Bhaji came to my rescue and meal-times once again became enjoyable and stress-free.

I am well-aware that children do not like certain vegetables, but it is very important that they inculcate healthy eating habits that will not only help them remain healthy, but would also influence the food choices of their future generations.

I look upon a good balanced daily diet as an insurance premium that needs to be paid up regularly so that during an emergency situation, such as an illness, it helps us bounce back at the earliest, without any complications. How soon we recover from a debilitating disease depends on the robustness of our general health and immunity – and a healthy diet day-after-day can make all the difference. 

To this end, I made a conscious effort right at the beginning, to feed my kids all kinds of vegetables, either by masking them or preparing them in combination with other vegetables and legumes, so that they became more palatable.

Combine leafy vegetables with legumes for maximizing taste and  benefits

My efforts paid off when my daughter, who left home for her higher studies when she was 18, said that she has been fortunate to have developed a taste for all types of food and vegetables. She could not understand why many of her peers avoided eating veggies and ended up with just rice and pickle on their plate. She wondered then, how one could survive on such food.

Children will always be fussy eaters, more so with the introduction of global cuisine and flavours. While children should enjoy continental as well as oriental cuisine, I am more than convinced that it is we parents, who play a crucial role in making our home-grown dishes palatable, so that our children consume them on a regularly basis.

Stuffed veggie and cottage cheese parathas make for a nutritious brunch

I began making veggie parathas, mixed vegetables as well as vegetables mixed with lentils. My kids loved these variations and soon, feeding them a balanced diet became a win-win situation for all.

So let me introduce you to my all-time hack, Sai Bhaji, which is healthy and delicious. Served with dollops of ghee, it takes the dish to the next level. The dish uses split chickpea, which is high in protein, and has several vegetables, which supply vitamins, anti-oxidants and minerals, thrown in for good measure. So when you are in the mood for cooking a single dish instead of two, this one works out great. Also, if your vegetable tray consists of small quantities of vegetables left over, you can use them to prepare this dish. But make sure that the vegetables do not have an overpowering taste (such as a bitter gourd) that will dominate the entire dish.

Ingredients        NutrientsBenefits
Split chickpeaCarbohydrates, protein, fibre, folate, iron, phosphorus, manganese, copperPacked with nutrients, they make you feel satiated, helps in weight loss, bone health and muscle strength, lowers blood sugar levels, soluble fibre is excellent for gut health, helps in prevention of heart disease, cancer and diabetes
SpinachRich source of iron, calcium, manganese, magnesium, folate and Vitamins A, C,K, E, B6 , antioxidants, inorganic nitrateBoosts immunity protects from viruses, bacteria and toxins, enhances bone health, curbs appetite and makes you feel satiated. It is heart healthy, and improves haemoglobin levels. During pregnancy, nourishes brain development and prevents neural tube defects in babies. Enhances eye health and prevents cataracts, rich in antioxidants helps in heart health by improving functionality and lowering blood pressure, anti-inflammatory, aids in tissue repair,   
Dill leavesAntioxidants, Vitamins A and C,Protects against heart disease and cancer
Bottle gourdRich in antioxidants, VitaminCools the body, beneficial for heart and reduces sleep disorders. Regulates blood pressure, aids in digestion, reduces acidity, helps in detoxification and weight loss, is a natural cleanser and works wonders for your skin.
Fenugreek leavesAntioxidants, Vitamins A, B6, C and K, calcium, magnesium, sodium, folate, riboflavin, pyridoxine, fibreReduces blood sugar, boosts testosterone levels, enhances bone and heart health and increases lactation. May reduce cholesterol, inflammation and appetite. Aids in digestion, reduces mouth ulcers and constipation, and prevents anaemia.
CarrotBeta-carotene, Vitamins B6 andK1, fibre, potassium, antioxidantsLow glycemic food. Aids in weight loss, improved eye health and reduced cholesterol levels, sources Vitamin A from Beta carotene, improves bowel movements, and reduces risk of cancer.
BrinjalVitamins B6, K, C, Thiamine, niacin, magnesium, phosphorus, copper, iron, calcium, manganese, folic acid, potassiumImproves heart health, aids in digestion, prevents cancer, improves bone health, enhances brain function, and prevents anaemia.
PotatoSoluble and insoluble starch, fibre, rich in vitamins and minerals, antioxidants,Prevents heart disease by keeping cholesterol and blood sugar in check. Anti-inflammatory, and therefore prevents heart disease and cancer. Decreases blood pressure and reduces chances of stroke. Improves gut health since resistant starch acts as a pre-biotic, which feeds gut flora. Prevents constipation and irritable bowel syndrome. Skin of potato has 12 times more antioxidants than the flesh, So try to consume the skin too.
OnionQuercetin, calcium, fibreAnti-inflammatory, reduces cholesterol and triglyceride levels and therefore, the risk of heart disease.  Reduces blood pressure and protects from clots. Has cancer fighting properties, controls blood sugar, improves bone mineral density, improves gut health by acting as a prebiotic for healthy gut flora and destroying harmful pathogens such as cholera bacteria, staphylococci and E.coli in the stomach. 
GarlicVitamin B1 and B6 and C, Allicin, Manganese, Selenium calcium, potassium, phosphorus, copper, ironReduces cholesterol and blood pressure, improves heart health, used in preventing and treating colds
GingerGingerolAids in digestion, reduces nausea and morning sickness, lowers blood pressure. Antioxidant and anti-inflammatory. Reduces blood sugar and lowers risk of heart disease. Reduces cholesterol, helps in weight loss and protects against certain types of cancer.  May improve brain function and protects against Alzheimer’s Disease.  
Green chilliesVitamin A, B6, C, antioxidants, iron, copper, potassium, capsaicinBuilds immunity, improves metabolism, aids in fat burning, keeps skin healthy and glowing
TomatoesAntioxidants lycopene, Beta-carotene, chlorogenic acid and naringenin, Vitamin C and K1, potassium, folateReduces risk of heart disease and cancer, builds immunity, anti-inflammatory, improves skin and bone health, lowers risk of heart attack and stroke.
Turmeric powderCurcuminAntioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, also stimulates the body’s innate antioxidant  enzymatic activity against free radicals, improves brain function and lowers risk of brain disease, cancer and heart disease, studies on curcumin have gained traction  in treating cancers, Alzheimer’s Disease, arthritis, depression and other chronic conditions.
Chilli powderCapsaicin, Vitamin CAnti-inflammatory, analgesic – relieves pain, aids in fat burning, weight loss,  reduces cholesterol and triglycerides, chronic sinus conditions.
Garam masala (mixed spices)Antioxidants, volatile oilsBurns fat, anti-inflammatory, regulates blood pressure and improves heart health, lowers risk of cancer, enhances nutrient absorption, regulates blood sugar, improves brain function and protects against Alzheimer’s Disease.
Coriander seed powderAntioxidants, fibreMay lower blood sugar, lowers risk of cancer, anti-inflammatory, boosts immunity, improves heart health, protects against Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and multiple sclerosis, anti-bacterial property protects against food-borne illnesses such as salmonella food poisoning and hospital-acquired infections, fights against bacteria responsible for urinary tract infections
Pink (Himalayan)/ Kosher/iodised saltMined rock salt rich in sodium and 84 different trace minerals and elements such as potassium, magnesium, calcium, iron, zinc. Kosher salt is coarse salt, rich in trace minerals and elements. Iodised salt or table salt contains added iodineAntacid, anti-flatulent, carminative, mild anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory activity, sodium regulates the transfer/exchange of nutrients/toxins through cell membrane.
Cumin seedsAntioxidants, volatile oil, fibreRegulates blood sugar, has anti-cancer properties. Helps in weight loss, fights bacterial infections, anti-inflammatory, helps reduce pain, reduces irritable bowel syndrome, stimulates central nervous system and in treating for Parkinson’s Disease
AsafoetidaResin or gum of ferula plant rich in sulphur compounds, tannins, flavonoidsAnti-flatulent, anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory, used in treating bronchitis, kidney stones, anti-fungal and anti-bacterial, lowers blood pressure, reduces blood sugar, anti-asthmatic, protects brain health

Getting the ingredients together

Now that we know, how beneficial this dish is for you, let us cook it up. Listed below are the ingredients. To make this a more organised affair, place all the ingredients together. Wash and prepare the vegetables as per requirement. Measure out the spice and condiments and keep them ready so that the tempering does not get burnt.

The ingredients listed below are for the traditional version. However, this dish can have variations depending on what vegetables you add. Therefore, it ends up tasting slightly different every other time, yet has a distinct flavour of its own.

Have your pick of green veggies for the Sai Bhaji

I vary it depending on the vegetables I have at hand. If I do not have fenugreek leaves, I soak a teaspoon of fenugreek seeds along with the lentils. This tastes great as well, and provides health benefits.

Ingredients        Quantity
Split chickpea1 cup
Spinach2 cups
Dill leaves½ cup
Bottle gourd1 cup
Fenugreek leaves½ cup
Carrot1, small
Garlic7-8 cloves, crushed
Ginger1 inch piece
Green chillies2, slit lengthwise
Turmeric powder½ tsp
Chilli powderTo taste
Garam masala (mixed spices)½ tsp
Coriander seed powder1 tsp
Pink (Himalayan)/ Kosher/iodised saltTo taste
Oil/ghee2 tb sp
Cumin seeds1 tsp
Asafoetida2 pinches
Tamarind pulp (optional)1 tsp

Method of preparation

  1. Wash the split chickpea (chana dal) and soak it in a pressure cooker with 4 cups of water.  Then get all your other ingredients ready.
  2. Wash the spinach, fenugreek and dill leaves and chop them finely.     (I did not have dill and fenugreek leaves, so I replaced them with green onion and kasuri methi (dried fenugreek leaves, available at grocery stores)
  3. Peel and dice the carrots and potato.
  4. Dice the bottle gourd. Do not peel it, since the peel is rich in antioxidants.
  5. Chop the onions and tomatoes.
  6. Crush the ginger to a paste.
  7. Add all the above prepared vegetables to the split chickpea in the pressure cooker and cook until the chickpea is tender and mushy.
  8. Once the pressure cooker cools down, open it and mash the ingredients until they blend. Do not mash it to a homogenous paste. A little texture adds to the taste and allows you to savour the dish better. Add salt and a little tamarind or mango powder (optional) to add some tang to the dish, since all the ingredients are bland. Allow to simmer, stirring it now and then so that the mixture does not stick to the bottom of the pan.
  9. Now you need to prepare the tempering, which will bring out the rich flavours of the dish. Peel the garlic, crush it and keep aside. Add ghee/cooking oil in a pan and when it heats up, add ½ tsp of cumin seeds, a pinch of asafoetida. Keep the heat low. Add the slit green chillies and crushed garlic. Allow to cook for 5 seconds. Add the turmeric, chilli powder, garam masala and coriander seed powder and mix. Do not burn the tempering as it could spoil the dish.
  10. Immediately add this tempering to the simmering split chickpea mixture. Stir it well and allow to come to a boil.
  11. Garnish with finely chopped coriander leaves.
Team it up with millet roti, green mango chutney, amla (Indian Gooseberry) pickle and salad for a power-packed meal

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Serve the piping hot Sai Bhaji, topped with generous dollops of home-made ghee. It can be eaten with chapatis, millet roti or steamed rice. Rustle up a salad/raita and help yourself to some homemade amla (Indian gooseberry) pickle on the side.  Your satiation and good health are guaranteed!

Until my next, happy cooking and eating!

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