I always ignored the fresh greens section at the veggie shop frankly because I’m a lazy cook and the thought of spending endless minutes picking out a ton of leaves in prep put me off. But then with age comes patience (maybe) and better sense (bigger maybe!) and I bought a bunch of laal shaak or red amaranth leaves, also known as laal maath, tambi bhaji, etc.
Moni used to cook it quite often and I remember her insisting we eat at least a little of it, as she did with whatever she cooked especially the vegetables. We didn’t need much coaxing to eat meats or fish! Of all the leafy greens she cooked the laal shaak was the most attractive – rice would turn a beautiful pink once mixed with the laal shaak and this miracle in the plate fascinated me. She would always add a generous amount of garlic and occasionally she’d cook it with potatoes. I never needed convincing when she added potatoes. The pretty pink batons would call out to me and I would even ask for more.
Like most vegetable side dishes, laal shaak is cooked with barely any spices and is done in minutes. And like most of our vegetable dishes the prep takes time.
Aloo diye Laal Shaak
1 bunch red amaranth leaves
1 small potato
4-5 cloves of garlic
2-3 dried red chillies
1/4 tsp nigella or kalonji seeds
Pick out the leaves and the tender stems of the amaranth greens. Discard the thick, woodier or stringier parts of the stem.
Wash thoroughly and drain in a colander. Chop roughly or finely, as you prefer.
Cut the potato into thick matchsticks. Peel and chop the garlic (do not mince).
Heat the oil in a kadai and fry the potatoes till nearly done. Add salt and mix.
Push them to one side and chuck in the nigella seeds and garlic, letting them sizzle for a half a minute. Tilt the kadai if it has a flat base so the oil collects together and is deep enough for the garlic and nigella seeds. This way you don’t have to add more oil.
Now add the chopped greens and a little salt and then stir well to mix. Cook covered for a few minutes till the greens are completely wilted and cooked through. Check that the potatoes are done to a nice softness. Adjust salt if required.
Serve the laal shaak with daal and rice, or with soft phulkas. We Bengalis usually have it as a ‘bhaja’ that accompanies the daal course in our traditional meals.