Kale Bhaji (With Butternut Squash and Potatoes)
By Shanta Nimbark Sacharoff
The origin of the word “curry” is attributed to several words, depending on the source.
Some South Indians believe that ‘Curry’ comes from the Tamil word ‘Kari’ (meaning sauce), but then North Indians would argue that ‘Curry’ is derived from the word ‘Kadhi’ (meaning yogurt soup).
Whatever the origin, the British rulers of India, unfamiliar with the intricacies of Indian cuisine, began to refer to any Indian food as ‘curry’. When I first heard “curry” being used (rather abused) in the US, I was annoyed. But it doesn’t bother me anymore. It just makes it easier for Americans to order “eggplant curry” or “chicken curry” instead of “baigan bharta” or “chicken korma.”
In some parts of India, the general term for cooked vegetables is ‘sabji’, ‘bhaji’ or ‘shak’. Suki bhaji (dry vegetable dish without gravy) or rasadar bhaji (spicy vegetable dish) may also have specific names, such as aloo gobi (potatoes cooked with cauliflower). Note: at least in Gujarat we wouldn’t call any meat dish ‘bhaji’ as bhaji also means leafy greens.
This seasonal green bhaji with mixed vegetables is complemented by various elements. Kale plays a central role. providing spring fragrance and leaf color. The potatoes and squash keep the texture, and the coconut milk makes a gravy that is absorbed by the cabbage. Tofu (not traditional Indian cooking) gives this dish a protein boost. Fresh herbs and spices give the dish extra zest.
Nutritionally, the main vegetables used in this dish are “superfoods”. A cup of chopped boiled cabbage provides the body with 2.5 grams of protein and over 300% of the recommended daily allowance (RDA) of vitamin A and 89% of the RDA of vitamin C, while containing only 36 calories. So kale is an ideal food for people with diabetes or weight watchers. Butternut squash is rich in vitamins A, Bs and C, which are useful antioxidants in fighting disease. This fiber-rich pumpkin can protect us from some types of cancer and heart disease. Potatoes are a great source of vitamins C and B6, which help us fight viruses and maintain healthy blood pressure. Potatoes are also a good source of prebiotics, which help us with digestion.
4 cups tightly packed and finely chopped dino kale
(measured after removing the middle stems and cutting)
1 cup firm tofu, cut into small cubes, after draining excess liquid
2 cups diced white potatoes (measured after boiling, peeling, and slicing)
2 cups cubed butternut squash (measured after cooking, peeling, and slicing)
3 tablespoons olive or safflower oil
½ cup green onions (scallions), finely chopped with the green parts
½ cup red pepper, finely chopped
2 to 2½ cups low-fat or full-fat coconut milk, left at room temperature for at least ½ hour
1 teaspoon coriander and cumin
1½ teaspoons turmeric powder
¼ to ½ teaspoon cayenne powder
1 teaspoon or salt to taste
2-3 tablespoons of water
1 tablespoon fresh ginger root, grated or finely chopped
2 to 3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime or lemon juice
3 tablespoons chopped coriander
First clean the cabbage by soaking it in water. Then rinse it thoroughly with a salad spinner. Remove the middle stems and finely chop the leaves. Put it aside.
Cut a small slab of tofu into several slices and place them on paper towels for a few minutes to drain excess liquid. Then cut the slices into sugar cube-sized pieces and set aside.
Then cut the potatoes into large cubes and place them in a pot of water. Cut off a portion of the butternut squash and then cut it into large chunks. Add squash to pot of water with potatoes. Boil the two vegetables together for about 15 minutes so that their skins loosen but the vegetables are still firm enough to dice.
Heat a tablespoon of oil in a pan and add the onion and pepper pieces. Stir fry for a minute to coat the butter and then add the dino kale. Fry the mixture gently but generously over moderate heat for 5 minutes so that the kale is fried but not wilted. Transfer the kale to a plate and spread it out.
Pour the coconut milk into a bowl and add the powdered spices and salt. Whisk them together, adding a few tablespoons of water to mix. Set the bowl aside.
Then peel the boiled potatoes and pumpkin pieces and cut them into small cubes. Put the remaining oil in the same pan you used to fry the cabbage and add the ginger. Fry the ginger while adding the potatoes and pumpkin cubes. Saute them together for 2-3 minutes so they are coated in oil, then pour in the coconut milk mixture. Cover the pan and let the vegetables simmer gently over moderate heat for about 12 to 15 minutes, stirring the mixture occasionally. Then check that the potatoes and squash are soft and fully cooked.
Then add the dino kale and stir-fry for a minute or two to heat the kale through, but don’t overcook. Much of the sauce will be absorbed by the cabbage, leaving a nice glaze. Sprinkle the lime/lemon juice on top. Garnish with chopped cilantro just before serving the bhaji with Indian flatbreads or tortillas.
Recipes by Shanta Nimbark Sacharoff, copyright 2023. Shanta is a Sunset District resident and author of Cooking Together and Flavors of India, both available at Other Avenues Grocery at 3930 Judah St. Shanta writes recipes and articles about food and nutrition. She also teaches vegetarian and vegan cooking classes and shares recipes through YouTube videos.