Change up your chicken dinner routine with this healthy, rich, and creamy chicken saag recipe. Even your pickiest eaters will love it, and it is a delicious way to feed veggies to your family.

A green chicken curry

Every Indian recipe collection needs a chicken saag as it is a U.S. Indian restaurant favorite and a much loved North Indian dish. This recipe goes by many names, depending on where you are from and the greens you use. Technically this is chicken palak because I’ve only used spinach. Palak means spinach, and saag is a Punjabi term for any leafy green. So feel free to swap out all or part of the spinach with the greens of your choice. Mustard greens, collards, fresh fenugreek leaves, and swiss chard come to mind.

In my experience, U.S. restaurants typically make this masala with lamb . . . as in lamb saagwala. In India, it is often made with chicken, and because I know many people are not fond of lamb, I decided to go that route. Also, the advantage of using chicken is that it cooks much more quickly than lamb. However, there are few more satisfying foods than a good lamb curry, so if you are so inclined, try this sauce with lamb, and you won’t be disappointed.

Chicken saag recipe shortcuts

I have made my chicken saag recipe with just a one-hour marinade, and it is quite good. It is even better if you allow the chicken to soak in its marinade for 3 hours, and even up to 8 hours. So before cooking, decide how long you want to give this step and allow the time needed.

Another way to shorten the cooking time is to use frozen spinach, which cuts out the blanching step. And if you are serving your family and don’t need a smooth puree, you can buy finely chopped frozen spinach or give it a knife chop on your cutting board. When using fresh spinach, and you don’t care about how bright green your final masala is, you can skip the blanching step here too.

Rich and creamy

My inspiration for this recipe is from Ruchi’s Kitchen, where Ruchi has written her mother’s “heirloom saag wala.” Her genius suggestion for an extra creamy palak chicken is to swap out the cream with cashew cream or yogurt. Cashew cream lends a rich, velvety texture to the sauce. There are no unusual ingredients in this chicken saag recipe except black cardamom—which you can substitute with green cardamom—and optional kasoori methi. So give this rich, comforting, and healthy curry a try. I am sure it will become a family favorite.

Happy cooking!

~ Alonna

See the Notes below before you cook.

Comforting Chicken Saag Recipe ~ Served in a pretty square bowl garnished with drizzles of yogurt, an orange chili, and slices of shallot.

Comforting Chicken Saag Recipe

Change up your chicken dinner routine with this healthy, rich, and creamy chicken saag recipe. Even your pickiest eaters will love it, and it is a delicious way to feed veggies to your family.
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Course: Main Course
Cuisine: Indian
Keyword: Chicken, Dairy-free, Egg-free, Entertaining, Freezer Friendly, Gluten-free, Lamb, Low Carb, Make ahead, North Indian, Stovetop, Tofu, Vegan, Vegetarian
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Marinating: 3 hours
Total Time: 4 hours
Servings: 4 to 5
Calories: 379kcal

Ingredients

Marinade Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 pounds skinless boneless chicken ~ Thighs or breast, see Notes below
  • 5 tablespoons plain yogurt
  • 1 to 2 small Indian green chilies ~ Minced. See Notes below.
  • 1/2 teaspoon Kashmiri ground red chili ~ Or 1/4 teaspoon deggi mirch or cayenne. To taste!
  • 1/2 teaspoon garam masala ~ Buy or make your own
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea or table salt ~ Or 1 teaspoon Diamond Crystal Kosher
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice ~ Or lime

Blanch the Spinach

  • 8 ounces fresh baby spinach ~ Or frozen, see Notes below
  • 1/4 cup milk ~ Water for processing

Sauce

  • 2 tablespoons ghee ~ Mustard oil or oil of your choice
  • 3 whole black cardamoms ~ See Notes below for substitutions
  • 2 bay leaves ~ Indian tej patta if you have them
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 1 1/2 cups onion ~ Finely chopped
  • 1 1/2 tablespoon ginger garlic paste ~ Or 2 teaspoons each ginger and garlic purée
  • 3/4 cup tomato purée ~ Or 3 medium tomatoes grated or finely chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon Kashmiri ground red chili ~ Or 1/4 teaspoon deggi mirch or cayenne. To taste!
  • 3/4 teaspoon garam masala
  • 2 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea or table salt ~ Or 1 teaspoon Diamond Crystal Kosher
  • 2 teaspoons dried fenugreek leaves (kasoori methi) ~ Optional but recommended
  • 1/4 cup milk ~ Coconut, yogurt, etc.

Optional final enrichment

  • 1 to 2 tablespoons heavy cream ~ Optional, or yogurt, or coconut milk
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons ghee ~ Optional,or butter

Optional garnishes

  • 1 tablespoon sliced almonds
  • 1 tablespoon yogurt ~ For drizzling

Instructions

Marinade

  • Gather your marinade ingredients.
  • If using chicken thighs, cut into 3 pieces; and chicken breast (halves) into 4.
  • In a bowl large enough to hold the chicken mix together, add the yogurt, minced green chilies, red chili powder, garam masala, salt, and lemon juice. Add the chicken and coat well. Cover and refrigerate for 3 to 4 hours, up to 8 hours.
    Comforting Chicken Saag Recipe ~ The chicken pieces in its marinade.

Prepare the spinach ~ See Notes below; Optional

  • If using fresh spinach, and you want to preserve the bright green color, blanch it briefly. Clean the spinach thoroughly if not pre-washed, removing tough stems if it is not baby spinach. Frozen spinach has already been cleaned and blanched.
  • Blanching: In a large pot of boiling water, blanch the spinach for one minute if using baby spinach, and 2 minutes if using regular spinach. Immediately spoon it into a sieve or colander and run it under cold water to stop the cooking. Drain the spinach of excess water.
    Comforting Chicken Saag Recipe ~ Blanching the spinach in a pot of boiling waater.
  • Place the spinach in a blender with 1/4 cup milk or water and process until smooth. Set aside.
    Comforting Chicken Saag Recipe ~ The blanched spinach pureed and ready for folding into the dish.

Cook the sauce and assemble

  • Gather your sauce ingredients.
    Comforting Chicken Saag Recipe ~ Sauce ingredients gathered.
  • Over medium-high, heat oil in a medium saucepan. When the oil is hot add the black cardamom, cumin seeds, and bay leaves to the pan. When the cumin begins to crackle and turn a shade darker reduce the heat to medium.
    Comforting Chicken Saag Recipe ~ Whole spices sizzling in a dutch oven.
  • Add the onion. Sauté for 2 minutes and then add the ginger-garlic paste; sauté for another minute.
    Comforting Chicken Saag Recipe ~ Red onions cooked until pink and the ginger garlic paste ready to be mixed in.
  • Add the tomato and cook for 4 to 6 minutes until the mixture thickens and the oil begins to separate on the top and along the sides of the pan.
    Comforting Chicken Saag Recipe ~ Tomato sauce cooking down with spices into a thick paste.
  • Add the marinated chicken and turn the heat up to medium-high; stir frequently for 2 minutes.
  • Stir in all the spices—ground cumin, ground coriander, chili powder, garam masala, salt, kasoori methi (if using), and milk. Mix until combined and stir for another minute. Reduce heat to low, cover, and cook until the chicken is cooked through. This will take about 6 to 10 minutes, depending on the size of your chicken pieces. Uncover and stir in the spinach. Cook gently for 2 minutes to allow the flavors to meld.
    Comforting Chicken Saag Recipe ~ Adding the chicken and ground spices to the tomato and spice reduction.
  • Final adjustments: Add the optional butter, ghee, heavy cream, yogurt, or coconut milk to enrich and mellow the flavors. Taste for salt, acid (lemon juice), and heat (ground red or black pepper). Serve hot with warm rotis, naan, or white rice.
    Comforting Chicken Saag Recipe ~ Finished cooking in the dutch oven and ready to be served.
  • Keeping: Chicken saag keeps well in the refrigerator for 3 to 4 days so it is a perfect make-ahead dish. It also freezes well. After you have made it to your satisfaction, double the recipe next time so that you can freeze half for some dinner insurance. To freeze, transfer the cooled chicken to an airtight container and freeze for two to three months.
    Comforting Chicken Saag Recipe ~ Served in a pretty square bowl garnished with drizzles of yogurt, an orange chili, and slices of shallot.

Notes

  • Protein choices: I find chicken breast dry no matter how carefully I cook it, but I do prefer it in the dish. Bone-in chicken is also good if that is how you roll. You can use lamb in this recipe but it will take at least twice as long to cook. If you want a vegan or vegetarian dish, use firm tofu cut into cubes and sautéed to add texture. The tofu won’t take as much time to cook.
  • Chilies: I use small Indian chilies. When seeded and chopped they measure 1/2 teaspoon each. If you want the flavor of chilies without any of the heat, make a 1-inch slit down either side of the chili and use whole. Looking for more heat? Deseed and mince the chilies. Even more heat? Leave the seeds, use hotter chilies and, of course, add more!
  • Spinach amount: Many recipes of this type use up to a pound (16 ounces) of spinach. I quite like the balance of flavors of 8 ounces of spinach to the tomato and onion masala in this recipe, but feel free to add more to your taste.
  • Fresh spinach: If your spinach is not pre-washed be sure to wash carefully to remove the inevitable sand. I use pre-washed baby spinach, but if you are using older spinach, remove the tougher stems.  And if you don’t care if your sauce is a bright green, you can also skip blanching. Blanching is primarily done to preserve a bright green color. Some cooks also blanch spinach to reduce the amount of oxalic acid in this green.
  • Frozen spinach: This spinach is already blanched so there is no prep work.
  • Mustard oil: If you like using this flavorful oil and want to use it in this recipe it should be cooked ahead. In a small pan over medium-high heat bring the oil to the smoking point. Remove the oil from the heat and allow it to cool.
  • Substitutes for black cardamom: though I encourage you to get your hands on this spice, you can substitute it with 4 green cardamoms. You won’t get the distinctive smoky notes, however. In this recipe, if I didn’t have black cardamom I would add 3 whole green cardamoms, 1/4 teaspoon of liquid smoke, a pinch of cloves, and a pinch of cinnamon. But don’t let not having black cardamom keep you from making this dish and simply subbing in green cardamom will work well.
  • For a richer and creamier chicken saag recipe, instead of cream make Ruchi Kitchen’s vegan cashew cream.

Nutrition

Calories: 379kcal | Carbohydrates: 18g | Protein: 38g | Fat: 17g | Saturated Fat: 8g | Cholesterol: 187mg | Sodium: 860mg | Potassium: 1154mg | Fiber: 5g | Sugar: 8g | Vitamin A: 5682IU | Vitamin C: 31mg | Calcium: 176mg | Iron: 5mg
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