"If you can imagine a buttery, meltingly soft, mustard-greens-flavoured polenta, this is it." Madhur Jaffrey
There were a couple of things that pulled me into this particular lucky dip although I will admit I was also sucked in by the photograph.
I think before the greens - which I plan to be the main topic in this post - it was the corn flatbread. I know that there are corn tortillas but this looked nothing like them. Honestly those look indistinguishable from pita bread sometimes. No this one looked much coarser and actually rather tastier - something you could eat on its own almost - slathered with butter of course. Indeed as you can see from my opening quote it's a much closer relative to polenta than to a tortilla.
I checked out the Italian version, and although I couldn't really find a particular classic dish - it's just one of those combinations that housewives throw together - such as these two below:
I included the one on the right because it seemed to be to share the crispiness of the roti with its fried bits of polenta, and also because the polenta was mixed in with the greens, because the Punjabi dish has cornmeal mixed in with the greens when they are cooking.
As to recipes for the dish, alas I could not find the original Madhur Jaffrey one, but I did find one on a site called Spoons and Sneakers - Makki ki roti and Sarson ka saag although I fear it may be rather more authentic than Madhur Jaffrey's version and therefore rather more complicated. But let's face it neither you nor I are likely to be making it any time soon. The flatbreads - even Jaffrey herself admits - are a bit of an art to make as the dough is hard to handle without it cracking. Indeed it almost looks as if the version made for her photo shoot had a few cracking problems.
What it really made me think about though was mustard greens - because the English language title for the dish is just Mustard greens. - the Sarson ka saag part of the version above. I actually think I have done a post on mustard greens sometime ago and I may even have used this photograph from my lucky dip of the mustard greens being harvested in the Punjab. However, if you Google mustard greens you get pictures of a very wide range of plants - most of which don't look like this one. Which reminded me that there are masses of leafy greens that we find in our supermarkets, markets, and specialist stores these days. In my youth there was cabbage, spinach and spring greens - and lettuce. Nowadays besides the now everyday kale, bak choy, pak choy and Chinese cabbage, if you go to an Asian dominated market - there are lots of them here in Melbourne - you will see all manner of greens that you know nothing about.
Recently The Guardian's Rachel Roddy wrote an article about Puntarelle - a salad made with a chicory like green of the same name. This is it - so it's not just the Chinese and other Asians who have a whole lot of unknown greens.
Indeed there are lots of them out in your garden too. Trouble is you need to know what you are picking - a bit like mushrooms. I mean I know that dandelions are OK, and nettles too - though wear gloves when you're picking them - but all those other weedy leaves are unknown to me. As indeed all greens must have been to the first people who picked them for food. How many people died I wonder in the process of finding out which were good and which weren't? Eating from the Tree of Knowledge, obviously didn't give them enough knowledge to know what to eat and what not to eat. There are probably a few people, for instance, who don't know that rhubarb leaves are highly toxic, and beetroot leaves, on the contrary are pretty delicious. Tomato leaves are a bit of a no no too, although not quite as bad as the rhubarb. You'd get a tummy upset though. If you are interested enough SBS has The seasonal weed calendar which gives you pictures of some of the things you can and cannot eat. But it's not definitive, and anyway some of those things look a lot like other things that might not be as good, as well. But don't throw away the leaves from your bunch of trendy beetroot - they are pretty good either cooked or raw - the stalks too.
No it's really an oral tradition about what you can eat and what you can't - handed down from generation to generation and alas our urbanised society has lost a whole lot of that. The French seem to have maintained their knowledge of fungi - and if they haven't - the pharmacist will always help. I'm not sure about greens though. I certainly wasn't taught about greens you could forage, although I was given rather more guidance about berries. Well I suppose that berries might be more tempting food for a child, so they would need to be told.
My lucky dip book is a wonderful thing. She gives you recipes from six of the most interest interesting regions of India, most of them gleaned from housewives she met on her travels, and 'tidied' up for Western tastes before publication. Not every dish is pictured but lots of them are and the photographs are beautiful.
I really should be more adventurous with greens too. Not just in what I buy but also in what I do with what I buy. You can cook lettuce as well as having it in a salad you know. It will have to come down in price a bit first though. It's not a current bargain!