Baking for Bookworms: Aloo Gobi Saag from Zadie Smith’s White Teeth


There were really two types of recipes in White Teeth (which incidentally is a book I adore and is a book everyone really needs to read. Like drop what you’re doing and read it. It’s brilliant…). One type of recipe is something and chips like an omelet or beans. The other type is Indian foods that the customers can’t pronounce. So in honor of learning a little more about other cultures, and because I really love to cook Indian food and try to convince others to do so too, I went for the Indian curry.

“A years worth of Samad softly inclining his head at exactly the correct deferential angle, pencil in his left hand, listening to the appalling pronunciation of the British, Spanish, American, French, Australian:

Go Bye Ello Sag, please.

Chicken Jail Fret See wiv Chips, fanks.”                            46

What I love about this passage is how well it highlights cultural differences and that strange line between ignorance and disrespect. I think it’s a very simple thing–most of us are guilty at mispronouncing foods from other cultures–but it shows a deeper problem which is an unwillingness to listen and learn about other either because of embarrassment and a desire to not be wrong or because we simply don’t care.

For those of you that don’t know, Gobi Aloo Saag or Aloo Gobi Saag is a potato and cauliflower dish in a gravy or curry. I’ve made Aloo Gobi before, but I’ve never made the saag, which is awesome and delicious and fragrant.

Some people are really intimidated by cooking Indian food because of the sheer number of ingredients and exotic spices. But I promise you, you probably have most of the spices in your kitchen, and it’s well worth a trip to your nearest Indian (best prices on spices) or Asian food market to get the harder to find ones. It’s basically just garam masala you have to go out of your way for. And you can make your own blend if you really want to (but I think that’s a total pain). A lot of other things you can substitute for more readily available ingredients if you can’t procure them easily.

There’s several stages of this recipe, but they’re relatively simple and it can still be completed in an hour if you’re organized. You can serve this dish with naan or roti, but I didn’t think that far ahead, and I just served it with rice. Makes 2-4 servings as a main dish.

Recipe adapted from this one by VahChef. You might find his video helpful if you’re worried or wondering about how something should look.

Aloo Gobi Saag

  • 1 small head of cauliflower washed and chopped into florets
  • 3 medium potatoes, peeled and chopped into bite size pieces
  • 3 tbs oil, divided (you want vegetable or sunflower or something with a higher smoking temperature than olive oil)
  • 1 bunch or 1/2 bag spinach (about 5oz)
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 4-5 cloves garlic very roughly chopped
  • 3-5 Indian chilis (if you can’t get these, you can sub another pepper of your choice. I used an Anaheim pepper, which I seeded and chopped roughly, but you could even use half a green bell pepper if you want flavor without spice–just make sure the pepper is green)
  • mint leaves, about a small handful worth, washed
  • coriander leaves, small handful, washed (if you can’t get these, you can sub another green herb of your choice. I used parsley because that’s what was in the fridge)
  • 1 pinch nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp coriander* if you’re not using the leaves
  • 1 tbs ginger, grated (I like to freeze mine–it makes grating easier)
  • 1 can diced tomatoes or 1 cup fresh diced tomatoes
  • 1 tsp garam masala
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 1 tsp (more or less to taste) chili powder
  • salt to taste

Preheat oven to 415F. Line a baking pan with tin foil for easy clean up.

Chop the potatoes and the cauliflower and place in one layer on the baking tray. Coat with the oil of your choice and season with salt and pepper. Roast the veggies for 25-30 minutes or until tender.

While the veggies are in the oven, start on the saag. In a pot of cold water add the spinach (no need to chop it) and bring water to a boil. Once the water boils, remove the spinach and set aside.

In a pan, cook half the onion, the pepper, and the garlic in a tablespoon or so of oil over medium heat. Once the onions are soft, add the herbs, nutmeg and coriander powder, if using, and turn off the heat. Add the spinach and stir to combine. In a blender or food processor, take all the green goodness and blend into a paste.

In the same pan you just used, add more oil and the rest of the onions, turning to medium heat. Season with a tiny bit of salt. Add the ginger and continue cooking until the onions are browned. Add the tomatoes (if using fresh tomatoes, also add 1/2 cup water). Stir in the chili powder, cumin, garam masala, and turmeric. Cover and simmer for about ten minutes, or until the tomatoes soften and begin to break up.

Once the tomatoes soften, add the green paste, stirring to incorporate. Stir in the veggies and cook for a minute or so before checking the flavors and serving.


Have you ever cooked Indian food before? What did you find to be the most difficult part? Or have you ever felt bad about mispronouncing something in a restaurant? What was that experience like? Let me know in the comments!