International cooking for the youthful malcontent.

Peanut Spinach Shaak


Thanks to Mike and Aimee for the photo.

Peanut Spinach Shaak

There’s a lot of meat on here so far, eh? My vegan friend has already registered his disappointment, and another recently declared vegan status, so the pressure is on. Personally, I have only a theoretical agreement with the vegan lifestyle; my love of dead animal product is too great. But I’ve always found cooking with/for vegan and vegetarians to be an interesting experience. Sort of like painting with your wrong hand.

This is a shaak. I’d love to tell you a good story about what that means, but as near as I can tell, it’s a vegetable dish with little or no sauce. Basically, what you’re going to get is a light-tasting chopped spinach dish. There’s water in the dish – enough to keep it “saucy” but the spinach, nut and spice flavours are laid mostly bare, and allowed to mix relatively simply.

Doesn’t sound good yet? How about this: fresh roasted peanut aroma in your kitchen, mixing with toasted cumin, ending in an earthy spinach dish with a subtle sweetness, peanut crunch, and a refreshing kick from fresh ginger. And just enough spice to make your lips hot. This dish is easy enough to add as a side dish for a larger meal (featuring meat, obviously) or goes great with chapati or roti on it’s own for a light meal.

I really should stop writing these posts before I eat. The stomach is rumbling now.

Ingredients (serves 2 as light meal, 4 as side dish):

  • 225 g (1/2 lb) fresh spinach (not baby spinach – the real deal)
  • 1 tbsp peanut/vegetable oil
  • 1/2 tsp whole cumin seeds
  • 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/4 cup unsalted peanuts
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 1/2 tsp brown sugar
  • 1/2 tsp kosher/coarse salt
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne powder
  • pinch turmeric
  • 2 tsp fresh chopped ginger

Serve with: Indian flatbreads (roti, paratha, chapati, etc), steamed rice

What you will need: a wok or similar deep pan (you’ll be boiling water in it), knife and cutting board, colander, measuring cups and spoons, small bowls for organization


  1. In a small bowl, measure out the ground coriander, ground cumin, sugar, salt, cayenne, and turmeric. This all gets added at the same time and it’s going to be done quick, so you need to organize this now, because you won’t have time during the cooking phase. Good prep makes easy cooking.
  2. Heat up the wok on medium heat (4-5 on my dial). Don’t add any oil yet. Add the peanuts, and dry-roast them until they have some brown toasted colour on the edges, and the surface looks wet with oil. Pour the roasted peanuts into the bowl with the spices.
  3. Trim the dry ends off the stems of the spinach. That stuff is just ugly-looking. Food should be pretty.
  4. Peel and finely chop the ginger. Finely chop, in this case, means no pieces wider than a centimetre, ok? Leave this aside for now.
  5. In the same wok, pour in hot water – enough to fill up the wok about 3 inches deep at the center.  No need to measure this exactly, really. Heat the water to boiling over medium-high heat (6 on my dial).
  6. While the water is beginning to boil, add half the spinach, and let it cook in the water for about 3 or 4 minutes. It should be wilted when done, but not mushy. It should still be a fresh green colour. After those 3-4 minutes remove the spinach and place it in the colander (which is in your sink, right?) and immediately run cold water over the spinach. The cold water will stop the spinach from cooking, which it’s still doing when it’s hot. This is called blanching. We just got professional.
  7. Repeat the blanching process with the other half of the spinach.
  8. Using a measuring cup, save about 1/2 cup of the cooking water. It should be a faint green tint, which means there’s some spinach flavour in there. Pour the rest down the drain.
  9. Now you’ve got cold, watery spinach in your colander. Shake off as much of the water as you can (don’t worry about squeezing the spinach dry, it’s not necessary here) and move the spinach to the chopping board a handful at a time. Chop the spinach up into fine pieces. We’re talking a few cm wide at most. Store the chopped spinach in a bowl.
  10. Using the same wok still (you don’t even have to clean it at this point, but you should dry it. Oil and water don’t mix well. If you left the wok on the heat, any drops of leftover water will already have evaporated by now. Anyway, in a dry wok, add the cooking oil and heat on medium heat (5 on my dial).
  11. Get the bowl of spices ready. Measure out your whole cumin seeds in a spoon. Once the oil is getting hot, add the whole cumin seeds and toast them. This will not take very long, about 5-10 seconds, so be prepared!
  12. Add the bowl filled with the peanuts, coriander, cumin, sugar, salt, cayenne and turmeric. Let that cook for about 5 seconds. This gives you enough time to get the bowls of spinach and ginger and the cup of water.
  13. After those 5 seconds, immediately add the reserved water, chopped spinach and chopped ginger.
  14. Bring the mixture to a gentle boil, then lower the heat a bit to medium-low, or around 4 on the dial.
  15. Simmer the mixture for about 15-20 minutes until some of the water has boiled off.
  16. Once it’s a nice consistency (still watery, but not diluted) you’re done and it’s ready to serve in a nice serving bowl.

Serve with some fresh, steaming-hot flatbreads and you’ve got yourself a nice little meal in about 30 minutes. The good thing is the final cooking step requires almost no attention, so you have about 15 minutes to do final prep for any of your other dishes, or to set the table and pour yourself a drink. 15 minutes is enough time to smash together some roti dough and pan-fry it, but we’ll get to that another day. For now, enjoy your spinach. It tastes great with peanuts and spices! It also tastes great with meat!


3 responses

  1. Anuja

    This was SO GOOD. Even if you think you don’t like spinach.. or vegetables in general.. it’s worth making. And eating. Repeatedly.

    January 6, 2010 at 1:55 pm

  2. mike and i just made this and it RULED. pictures here:

    thanks for the kickass recipe!!!

    January 9, 2010 at 4:29 pm

  3. K

    Hello. Stumbled across your blog-love the recipes. Chose this post to leave a comment on because I think I can help with a ‘definition’ of a shaak (or ‘saag’ in North India)- they are basically dishes made out of leafy veggies like spinach, ‘methi’, radish leaves, etc.

    Other dry shaak preparations also go famously with mustard (or ‘Kasundi’ of you can get hold of it) mixed with rice. Mustard and Shaak are even cooked together (‘Sarson ki saag’ is a famous and very tasty Punjabi preparation).

    Will keep checking for newer recipes!:)

    April 25, 2010 at 9:27 am

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