Kale With Panch Phoran

I don’t know if they grow kale in Bengal, but I bet that some sort of dark leafy green is cooked and eaten there. Folks all over the world seem to like greens, so I feel confident that while I improvised this recipe in my own kitchen, using what was on hand, that somewhere in India, someone at some time, maybe even this minute, has made or is making a dish that looks, smells and tastes remarkably like this one.

Which is to say that if you don’t have kale in your kitchen, or you don’t like it, feel free to substitute another mess of greens in its place. Turnip greens, beet greens, chard, mustard greens, collards, creasy greens, endive, mizuna, cabbage, heck even brussels sprouts, will all work as variations of this recipe. Sure, they’ll all taste somewhat different, but I bet they will all taste good, too. And the greens don’t even have to be green. Imagine how pretty red cabbage would be prepared this way.

There are ingredients that could be added to this recipe, too. A dash of tamarind water, concentrated tamarind or tamarind paste would not be amiss. Slightly bitter greens are always brightened when a whiff of acid is added to them. It just makes them sparkle. I used lemon juice because that is what I had, but tamarind would be great, too. One could always leave out the chilies, or add more of them to one’s own taste. I wouldn’t leave them out, personally, but that is just me. Textural contrast could come about with the addition of sliced mushrooms. Or, you could cook up some toor dal–yellow lentils–and stir this dish in as soon as the lentils are cooked. In that case, I would add more spices, as dals by themselves are fairly bland.

Or, even better, serve the dal on a nest of these greens cooked with panch phoran. Then you would have texture, flavor and color contrast.

Anyway, this is a versatile recipe that I think tastes quite good.


I bet green beans would be good cooked with panch phoron.

Wow. A new taste to try out.

Kale With Panch Phoron


3 tablespoons canola oil
1 large onion, peeled and thinly sliced
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 teaspoons panch phoron (equal parts of whole fennel, cumin, mustard, fenugreek and nigella seeds)
1 fresh chile, thinly sliced (to taste–you can add more or less, or leave the chile out entirely–I used a cayenne, btw)
3 large cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 pound kale, well washed, large veins removed and roughly chopped into bite sized pieces
juice of 1 small lemon
salt to taste


Heat the oil in a heavy bottomed large cast iron skillet, nonstick skillet or wok. Add the onion, sprinkle with the salt and cook, stirring, until it is a dark golden color. Add the panch phoron, and cook stirring for thirty seconds, Add the chile and the garlic and keep stirring, and cooking until the onion is completely browned and the mustard seeds have begun to pop like popcorn.

Add the kale and about two tablespoons of water. Cook, stirring, until the kale wilts and the color brightens.

Add the lemon juice, and stir well. Cook for one or two more minutes, and add salt to taste.

This is very good with a dal, a yogurt dish and rice.


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  1. So glad to find this recipe for Kale. I just had some really yummy, sauteed Kale the other day and mean to try to make it myself. I will use your recipe! The Kale I ate had golden raisins and bread crumbs folded in its layers…. yum.

    Comment by janelle — April 4, 2007 #

  2. I do this a lot with whatever green I have at hand. I went through a chard phase last fall. Now I’m doing spinach.


    Comment by Diane — April 4, 2007 #

  3. I made this with nettles tonight (love that farmer’s market!) The household says it’s a recipe to repeat.

    Comment by tjewell — April 16, 2007 #

  4. Glad everyone likes this recipe. I adore it.

    Diane–“Bright Lights” chard cooked this way would utterly rock. Not only would it taste great, but it would be beautiful!

    tjewell–I will have to try it with the nettles–what a great idea.

    Glad your family liked it!

    Comment by Barbara — April 17, 2007 #

  5. The dark, leafy green of Bengal is called lal shak. I think, but I am not sure that it is Malabar spinach.

    Comment by MWarner — April 20, 2007 #

  6. hi thanks a lot for this amazing recipe as u rightly observed -green beans and potatoes cooked with panch phoran is a very popular bengali recipe- the land of origin of this exceptional mix of spices

    Comment by nibha — October 13, 2011 #

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