RAWALPINDI: If there was ever a dish that could capture the essence of Punjab it has to be the most traditional of combinations: makai ki roti and sarson ka saag.
The green and yellow mustard fields of Punjab find a perfect reflection in this simple, yet iconic combination of ingredients.
Cooked into a smooth, thick paste and topped with white home-churned butter, a plate of saag is incomplete if not accompanied by a thick, yellow-coloured roti made of corn flour.
A popular item across the subcontinent, the dish is especially sought after in winter months and many local eateries begin to offer this dish. It can be eaten for breakfast, lunch or dinner.
While the use of spinach leaves to prepare saag means that it can be made all year round, mustard leaf saag is still the preferred choice of people from central Punjab.
Mustard and spinach leaves are married with local herbs and cooked in a traditional base of onions, garlic, ginger and spices to taste.
Makai ki roti and sarson ka saag is a traditional favourite of any Punjabi household
The saag is slow cooked on a low flame for several hours, then pressed with a wooden spoon or whisk and mashed, and corn flour is added to give it a creamy consistency. Once the paste is ready, butter or desi ghee is poured on top and the dish is served with a generous dallop of butter on the side.
In the Potohar region, though the ingredients are the same, people prefer to simply boil and cook their saag.
However, the way the makai ki roti is made is the same in both Potohar and central Punjab.
In Rawalpindi, this popular item can be found at the Kartarpura food street, Bhabra Bazaar, College Road, Shamsabad Food Street and some other areas.
“Sarson (mustard) arrive in the market in winter, but we brought ours from Nathia Gali in the off-season to make and serve saag. We follow the traditional Punjabi recipe,” said Naseem Khan, who runs a roadside stall on main College Road.
She told Dawn that most people would place orders with her in advance and would mostly take the food home to eat.
“I use a traditional recipe. I start my day early in the morning and keep working until late at night,” she said.
Ms Khan was forced to earn a living for herself when her husband was bedridden by a debilitating disease in 1996. She has now been running the stall for 21 years, making saag and makai ki roti to earn for her four daughters and three sons.
Mohammad Rizwan, who works at a stall selling makai ki roti and saag in Bhabra Bazaar, said that many people liked to have saag in the summer too.
“Makai ki roti is difficult to make at home so people prefer to buy it readymade,” he said.
Most people who liked saag, he said, came to his stall for Sunday lunch.
“We add spices as per the taste of the customer, as some people like spicy food and others prefer it lightly spiced. Everyone wants butter for the topping as well,” he said, adding that the makai ki roti is prepared in desi ghee.
Mohammad Javed, who lives in downtown Rawalpindi and is a regular customer of the saag stall on College Road, recounted the old Punjabi saying, “You will always find two food items in the house of every Punjabi: Saag and Karri.”
He said that with the passage of time, the younger generation had forgotten how to make saag and makai ki roti.