Sai Bhaji
120 Min

Sai Bhaji

Sai bhaji, which simply means green vegetable, is an age-old staple from the province of my vanished homeland, Sindh.


After the India-Pakistan partition in 1947, like many others, my parents migrated to India dearly holding onto food customs as tender memories of their exiled community. Not the most attractive of dishes but delicious when made right, sai bhaji is popular with Sindhis because it’s easy to prepare. It is also highly nutritious with an abundance of vegetables, can be prepared with a minimum of fat and is commonly eaten during winter. As with most Indian stews, every family has its own version, but for the most part, it consists of channa dal slow-cooked with root vegetables, leafy greens, herbs and aromatic spices.


I have mixed memories of sai bhaji as a child. Depending on the vegetables at hand and time allowed, my mother would fuss over it all day and lay out a luscious stew with notes of fennel, cardamom and ghee for dinner. Other times it was rushed into a pressure cooker and tasted more like vegetable gruel. I had abandoned cooking it for years, but lately I have been finding ways to bring back the magic of sai bhaji using local seasonal vegetables. Late winter and early spring is definitely the best time to make it when fresh fennel and fenugreek, which I consider integral to this dish, are in season.

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Cook Time

120 Minutes



Step 1
Soak the channa dal in water to cover by a couple of inches for 2 to 3 hours. Drain.
Step 2
In a large saucepan, combine the drained channa dal with the green onions, celery, fennel, carrot, sweet potato, garlic, ginger puree, chile, turmeric, black pepper, cumin, and salt. Add 4 cups water and bring to a boil. Lower the heat to the lowest setting, cover, and simmer for 1 to 1 1/2 hours, checking every 10 to 15 minutes, making sure it is not sticking to the bottom and adding more water if needed. It’s done when the vegetables are softened and cooked through and the dal dissolves into the stew, becoming almost gelatinous and creamy. Stir in the cardamom and oil.
Step 3
Meanwhile, discard the bottom 3 to 4 inches of the spinach and dandelion bunches and chop the leaves. Just before serving the stew, stir in the spinach, dandelion greens, fenugreek, cilantro, tomato, and fennel fronds. Enjoy with basmati rice, roti, or parathas.
1 cup channa dal
2 stalks of green onion, white and green parts, thinly sliced
1 celery stalk, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 bulb fennel, cut into 1/2-inch pieces, fronds reserved
1 large carrot, grated
1 small sweet potato, skin on, grated
10 garlic cloves, peeled
1/4 cup ginger purée
1 large serrano pepper, minced
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons sea salt
1 teaspoon ground green cardamom seeds
1/4 cup olive oil or 3 to 4 tablespoons of butter or ghee
1 bunch spinach
1 bunch dandelion greens
1 cup chopped fresh fenugreek leaves (see notes)
1 cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves
1 large tomato, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
Basmati rice, roti, or parathas for serving

Notes & Variations

  • Fresh fenugreek leaves are available at most Indian grocery stores — substitute with a quarter cup of dried fenugreek if needed.
  • Channa dal, a split garbanzo bean, is the most commonly used lentil for sai bhaji, but feel free to try it out with other lentils or beans.
  • This is a stew where almost any substitution will work — plain onion instead of green, squash instead of carrots, regular potato instead of sweet, kale instead of spinach, and so on. Even with spices, replace the cardamom with cinnamon or nutmeg.
  • This recipe works great with a pressure cooker or a slow cooker — cook the entire first part in it and finish with the greens and herbs when serving.
120 Min

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Here are two sides we know will pair well with this Sai Bhaji!