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Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Compelling Evidence for Embracing Vegetables: This Dish Presents a Convincing Argument

The naan, which had been blistered and coated with melted ghee, was the first thing I ate. Light and fluffy but doughy and crunchy, it has it all. I dunked a chunk into a bowl of saag prawns and was taken aback by the flavour. It had the ideal balance of flavours, everything I’ve ever wanted in a meal centred on vegetables. Fresh spinach, ginger, garlic and chilli were brought to life by the brininess of soft prawns.

Mark and I have been making a summertime tradition of dining at Le Taj, a beautiful restaurant in the heart of Montreal. Our table was piled high with copper bowls of saag shrimp, korma, xacuti, bhindi, steaming rice and more. Pickles and chutneys were served in little bowls that sat on the edge of the table.

After all of my trips, it was the culinary memories that stuck with me the most. Sometimes I become so ensconced in the past that I forget the present: “Remember how warm and buttery the kouign-amann was that morning?” “Remember those flawless strawberries from Jean-Talon?” Upon our return to Brooklyn, I reminisced with Mark about the trip’s culinary highlights: “Remember the saag prawns that night at Le Taj?”

In May, I went back to Le Taj, and the saag prawns was even better than I remembered. The dish is often seen at North Indian restaurants, and so is Le Taj’s cuisine. (Vinod Kapoor, the business owner, is originally from the city of Mussoorie in the Indian state of Uttarakhand.) Despite being apprehensive about running a restaurant, he can be seen almost every night with Fayzul Islam and Gourmet Dorje, two waiters who have been with the establishment for 25 years and counting. (Mark can’t remember a time when they weren’t there.) Mr. Kapoor has built Le Taj into a landmark throughout the years.

The evening dessert menu stands out since it is delivered in a folder wrapped in colourful silk and adorned with diamonds. Mr Kapoor’s background as an art gallery owner and jewellery designer is reflected in the sepia-toned reliefs that decorate the walls of the eatery.

One of his favourite meals was the saag prawns, and he said the cook, Pourin Singh, was “a master of his craft.”

Mr. Singh showed me how to make the dish, and we started by heating a little amount of neutral oil in a skillet over a moderate burner. blanched spinach, and a splash of cream and cook until the shrimp are pink and the spinach is wilted. Simple enough, but I think Mr Singh’s secret is the quality and freshness of his spices, spinach, prawns and chopped tomato garnish.

Saag, luckily, has a lot of creative iterations. Spinach, amaranth, mustard greens, and fenugreek are just some of the leafy greens that may be used as a base, and then other proteins can be added to alter the texture and flavour.

But after trying saag prawns, I can confidently say, “I would rather have the saag” when faced with a choice between a veggie and a butter-laden pastry.

Jonathan James
Jonathan James
I serve as a Senior Executive Journalist of The National Era
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