Saag or greens are one of the important components of Indian meals which have always made their presence felt in diverse ways since ancient times . Dheki shaak or saag is a very simple and a basic dish in parts of eastern India like in Bengal & Assam as well as in the neighbouring Nepal & Bangladesh. This is commonly relished as a meal accompaniment in the eastern rice eating states of India and is served as a delicacy as well as a nutritious ingredient for the locals across different cultures of eastern and northeastern India. In Bengal, it is named as dheki shaak, paloi shaak or boudaga shaak and in Assam, known as dhekia. I was always curious about the reason for such a naming of this shaak. Once in my childhood while accompanying my late grandfather for a leisurely evening walk, he told me that this plant grows in abundance in the surroundings of abandoned or unused dheki(s) i.e. the traditional rice dehuskers and so the name dheki shaak, which registered deep inside my memories from then onwards due to my profound belief in him. Though I don’t know the authenticity of the story for such a naming, however I do feel that there could be a point in what he said since these are ferns, which are a kind of primitive plants belonging to the division pteridophyta or pteridophytes (pronounced teridofites), are among the early colonizers that occupy the empty but fertile soil, here in this case overwhelmed with rice husks and also the place is quite damp and shady which can just be ideal for the growth of these ferns.
These ferns are very similar to Fiddleheads or Fiddlehead ferns, also known as Fuzzy fiddleheads in other parts of the world including United States, which are actually young, tender, tightly furled new growth shoots of fern family plant, usually of the ostrich fern. Dheki shaak, a vegetable fern with botanical name Diplazium esculentum, are found throughout Asia & are locally known as lingru or linguda in northern India, growing in the hilly areas of North India and known as ningro in Nepal. The young and tender fronds of it taste similar to that of asparagus or green beans with a crunchy texture of their own.
A bunch of dheki shaak.
Fiddlehead ferns or dheki shaak , which are unique in their appearance & taste, also has a high-quality nutritional profile consisting of many health-benefiting components like antioxidants, flavonoid compounds like carotenes, vitamins and essential omega-3 & omega-6 fatty acids. These ferns are an excellent source of many natural polyphenolic flavonoid compounds such as α and ß-carotenes. They are also very high in vitamin A along with the carotenes, which are powerful antioxidants required by the body for maintaining the integrity of skin and mucosa and is also an essential vitamin for vision. Their unique taste is due to their richness in Vitamin C that along with flavonoid compounds like carotenes help in scavenging harmful free radicals, and also offer protection from cancers, inflammation, and viral cough and cold. The fern shoots are a very good source of minerals and electrolytes, especially potassium, iron, manganese, and copper and also contain small to moderate levels of few valuable B-complex group of vitamins such as niacin, riboflavin, and thiamin.
Dheki saag has a distinct and mild flavour in it which makes it quite unique. Different households have their own ways of preparing this dheki saag, but in our home, my mom and aunt prepares it in a way that is passed on by their mothers and grandmothers, which could be a slightly different version of this saag and is really my favourite🙂. If you want to find out, follow the recipe below :👇
1. Dheki Shaag (finely chopped) – 3 cups full.
2. Moong Dal (dry roasted-> soaked or washed in water -> boiled ) – 1 cup.
3. Ginger (finely chopped or grated) – 1 inch piece.
4. Green chillies – 2 to 3.
5. Paanch phoron ( fenugreek, cumin, coriander, fennel & nigella seeds) – 1/2 tsp.
6. Bay leaf – 1
7. Dry Red chilli – 1
8. Turmeric powder – 1/2 tsp.
9. Salt – to taste.
10. Oil – 2 tsp.
11. Ghee (optional) – 1 tsp.
Preparation : –
1) Heat oil in a pan, add bay leaf, dry red chilli and saute.
2) Splatter with Paanch Phoron, add ginger and saute.
3) Add the chopped saag & green chillies, saute and mix them nicely.
4) Add turmeric powder & salt and mix.
5) Sprinkle little water, cover and let it cook or boil.
6) When almost cooked, add the roasted & boiled moong dal and mix them together nicely. Saute the mixture for some time till you get a nice mild aroma.
7) Add ghee if you wish & mix well.
8) Turn off the flame and your saag is ready to be served. It is best enjoyed with freshly steamed rice.
References : 1) https://www.nutrition-and-you.com/fiddlehead-ferns.html