This quick and easy chicken saag recipe (also called chicken saagwala) is nearly identical to the restaurant quality spinach and chicken curry.
It’s a healthy Indian meal that’s delicious served simply over basmati rice.
I’ve seen chicken saag go by many names in the 30+ years I’ve eaten at Indian restaurants: chicken palak, chicken saagwala, spinach and curry chicken, etc.
For the most part, these dishes are all essentially the same.
We’ll go over some of the differences below but if you’re looking for a quick and easy curry dinner packed with flavor that can serve as a complete meal with a simple side of rice, this chicken saag recipe is just the thing.
This is a full on comforting meal with spices doing the heavy lifting to bring intense flavor.
Convenient frozen spinach along with coconut milk and yogurt creates a luscious sauce that makes this creamy saag dish everything you’d expect from a takeout or dine-in Indian restaurant in the comfort of your own kitchen.
INGREDIENTS TO MAKE THIS EASY CHICKEN SAAG
You’ll notice there aren’t a ton of ingredients needed to make this spinach and chicken curry dish outside of the spices.
And even with the list of spices, they’re all pretty standard Indian spices you should definitely have on hand!
For the chicken:
- boneless chicken thighs (chicken breasts can be used also)
- cayenne pepper
- ghee (butter, avocado oil or coconut oil can be substituted)
For the saag curry:
- frozen chopped spinach
- full fat canned coconut milk
- yellow onion
- fresh ginger
- garam masala
- unsweetened plain coconut yogurt (or regular dairy yogurt)
- salt & pepper
- mint & cilantro for garnish
HOW TO MAKE SAAG DAIRY-FREE
This chicken saag is actually a dairy-free version of the traditional recipe. Much like lamb korma, I prefer to modify the conventional dairy ingredients to keep things dairy-free.
Typically, saag uses heavy cream or half and half to create the creamy spinach mixture.
With a simple swap of coconut milk and coconut yogurt, saag can be made dairy-free.
It’s important to stick to both coconut milk and yogurt instead of other dairy-free options like almond milk to mimic the more decadent creaminess of traditional heavy cream or half and half.
Almond milk is too thin and watery to be a good substitute.
I use and love the thick texture of the Culina yogurt brand when trying to mimic real dairy.
If you don’t have a need to make the saag dairy-free you can use regular cow’s milk yogurt and cream.
Try this dairy free chicken tikka masala recipe too!
HOW TO COOK CHICKEN SAAG CURRY
Start by seasoning the chicken with the turmeric, cayenne and salt. Add the ghee to a hot skillet and when melted, place the chicken in the pan. Cook until browned on all sides then transfer to a plate and set aside.
Cook the frozen chopped spinach in the microwave according to package directions. Strain the spinach of most of the excess water in a mesh strainer then transfer to a blender along with 1/2 cup of the coconut milk. Blend until smooth then transfer to a bowl and set aside.
Heat the other tablespoon of ghee in the same skillet over medium-low heat. Once hot, add the onion, ginger and garlic. Cook for about 10 minutes until the mixture softens and turns a nice deep golden brown color. Stir often so the onions cook evenly and don’t stick to the pan.
Add the spices and cook for another 2-3 minutes until very fragrant. Add a tablespoon or two of water to the skillet if necessary during this time to keep from sticking.
Transfer the blended spinach mixture into the skillet and add the yogurt and remaining coconut milk. Stir until well combined. Add the chicken back into the pan and nestle into the spinach mixture. Simmer for 4-5 minutes until chicken is cooked through.
Season to taste with salt and pepper. Garnish with freshly chopped cilantro and mint before serving.
Enjoy with some cooked basmati rice or naan bread.
TIPS TO MAKE THE BEST CHICKEN SAAG RECIPE
Without a lengthy ingredient list, a good chicken saag relies heavily on the browning of the onions.
Despite this being a quick 35 minute meal, this is a step that cannot be rushed in the process of making saag.
At an Indian restaurant, many curry dishes often start with the same curry base. This is essentially an onion based mixture with all the typical curry spices that has been cooked down and pureed.
Because we’re making a simplified at home version, we won’t be doing that.
But, we’re still relying on the same spices to create that quintessential curry vibe along with some extra time given to the onions, garlic and ginger to develop the necessary deeply caramelized flavor that a traditional “base” would have.
Take your time when browning the onions, garlic and ginger in this recipe. Keep the heat at a medium-low setting and stir frequently to encourage even browning and caramelization.
If you find the mixture is drying out, add a small splash of water to keep it going until the onions are nicely browned. This can take anywhere from 10-15 minutes.
Be patient, the resulting flavor of the finished saag dish is worth it!
HOW TO SERVE CHICKEN AND SPINACH CURRY
For a lower-carb or keto diet option, enjoy with cauliflower rice instead. This curry cauliflower rice has some wonderful complementary curry flavors in it.
The turmeric rice in this Instant Pot coconut pork is another great pairing.
Freshly warmed naan is another option that always works well with a curry.
HOW TO STORE LEFTOVERS
Leftovers can be transferred to an air-tight container and kept refrigerated for up to 5 days.
Reheat simply a the skillet or sauce pot over medium-low heat. You can add a touch of extra coconut milk to thin the sauce out if desired.
Alternatively, reheat in the microwave in 30 second increments, stirring in between.
WHAT IS CHICKEN SAAG MADE OF?
People often wonder what saag sauce is made of as it’s a less “popular” menu item (versus dishes like tikka masala, etc.)
Saag is a classic Indian dish that can be made with any bitter greens such as mustard greens, dandelion greens, kale, chard or collard greens.
Although, my favorite way to eat collards is as this spicy collard greens recipe.
However, spinach leaves are most commonly used especially when recreated in the United States for their general appeal and milder flavor.
Because saag is a sauce based upon green leafy vegetables, it’s often considered a healthy Indian dish.
Some traditional recipes do not add any cream to the dish but since we are, remember that while the greens are definitely healthy and full of fiber, this is not a low-fat dish when coconut milk and yogurt are added.
PALAK VS. SAAG
Palak and saag are very similar terms and typically used interchangeably on menu items.
The subtle difference between the two being that palak curry uses only spinach whereas a saag curry can use any leafy green as mentioned above.
So technically, because we’re using spinach in this recipe, it could also be called chicken palak.
WHAT IS SAAGWALA?
Another term you may hear instead of saag is saagwala. If you’re wondering what the difference is between the two, the answer is basically nothing.
Chicken saag and a chicken saagwala curry are the same thing.
Minor differences may exist from cook to cook with these terms but they’re both essentially a spinach curry at the end of the day.
No matter what you choose to call this pureed spinach curry dish with chicken, its vibrant aroma and deep flavors will blow your tastebuds out of the water.
If you’re an Indian food lover, you’ll be amazed at how easy it is to create the same restaurant quality saag at home.
The taste will speak for itself and you’ll be hooked on the first bite!
MORE INDIAN DISHES TO TRY:
For the chicken
- 1 1/2 pounds boneless chicken thighs, cut into cubes
- 1 teaspoon Kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon turmeric
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne
- 1 tablespoon ghee
For the saag
- 16 oz. bag frozen chopped spinach
- 1 cup canned full fat coconut milk, divided
- 1 tablespoon ghee
- 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
- 6 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 tablespoon minced ginger
- 1 tablespoon garam masala
- 1 1/2 teaspoon coriander
- 1 teaspoon cumin
- 1/2 teaspoon cardamom
- 5 ounces plain unsweetened coconut yogurt
- salt & pepper to taste
- chopped cilantro & mint for garnish
- Toss the chicken with the spices in a large bowl. Melt the ghee in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Once hot, add the chicken and cook until browned on all sides. Transfer to a plate and set aside.
- Cook the frozen spinach in a microwave according to package directions. Drain excess water in a mesh strainer then add spinach to a blender with 1/2 cup of the coconut milk. Blend until combined. Transfer to a bowl and set aside.
- Add the tablespoon of ghee to the skillet over medium heat. Once hot, add the onion, garlic and ginger. Cook until softened and browned, about 10 minutes, stirring frequently.
- Add the spices to the skillet and cook for an additional 2-3 minutes until very fragrant, adding a tablespoon of water if needed to keep from sticking to the skillet.
- Transfer the spinach mixture to the skillet along with the remaining 1/2 cup of coconut milk and coconut yogurt. Stir to combine and season with salt and pepper.
- Add the chicken back into the skillet nestling into the sauce and simmer on low heat until fully cooked through, about 4-5 minutes. Garnish with fresh cilantro and mint to serve.
Nutrition Information:Yield: 4 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 766Total Fat: 56gSaturated Fat: 40gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 14gCholesterol: 226mgSodium: 825mgCarbohydrates: 24gFiber: 10gSugar: 8gProtein: 52g
This website provides approximate nutrition information for convenience and as a courtesy only. Nutrition information can vary for a variety of reasons. For the most precise nutritional data use your preferred nutrition calculator based on the actual ingredients you used in the recipe.