Shashi Agnihotri
TGT Science

Eating Greens

 Shall we reheat spinach? Will it become carcinogenic? Will it have negative effects on my health? While finding the answer to these questions, I explored various websites which gave me the same answer, “Yes.”   How is this possible? We north Indians have been eating palak paneer and saag since ages. Saag is a traditional food of Punjabis and is cooked in bulk. Not only Indians, but people in other Asian countries, especially the working class cook greens and store in their refrigerators. All this debate took me down the memory lane.  During my childhood whenever my mother used to cook Saag (green leaves) it was my duty to distribute it to all the neighbours. At times, I used to wonder why she does that, is she flaunting her cooking skills or simply advertising the cuisines of Punjab in the multicultural society of Delhi. One day, while filling the hot saag in the bowls and topping it with white butter, I asked her the reason for this generosity and she very innocently answered, that it is a culture that was followed in her family and she was simply continuing it. Though I was not satisfied with the answer, but I enjoyed the task as I used to get candies in return.       On growing up I realized the science behind this culture. The main component of the saag is palak, (spinach), carrot leaves, etc which are rich in nitrates. These nitrate rich vegetables when heated again can turn toxic and become difficult to digest. Spinach contains a high amount of iron, hence heating and reheating spinach may oxidize the iron present in it. Oxidation of iron generates dangerous free radicals which are known to cause many diseases including infertility and cancer. So cook saag and serve it while hot to all the neighbours and finish the serving bowl. Next day someone else will cook and repeat the same. No nitrates, no oxalates and no iron oxide only nutrients and love. This culture was very scientific and enhanced love amongst the neighbours as well. On digging further, I gathered that saag is cooked in the winter season when the temperature is between 0 to 15 degree Celsius, so it does not need any refrigeration, and next day it can be served with hot paranthas.   Now, if you have observed your granny or the cook at the local dhaba  serving greens, you must have seen that they make  ‘tadka’ using herbs, tomato chillies , ginger, garlic with ghee. This super-hot tadka  is added to the saag which increases the overall temperature of the dish without turning the nitrates into toxic compounds. If you also cook saag or palak paneer and stalk it in your refrigerator for the next day make sure you cool it within 2-3 hours and refrigerate. Avoid reheating it at a very high temperature. Think zone? Ever wondered why Coriander is used for garnishing the ready to serve dish and not added while cooking. Think about it! Further reading