Cooking Together

‘Cooking Together’: Kale Bhaji

Kale Bhaji (With Butternut Squash and Potatoes)

By Shanta Nimbark Sacharoff

The origin of the word “curry” has been attributed to several words, depending on the source. 

Some South Indians believe that “curry” came from the Tamil word “Kari” (meaning a sauce), but then the North Indians would argue that “curry” is derived from the word “Kadhi” (meaning yogurt soup).  

Whatever the derivation might be, the British rulers of India, unfamiliar with the subtlety of Indian cuisine, started to call any Indian food a “curry.” When I first heard “curry” being used (rather, misused) in the U.S., I was annoyed. However, it no longer bothers me. It just makes it easier for Americans to order “eggplant curry” or “chicken curry” rather than “baigan bharta” or “chicken korma.”

In some parts of India, a generic term for cooked vegetables is “sabji” or “bhaji” or “shak.” A “suki bhaji” (dry vegetable dish without a sauce) or “rasadar bhaji” (saucy vegetable dish) can also have specific names, such as aloo ghobi (potatoes cooked with cauliflower).  Note: at least in Gujarat, we would not call any meat dish a “bhaji” as bhaji also means leafy greens.   

This seasonal green bhaji with mixed vegetables is complementd by various elements. The kale plays the central role. providing the spring flavor and leafy color. The potatoes and squash hold the texture, and the coconut milk makes a sauce which gets absorbed by kale. Tofu (not traditional an Indian cooking) gives this dish a protein boost. The fresh herbs and spices give this dish an extra zest.  

Nutritionally the main vegetables used in this dish are “super foods.” A cup of chopped, cooked kale provides the body 2.5 grams of protein and over 300% of the recommended daily allowance (RDA) of vitamin A and 89% RDA of vitamin C, while containing only 36 calories. So, kale is an ideal food for folks with diabetes or for weight watchers. Butternut squash is rich in vitamins A, Bs and C, which are helpful antioxidants in fighting diseases. This fiber-rich squash can protect us from some cancers and heart disease. Potatoes are a great source of vitamins C and B6, which help us in fighting viruses and maintaining healthy blood pressure. Potatoes are also a good source of prebiotics that help us with digestion. 


4 cups firmly packed and finely chopped dyno kale 

                          (measured after removing middle stems and chopping)

1 cup firm tofu cut into small cubes, after draining some excess liquid

2 cups white potatoes, cut into cubes (measured after parboiling, peeling and cutting) 

2 cups butternut squash cubes (measured after parboiling, peeling and cutting)

3 tablespoons olive or safflower oil

½ cup green onions (scallions) chopped finely with its green portions

½ cup red bell pepper, chopped finely

2 to 2½ cups low-fat or full-fat coconut milk, left at room temperature for at least ½ hour

1 teaspoon each coriander and cumin 

1½ teaspoon turmeric powder

¼ to ½ teaspoon cayenne powder 

1 teaspoon or to taste salt

2 – 3 tablespoons water 

1 tablespoon fresh ginger root, grated or chopped very finely

2 to 3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime or lemon juice

3 tablespoons chopped cilantro

First, clean the kale by soaking it in water. Then rinse it thoroughly using a salad spinner.  Remove middle stems and chop the leaves finely. Set it aside. 

Cut a small slab of tofu into a few slices and place them on paper towels for a few minutes to drain the excess liquid. Then cut the slices into sugar-cube sized pieces and set them aside. 

Next, cut the potatoes into large cubes and place them in a pot of water. Cut off a portion of butternut squash and then cut it into large chunks. Add the squash to the pot of water with potatoes. Parboil the two vegetables together for about 15 minutes so that their peels are loosened but the vegetables are still firm enough to be cut into cubes. 

Heat a tablespoon of oil in a skillet and add the scallions and pepper pieces. Stir fry for a minute to coat the oil and then add the dyno kale. Stir fry the mixture gently but thoroughly at moderate heat for 5 minutes so that the kale is fried but not wilted. Transfer the kale to a platter and spread it out. 

Pour the coconut milk into a bowl and add the powdered spices and salt. Wisk them together while adding a few tablespoons of water to blend.  Set the bowl aside. 

Next, peel the parboiled potatoes and squash pieces and cut them into small cubes. Place the rest of the oil into the same skillet used for frying the kale and add the ginger. Stir fry the ginger, adding the potato and squash cubes. Sauté them together for 2 to 3 minutes so that they are coated with oil, and then pour in the coconut milk mixture. Cover the skillet and allow the vegetables to simmer gently over moderate heat for about 12 to 15 minutes, while stirring the mixture from time to time. Then, check to see if the potatoes and squash are soft and fully cooked.  

Next, add the dyno kale and fry quickly for a minute or two to heat the kale thoroughly but do not overcook. Much of the sauce will be absorbed by the kale, leaving a nice glaze. Sprinkle the lime/lemon juice on top. Garnish with chopped cilantro right before serving the bhaji with Indian flat breads or tortillas. 

Recipes by Shanta Nimbark Sacharoff, copyright 2023. Shanta is a Sunset District resident and the author of “Cooking Together” and “Flavors of India,” both available at Other Avenues Food Store at 3930 Judah St. Shanta writes recipes and articles on food and nutrition. She also teaches vegetarian and vegan cooking classes and shares recipes via videos on YouTube.

2 replies »

  1. I’m not sure what the original derivation of the word “curry” was, but I’m sure it wasn’t from “kari” or “kadhi”. I’m quite familiar with Indian cuisine and know that there are many different variations, so I’m not sure where this “curry” comes from. It makes me easier to order Indian food online, so I’m glad it’s still being used.


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