Saheena is a fried Indian delicacy made with spinach leaves, split peas powder, and fresh seasonings. It is often served with seasoned chickpeas (channa) or chutney like tamarind, pommecythere, or mango.
Saheena is a popular street food in Trinidad and Tobago and likely originates from India’s palak pakora. Palak translates to spinach and pakora means fritter. So, saheena is essentially a spinach fritter.
The difference between palak pakora and saheena is likely the type of spinach used. Young dasheen (taro) leaves are mainly used to make saheena while smooth-leafed spinach is used in the pakora.
What is in this saheena recipe
For this recipe, I used:
- young dasheen (taro) leaves
- lime juice
- split peas (dhal) powder
- chickpea (channa) flour
- all purpose flour
- baking powder
- turmeric powder
- chadon beni leaves
If you are not in the Caribbean, you can find dasheen (taro) and chadon beni leaves in Caribbean and Asian supermarkets or in areas with a large Caribbean population.
As a substitute to dasheen leaves, you can use regular spinach, baby spinach and even kale. Cilantro can also be used in place of chadon beni, but cilantro has a much milder flavor.
The chickpea (channa) flour here is optional but it certainly adds a nice, nutty flavor to the saheena. If you don’t have chickpea flour on hand then use the equivalent amount of split peas powder.
A look at dasheen (taro) leaves
Here’s a young dasheen leaf:
Dasheen plants contain calcium oxalate, a compound that can cause sores, numbness, and kidney stones. In high doses, the compound can be fatal.
However, if the compound is heated sufficiently, it will break down and be safe to eat. That being said, if you do have kidney problems or you are sensitive to foods containing oxalates, it will be best to limit your exposure to dasheen.
The scratchiness that you may feel when preparing the dasheen leaves or eating dasheen bhagi is due to the calcium oxalate.
Besides cooking, citrus juice is often used locally to reduce the itching or scratchiness of the dasheen leaves.
Oh and cooked dasheen leaves contain adequate levels of Vitamin A, Vitamin C, folate, potassium, calcium and iron.
Dasheen leaves are the main ingredient in Trini callaloo. Find my vegetarian Trini callaloo recipe here.
How to make saheena
To make saheena, the dasheen leaves are prepared and finely chopped. Citrus juice is thoroughly mixed with the leaves. Then, the other ingredients are added and kneaded to form a slightly sticky dough. The dough is left to rest after which it is divided and shaped into small patties. These patties or fritters are deep fried and served hot with your choice of chutneys, channa (chickpeas) or other condiments.
Let’s get into the details.
Prepare the dasheen leaves
The leaves used in this recipe are from my mother-in-law’s kitchen garden.
Typically, the tip of the leaf, the stem, and the small area where the stem attaches to the leaf are removed. Older folks say removing these areas stop the ‘scratchiness’ of the leaves. Maybe the calcium oxalate accumulates there? I haven’t been able to find any research on why these areas are removed… But, I still remove them.
Here’s a photo of the cut areas. This should be done for all the leaves.
Next, wash the leaves thoroughly. Then, place the leaves one on top of the other and roll tightly. Cut the leaves into a fine chiffonade (thin strips), the thinner the better.
I cut into thin strips even further to create tiny pieces of the taro leaves. The small pieces will cook faster when deep frying and I won’t have to worry about the calcium oxalate. Cutting the leaves this way makes this saheena recipe the chip up or chopped up version.
Place the cut leaves in a bowl and squeeze the lime juice all over. Be sure to catch all the seeds – you wouldn’t want to bite into a lime seed when eating your saheena.
Mix the lime juice and dasheen pieces thoroughly.
You can add water and squeeze the leaves before straining and using. Or you can blanch the leaves with hot water.
I don’t do either – I leave the juice in and I don’t precook the leaves because of how finely chopped they are. But, feel free to do the method you prefer. The point of these steps are to prevent the ‘scratchiness’ of the leaves.
Once the lime juice and leaves are mixed, it’s time to add the other ingredients.
Add the other ingredients
Take a look at what I used in this recipe. You’ll see the chopped chadon beni, chives, pepper, onions and minced garlic on the saucer. And, in the bowl, there is the split peas (dhal) powder, turmeric, all purpose flour, baking powder, salt, yeast, and chickpea (channa) flour.
You can mix the dry ingredients separately before adding to the leaves, but it really isn’t necessary.
Also, I recommend that you grate or chop the onions finer than I did. My saheena had small chunks of onion which I enjoy, but it isn’t for everyone.
Mix everything in the bowl together thoroughly.
Knead and leave to raise
Add half of the water and squeeze into the ingredients. The split peas and chickpea flour are very absorbent so you will want to incorporate some of the water before adding the rest slowly.
Knead with a little added water at a time until you create a fairly soft, sticky dough. The dough cannot be too soft as it must be able to hold its own shape to make the saheena.
I used exactly 300 mL of water but it may be a bit different for you. If your dough is overly sticky or too soft, add a little all purpose flour at a time and knead.
Here’s a look at my dough. You can see the onion chunks in there.
Leave the dough for an hour or so to raise. That’s a perfect time to make the other fried delicacies or your favorite chutney.
After an hour, the dough should be almost double in size and have lots of air pockets in it.
Form the saheena and fry
Place a large pot on low to medium heat. Allow it to heat up before adding enough oil for deep frying the spinach fritters. This can take about five to ten minutes.
To form the saheena, you can either use water or oil to prevent the dough from sticking to your hands.
Here, my mom used water to demonstrate. She dipped her fingertips in water and remove about a two inch ball of dough. She flattened the dough between her fingers (not palms) to form a two- to three-inch patty. Then, holding the patty with her fingertips (which were relatively dry at this point), she gently placed the saheena in the hot oil.
As long as there are no drops of water on your fingers or the saheena, the oil will not sputter and burn you. But, you should still be very careful.
Repeat the dipping of the fingers before removing more dough, flattening and adding more saheena to the oil.
If you are worried about getting burned, then apply oil to your hands and remove, flatten and add to the oil in the same way.
The saheena will sink to the bottom of the pot in the beginning. But, as it cooks, it will float to the surface. When it starts to float, you can flip over to ensure even cooking. Continue flipping until it develops a nice golden brown to brown color. A fairly thin saheena will have a cook time of about five minutes.
Thicker saheenas will take longer to cook.
If your oil is too hot, the saheena will brown too quickly on the outside and will not be fully cooked on the inside. And, remember, you want the dasheen leaves to be properly cooked so regulating the temperature and checking your first one or two saheenas will help you gauge how long your cook time should be.
I went a little overboard on the frying time here to make sure it was fully cooked. I am one of those sensitive to oxalate containing foods, so I wanted to ensure it was very well done. My saheenas were a little extra brown (see the top of the photo), but they were certainly delicious. You can taste the difference the channa (chickpea) flour makes in the saheena. It’s so good!
Here’s a look at the insides with some tamarind sauce on the side.
Serve the saheena hot with your choice of condiments – either doubles channa, mango chutney, pommecythere chutney or even tamarind chutney.
While you are making saheena, why not try some of these vegetarian treats too:
Tasty saheena recipe with chopped leaves
Tasty saheena recipe (with chopped leaves)
- 400 g dasheen (taro) leaves (approx. 18 small leaves)
- 3 tsp lime juice
- 140 g all purpose flour (1 cup)
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1 tsp yeast
- ½ tsp turmeric
- 190 g dhal (split peas) powder
- 45 g channa (chickpea) flour (optional)
- 1 onion
- 3 garlic cloves
- ⅓ cup chives
- ⅓ cup chadon beni
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp pepper (ground fresh pepper)
- 300 mL water
- oil for frying
- Remove the tips, stem section of the dasheen leaves.
- Wash the leaves thoroughly.
- Stack the leaves on top of each other.
- Roll tightly.
- Cut into fine chiffonade strips.
- Cut across the strips to form small pieces of dasheen leaves (chip up).
- Add leaves to a large bowl.
- Squeeze in the lime juice.
- Mix and squeeze the leaves to incorporate the juice.
- Chop the onion, chadon beni, chives, and pepper.
- Mince the garlic.
- Add flour, baking powder, yeast, split peas powder, chickpea flour, turmeric, onion, garlic, pepper, chadon beni, chives, and salt to the dasheen leaves.
- Mix to incorporate fully.
- Add half of the water.
- Squeeze and mix into the ingredients.
- Add the remaining water a little at a time until a relatively soft, sticky dough forms.
- Cover and allow to rest for 1 hour.
- Place a large pot on low to medium heat.
- Add enough oil for deep frying.
- Allow to heat up (5-10 minutes).
- Dip fingertips into water.
- Remove a small amount of dough (about a 2-inch dough ball).
- Flatten between the fingers to form a 2-inch to 3-inch patty.
- Gently add to the hot oil.
- When the saheena floats in the oil, flip over.
- Continue flipping to ensure even cooking and browning.
- Remove from heat after 5 – 8 minutes.
- Cut open and check for doneness.
- Adjust heat and cook time to ensure the saheenas is fully cooked.
- Cook remaining saheenas.
- Serve hot with condiments, chutneys, and seasoned chickpeas.