The first bite I took was the naan — blistered and lightly brushed with softened ghee. It was airy, doughy, crispy all at once. I dragged a piece through a bowl of saag shrimp, took a bite and was stunned. It hit all the notes I’d always wanted from a vegetable-forward dish, a perfect interplay of ingredients. The brininess of tender shrimp heightened fresh sautéed spinach, ginger, garlic and chile.

I was at Le Taj in downtown Montreal with my husband, Mark, who has visited this elegant restaurant nearly every summer since 1988. Copper bowls full of korma, xacuti, bhindi, steamed rice and that wondrous saag shrimp crowded our table. Small bowls of pickles and chutneys were perched along the table’s edge.

The food memories lingered, as they do after all of my travels. I tend to wrap myself in a cocoon of nostalgia: “Remember how warm and buttery the kouign-amann was that morning?” “The perfect strawberries we had at Jean-Talon?” Back in Brooklyn, I recounted delicious details of our trip to Mark: “Remember the saag shrimp that night at Le Taj?” Vegetables rarely hold a candle to pastries in my mind’s eye. But this saag lodged itself in my consciousness, right alongside the buttery, sugary pastries I’m so fond of.

When I returned to Le Taj in May, the saag shrimp surpassed my recollection. The cuisine at Le Taj is primarily North Indian, as is the dish itself. (The proprietor, Vinod Kapoor, grew up in Mussoorie, in the northern state of Uttarakhand.) Albeit a reluctant restaurateur, he’s a near-nightly presence in the dining room, moving through it alongside Fayzul Islam and Gourmet Dorje, veteran waiters who have worked at the restaurant for over 25 years. (They have been there as long as Mark can remember.) And over time, Mr. Kapoor has turned Le Taj into an institution.

A folder, tightly wrapped in brightly colored silk and studded with gems, the nightly dessert menu stands out, presented to diners at the end of the meal. Its boldness fits in perfectly among the sepia-toned reliefs that line the restaurant’s walls, a nod to Mr. Kapoor’s past as an art gallery owner and jewelry designer.

“I’m not a chef,” Mr. Kapoor said. “Before opening the restaurant, the only connection I had to restaurants was that I ate in one every night.”

He credited the saag shrimp, one of his favorite dishes on the menu, to Pourin Singh, the chef whom he described as “a master of his craft.”

Mr. Singh walked me through the recipe, beginning with a splash of a neutral oil in a pan set over a medium flame. Onions and cumin seeds are gently sautéed before pinches of ground spices, a ladle of a curry sauce from a base made that morning, several large shrimp, blanched spinach and a splash of cream are added. It’s straightforward enough, but Mr. Singh’s secret, I believe, is the freshness of his ingredients: the spices, the spinach, the shrimp and even the chopped tomato garnish.

Saag, thankfully, comes in so many ingenious variations. Leafy greens, such as spinach, amaranth, mustard greens or fenugreek, make up the bulk, a heady blend of spices and aromatics enhances the flavor, while different proteins can be added to enhance the texture and flavor of the completed dish.

But saag shrimp convinced me that if ever I have to choose between a vegetable and a butter-laden pastry, I could respond without missing a beat, “I would rather have the saag.”


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