Thursday, 12 December 2013

Pav Bhaji

Pav bhaji is probably the most famous street food of Mumbai. At every nook and corner you will see numerous stalls, carts and restaurants serving this dish. Typically these places have a huge cast iron tawa (girdle) with a mashed vegetable mixture ready around its edges and a place in the middle to prepare the dish on order.

This dish is made up of two components served together. The bhaji is a mixture of mashed vegetables cooked with onions, garlic, tomatoes and specific spices for a long, long time in a kadhai or the thick iron tawa The best flavour of Pav bhaji is achieved by letting the pav bhaji simmer for a very long time so that the spices blend well with the vegetables and their aromas bloom. So though it is a street food, it is by no means a fast food. Pav, which is a special bread, is roasted on a girdle to golden brown perfection with a big dollop of butter just before serving, so that when you pick it up the butter just drips from it.

Mumbai Pav Bhaji

For those who are not aware of the origins of it, we owe the invention of pav bhaji to the American Civil War! During the American Civil War, America and Europe had a shortage of cotton, a commodity traded by Gujarati merchants on Dalal Street. Seeing an opportunity, Gujarati merchants started trading late into the night by taking orders at European and American hours. When they were hungry this late at night, street stalls flourished that would serve mashed vegetables (that day's leftovers) in a tomato gravy with buttery loaves: and thus was born pav bhaji.

Here is my recipe of this buttery, tomato-ey, spicy goodness.

Pav Bhaji


3 tbsps oil
1 tbsp cumin seeds
2 medium sized onions finely chopped
1 green capsicum finely chopped
3 medium sized tomatoes pureed
4 medium sized potatoes boiled and mashed
50 gms cauliflower boiled and mashed
30 gms green peas boiled
1 tsp turmeric powder
2 tsp chilly powder
2 tbsps pav bhaji masala
1 tbsp ghee
8-10 cloves of garlic finely chopped
1 green chilly cut into 5-6 pieces
15-20 fresh corriander leaves finely chopped
Salt to taste

6 pavs
3 tbsps salted butter

Corriander leaves, butter, wedge of lemon for serving



In a kadhai, heat 2 tbsps oil and add in cumin seeds. When they splutter, lower the flame to medium high and add in the onions and fry till they start releasing the oil. Add the chopped green capsicum and fry till they also release the oil.

To this mixture, add the pureed tomatoes and keep stirring. Add in the turmeric powder, the chilly powder and the pav bhaji masala. Keep stirring and let it cook on a medium high flame till the tomatoes release the oil. Lower the flame to a simmer and let it keep cooking for another 8-10 minutes.

Keep the flame to a medium high and add the boiled and mashed potatoes and cauliflower. Use a pav bhaji masher to blend the tomato mixture and the vegetables together.

Once the mixture blends together, lower the flame and cover and cook on simmer for 10 mins. You can add water to adjust consistency of the mixture as you simmer it. When this is done, ad in the boiled peas and salt to taste.

In another small non-stick pan or tadka vessel, heat 1 tbsp oil and the ghee together. Add in the chopped garlic, the green chilly and the corriander leaves and fry for 30 seconds till the garlic releases its aroma. Pour this over the cooked vegetable mixture and stir it in.

Lower the flame and let the pav bhaji simmer for another 5 mins till the aromas of the second tadka seeps through the mixture.

The bhaji with butter melting on top of it

Serve with pavs roasted in the butter, a wedge of lemon and butter.

This dish is best enjoyed with your fingers - use both your hands to tear a bite-sized piece of the pav, scoop up some bhaji with it, gobble it up and then lick the rest of the bhaji and butter from the pav off your fingers. Every bite is this fun to eat!