Chaat room: Pav Bhaji

It has been mentioned once or twice that this site could use more food posts. Never let it be said that Management is unresponsive. And consider this an invitation to all with authoring privileges to contribute to this intermittent series, The Nation Has An Appetite. (If you don't have authoring privileges and have a burning desire to contribute posts, talk to the Milkman)

I recently purchased from my local grocer a handful of foil pouch packages of heat-and-serve Indian dishes, one of which I had for lunch last week at work -- Pav Bhaji, or Mashed Vegetable curry, by Kitchens of India. It was among the better $3 I've spent recently, because that stuff was delicious.

Still, I knew that I could probably make a whole vat of bhaji (the "pav" part refers to the bread that is the traditional accompaniment) for about the same price as this single serving. My mouth has been watering at the prospect for days.

Pav Bahji is a popular street food in Gujarat and Maharashtra, tracing its origins to the early industrial revolution period in India. Mumbai was a textile mill town, and pav bahji is basically a vegetarian sloppy joe.

I worked off of this recipe from the website If you have any interest in learning to cook Indian food, I can heartily recommend the website. Lots of good info there. But I am constitutionally incapable of simply following a recipe. So here's my variation

3-4 medium potatoes, peeled and chunked 1 c. carrots, coarsely chopped
1 c. green beans, coarsely chopped 1 1/2 c. water
1/4 c. extra virgin olive oil 1 large onion, finely chopped
1 inch ginger, finely chopped 3-4 cloves garlic, crushed and chopped
1 7-oz can chopped, fire-roasted chiles 1 small can crushed, fire-roasted tomatoes
1/2 c. chopped mushrooms 1/2 c. frozen peas
1 tbsp chile powder (I used New Mexican) 1/2 tsp cayenne 1 tbsp turmeric
1 tsp coriander seed, ground 1/2 tsp fennel or anise seed, ground 1 tbsp ground cumin
3-4 cardamom pods, cracked to remove the seeds, and the seeds ground
1 tbsp kosher salt 1/4 c. water
juice of half a lemon 1 tbsp garam masala
1 tsp Amchur powder (green mango, dried and ground; available in Asian or Indian markets) additional olive oil
chopped cilantro for garnish dinner rolls or similar buns

In a pot, bring the 1 1/2 cups of water to a boil. Add the potatoes, carrots and green beans and cook, covered, until the vegetables are soft and most of the water has evaporated. Mash with a potato masher and reserve. (I actually added these vegetables in stages -- first the carrot, then the potatoes after a couple of minutes, then the green beans after a couple more minutes; that way, the carrots cooked through and the green beans didn't turn to gray mush)

In a large skillet (or I used my cast iron dutch oven, which is my go-to pot for cooking curries), saute the onion in the olive oil for 3-4 minutes, then add the ginger and garlic.
Saute for a minute, then add the mushrooms. Saute for another minute or two, then add the chiles.
Again, saute for a minute or two, then add the canned tomatoes (you can substitute chopped, fresh tomatoes, but this is what I had on hand). Fry for 5 minutes or so.
Add the chile powders, cumin, turmeric, coriander, fennel/anise and cardamom.
Fry for a minute, then mix in the mashed vegetables. Fry, stirring, for about 5 minutes.
Add the salt and about 2 tbsp more oil, and fry another minute.
Stir in the frozen peas.
Add the 1/4 water if the mixture is getting very thick. Mix the water in for a minute, then turn off the heat.
Add the garam masala, Amchur powder and lemon juice. Stir well to incorporate.

Pan-toast the bread, cut-side down, in plenty of olive oil, then sprinkle a little salt on the toasted sides. Serve a healthy scoop on each half-bun, garnished with chopped cilantro and lemon wedges.

A good variation for those of you without a vegan daughter -- replace the oil with ghee. It gives a much richer flavor, although this version was a big hit with my carnivorous son as well. You can also substitute freely with other vegetables in the mash, as long as you build around the potatoes. Cauliflower is a common addition.

Serve with a nice, cold lager.

12 thoughts on “Chaat room: Pav Bhaji”

  1. AWESOME! Mrs. Corn went to India last year for business. I can't wait to try this one out (seems pretty straight forward?).

    1. It was really easy to make. Just be careful in frying the mixture -- it turns into sputtering, hot lava.

  2. I love curry. The burger at the Blue Door Pub with the curry sauce is amazing.

    I would really like to make some at home, and need to do that one of these days. My wife has never had the stuff and, despite having a Thai Curry dish for lunch yesterday, I had no idea how to describe the flavor to her.

    1. Yea, describing the flavors of curry is hard. There's so much going on: sweet and savory flavors and smells, spicy and sour flavors, etc.

      I'm sure that you are aware that there are at least as many curries as beer styles. One big dividing line is whether it includes coconut milk or not.

      I used to make thai curries at home with regularity, but the Girl's vegan gambit has shut that off. No fish sauce??? inconceivable! The combination of coconut milk, brown sugar, fish sauce, garlic, lime and fresh chile just sends my head swimming.

      most of the Indian-style curries I make, on the other hand, do not include coconut milk (this recipe for bihari green beans being the major exception).

      You can go a long way toward making a good Indian-style curry at home with a handful of key, easy-to-find ingredients:
      ground chile (New Mexico or California are ubiquitous; paprika in a pinch), ground cumin, turmeric, ground coriander (I always grind my own from seeds), garam masala (available in many grocery store spice sections, although you can get it much cheaper in specialty stores; I buy it by the pound in my local grocery), fresh ginger and fresh garlic.

      Garam masala is a common, if not entirely standardized spice mixture of cardamom, clove, mace or nutmeg, cinnamon, cumin, fennel, fenugreek and black pepper. I find it much easier to purchase than to make my own.

      1. One of the local grocery stores has a tremendous selection of spices and such, so I should have no problem finding the things for it. Its just a matter of convincing my wife to try it. I think she would prefer to try it at a restaurant first, but I'm certain I can make it just as good.

      2. New Mexico or California are ubiquitous

        I beg to differ.

        paprika in a pinch

        That better be one hell of a pinch.

        1. Really? You can't find ground New Mexico chiles and "California" (Anaheim) chiles everywhere in New Mexico? Then order from Spice Barn ($32.79 for 5 pounds!!!111one111!!!)

          I can easily find about 10 different varieties of dried, whole chiles at my grocers, but the only ground varieties typically available are New Mexican, California/Anaheim, paprika, cayenne, and de arbol. (The store used to carry pasilla powder, but stopped for some reason).

          1. I'm only commenting on how I can't buy NM chili in Tejas. A fact that I personally find pretty unbelievable, but true non the less.

  3. I am a terrible cook, but I'll make sure this one falls into the right hands. The Milkmaid has become a solid cook of Indian food in a shockingly small amount of time; she never once tried Indian food of any kind before she met me (and for my part, I was an Indian food enthusiast thanks to an ex who was a first-generation American from there). Pav Bhaji has until now escaped my notice because I tend to fall back on the same few dishes all the time, but I'll try to get to it soon.

  4. bS: Curious - do you use the Amchur powder for anything else?

    smilk: same here - caught in the whirlpool of the same dishes - I will give this one a spin.

    I will later post one of my favourite dishes from London's Keralan curry houses

    Spoiler SelectShow


      1. Update: I made lobia (curried black-eyed peas) this week, which called for Amchur powder. So now I can say I've used it in other dishes.

        this dish was tremendous. I did, however, significantly amp up the chili, turmeric and garam masala. I didn't have asafetida, so I omitted it. Still delicious. One additional note -- I used a potato masher to smush up some of the beans to thicken the dish. It turns out as a thick soup.

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