Pav bhaji is ubiquitous in my part of India. You find stall after stall serving this delicious treat. It is often cooked on large round griddles that gradually slope down in the center. The vegetable base, or bhaji, is cooked in the central depression and the bread, or pav, is toasted around the edges. This guarantees that some delicious spice is carried into the toasting butter. Conversely, it also guarantees that the butter the bread is pan fried in drips into the vegetables. In many ways, pav bhaji is fast food as it often serves as a quick and filling meal. However, unlike American fast food, pav bhaji almost entirely consists of vegetables! In fact, I would wager that, if made at home, pav bhaji can even be considered healthy. At the food stalls in India, pav bhaji is often served with soft round loaves of white bread. The vegetable mix is mashed and nearly pureed into a thick sauce. The soft rolls are toasted in salted butter and then are used to sop up the delicious puree. Interestingly, the soft rolls or “pav” come from the Portugese word for bread, or pão. While we typically think of the Brits as colonizing India, the Portugese had a large presence as well. They were located in the Gujarat and Maharashtra areas and are partially credited with introducing leavened loaves and baking in general to those region. In my family, we’ve always called this dish bhaji pão even though it is more commonly known as pav bhaji. Additionally, my grandmother always used to keep the vegetables a little more whole and rather than using a pre-made pav bhaji masala, or spice blend, (like many vendors and home cooks do), she used our family’s garam masala. I personally prefer my family’s version of pav bhaji as it is what I grew up with and that is the recipe I will be sharing today.
Despite being a fast food, pav bhaji is just the slightest bit labor intensive. All of the veggies are steamed in one pan, the spicy seasonings are mixed together in another, and the bread is toasted in the last one. Our family’s version of pav bhaji includes zucchini, eggplant, cauliflower, and potatoes. These vegetables are all cut up into bite size chunks and steamed until they are tender. Meanwhile, some spices are toasted in butter to draw out their flavor. Then, onions and tomatoes are cooked down with a bunch of spices to make a rich, and delicious base. The steamed vegetables are mixed in, smooshed just a little, and cooked to infuse them with all of the flavor from the spiced onion and tomatoes. The bread is made by pan frying hamburger buns or hot dog buns in butter until golden and delicious. Then, serve everything together. I personally like to serve my pav bhaji by scooping the veggies on top of the bread. I know others who use the bread as a scoop to lift up the veggies. And, there are those rare few who eat them entirely separately! Either way, it’s all delicious, especially when you garnish it with plenty of cilantro and onion. I hope you enjoy my favorite version of a popular Indian dish!
Spiced Summer Vegetables with Butter Toasted Bread ~ Pav Bhaji
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This is my family's version of the super popular roadside dish: pav bhaji. It's Indian fast food at its finest, full of veggies, spices, and tons of flavor.
- For the vegetables:
- 1 medium eggplant, cut into bite size pieces
- 1 medium head of cauliflower, cut into bite size pieces
- 5-10 red potatoes or 2 medium russet potatoes, cut into bite size pieces
- 2 zucchini, cut into bite size pieces
- 3/4 stick butter, divided
- 1 stick of cinnamon
- 3-5 cloves
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 medium onion, diced
- 3 Roma tomatoes, diced
- 1 tsp garlic paste, or similar amount crushed garlic
- 1 tsp crushed/grated ginger
- 1 tsp crushed/finely minced jalapeno
- 1/2 tsp Kashmiri red chili powder, or cayenne powder
- 1/4 tsp turmeric
- 1 tsp garam masala
- Salt to taste
- Minced sweet onions and chopped cilantro for garnish
- For the bread:
- 8 hamburger or hot dog buns
- Butter, for pan frying
- For the vegetables
- Gather the potatoes, eggplant, cauliflower, and zucchini into the basket of a steamer. Steam over simmering water until all the vegetables are tender.
- While the vegetables are steaming, melt 1/2 stick of the butter in a large wok and add the cinnamon and cloves. When aromatic, add the onion and sauté until translucent and slightly golden. Once the onions are done, add the tomatoes and cook until they disintegrate. Add the garlic, ginger, and jalapenos to the tomatoes and cook until the raw smell of those spices disappear. Add the red chili, turmeric, and a few pinches of salt and stir.
- Cook until some oil separates from the tomatoes. When this happens, add the garam masala and all the steamed veggies. If your steamed veggies are not yet done, turn the stove off and cover the tomato mixture. Once the veggies are fully tender, add them to the tomato mixture, and toss well. Gently mash with a wooden spoon. Taste, and add more salt as needed. Add the remaining 1/4 stick of butter, stir well to incorporate, and turn off the heat.
- For the bread
- Heat butter in a large skillet until it foams. Place the hamburger buns, interior side down on the skillet and rotate a few times to absorb the butter. Toast until golden brown. Flip onto the crust side, and toast until golden brown. Repeat with more butter and the remaining buns.
- To serve
- Garnish with plenty of raw onions and cilantro. Serve with warm buns.
Vegan variation: Use a neutral vegetable oil or a mild flavored coconut oil in place of the butter. It will be delicious!