Friday, September 23, 2011

Pav Bhaji -homemade yet streetwise

Pav Bhaji hardly needs any introduction. It is one of the most popular street foods in Maharashtra, originating in the city of Bombay. It is said ( several internet sources) that mill workers in the 60s hardly got enough time to have any proper food during their short breaks. And Pav bhaji was born.

Pav bhaji is made with a melange of vegetables, typically potatoes, cauliflower, green peas, peppers and tomatoes, a bunch of spices, and a slab of butter. Everything is mashed up really good and this is dished up with dinner rolls fried or toasted in butter. I remember when the first Pav bhaji cart showed up in our city. It was everyone's favourite thing. I think the winning factor here is the unique spicy taste, the tang - coming from loads of tomatoes and fresh squeezed lemons, and the butter which clogs the arteries but lifts your senses.

I have typically made many healthier versions of this, using Country crock or 'I can' believe..' type spreads, and lotsa of different kinds of veggies. But this one is true to its street roots. Please feel free to add any other veggies you like, or use margarine or butter substitutes.

I have also made my own dry spice mix here, instead of using the standard Everest or Badshah pav bhaji masala. It makes a big difference and is worth a try.

The recipe is as follows -

Ingredients -

potatoes - 4-5 medium

tomatoes - 4-5 roma or vine ripe

onions - 2 medium

cauliflower - 1 small head

peas - 1 cup

green bell pepper - 1

carrot - 1

dinner rolls/dollar rolls - 4 per person or more

Butter - 2 sticks or more OR 150 g

salt to taste

1-2 Tbsp oil

1 Tbsp fresh grated ginger and garlic

1-2 cups tomato puree or tomato sauce

Garnish -

finely chopped cilantro

Lemon wedges

finely chopped onion

Dry spice Mix -

1 Tbsp dhania seed or coariander seed

1 Tbsp jeera seed or cumin seeds

1 Tbsp amchur powder or dry mango powder

1 tsp sunth or dry ginger powder

1 tsp fennel seeds or saunf

2 large black cardamom

1 inch cinnamon

10 cloves

2 tsp black peppercorns

1/4 tsp turmeric powder

1/4 tsp cayenne pepper

2 star anise

Method -

1) For the dry spice mix - Lightly roast the seeds without burning. Cool and powder in a spice grinder. Add the remaining powders and mix well. Transfer to an air tight jar.

This is cayenne or mirchi free and salt free, and lets you add the spice level without increasing the heat or making the dish too salty.

2) Boil the potatoes, peel, mash and set aside.

3) Chop onions and tomatoes. Chop the cauliflower florets in a food processor until they are almost a fine powder, or grate them. Thaw the peas and puree them in the food processor.

Grate the carrot. Chop the green pepper also in the food processor. Set these aside seperately.
4) Heat oil in a heavy bottomed skillet. Use veg or canola oil.

5) Add the chopped onions and saut them until soft. Add the ginger and garlic. Make sure it does not burn or stick.

6) Add the chopped tomatoes and keep frying until the oil leaves the sides.

7) Seasoning method - This dish has a lot of layers, and a Big yield. So I always season in layers or 'as I go'. I add a little salt and the Pav Bhaji Masala after every vegetable I add. This makes sure that the veggies cook in the spices and take on an intense flavor.

8) generally my quick method for this is to pressure cook all veggies together, and then dumo them in the onion tomato masala we fried earlier. But as I said, this time I am following the street method, and the slightly slower method. It makes a HUGE difference taste wise.

9) Add carrots to the onion tomato mixture in the wok. Season with a little salt and pav bhaji masala. Add a dab of butter.

10) Fry the carrots for a few minutes until they soften. Use a masher to mash everything together. Add the grated cauliflower.

11) Repeat above steps. Add seasonings and butter. Let it cook until the cauliflower gets incorporated into the whole mixture. Keep mashing periodically.

12) Add the green peas and green pepper now. Again add seasonings and butter. Mix well and stir together. Mash periodically.

13) Add the mashed potaotes now. Use the masher to mix it all together. Check seasonings. Add some more butter.

14) Add the tomato sauce or tomato puree. Check all seasonings and add enough salt, cayenne and spice mix to your taste.

15) Heat some butter in a pan. Lightly toast the dinner rolls or bread in the pan in the butter.

16) To serve - Dish up the bhaji or vegetable in a bowl. Squeeze some fresh lemon juice on top. Add chopped onions and cilantro. Dig in!!

Additional Method -

If you have ever seen a pav bhaji stall or 'thela', you know they have this really big griddle on which the bhaji is already made. TO serve the bhaji, they heat some butter in the center, add spices, and add a ladle or two of the veggie mix. They add some water ( and red color too), and mix it all up before serving.

I used this method at home this time. Even though time consuming, it lets you customize a lot. You can have a base bhaji version that is mildly spiced and then you can add as much butter as needed for a person, and spices to taste. This is also a good way to extend it or thin it out for more number of people.

The above recipe easily yields 10-12 large servings.

Pav Bhaji is a popular street food and is a must try at home.

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