Pav bhaji, the popular Indian street food curry with a bun, is a semi-indulgent dish to have, loaded with ghee or butter and always paired with the whitest of white bread (browned and toasted with even more butter).
Pav means “bread” and bhaji is an all-around loose term for a vegetable-laden curry. The key ingredients in the curry are potato, carrots, and peas. Often you’ll find cauliflower too. In a typical onion, tomato, garlic and spice base, all the vegetables are cooked through and through, almost to a puree. Veggies appear hidden in the final dish, which is then sprinkled with raw finely chopped onion, cilantro, and of course ghee or melted butter. Kids love this dish, when made not too spicy. It’s actually a great after-school snack, lunch, light dinner, or fantastic party food. Make the curry a day or two ahead, and all you have to do for your guests is toast the buns.
Traditionally it’s served piping hot on a plate with the buttery bread served on the side. Pav bhaji regulars tear off pieces of bread with their hands and dip into the sopping gravy, scooping whatever they can into the bite before popping the whole thing in the mouth. Wash that baby down with a refreshing cooling Fresh Lime Soda or a lassi of some sort.
To highlight aspects of my cooking classes that are on the culinary medicine track, sometimes I’ll put some notes in on my blog posts, such as the following one!
Shef’s Culinary Medicine Talking Points:
I love this dish so much that it’s not difficult for me to find the health benefits of it without changing the dish too drastically.
- Cauliflower is one of the cruciferous vegetables that offer phytonutrients in the form of indoles and can be anti-oxidative and anti-cancerous.
- Cooked tomatoes provide lycopene.
- Fresh-pressed garlic gives the most amount of allicin, which is cardio-protective and anti-inflammatory (HOWEVER this is decreased upon cooking)
- Bread can be replaced with 100% whole wheat bread or gluten-free bread if needed.
- Butter and ghee, if desired, can be switched out for olive oil, but some of the traditional flavor of the dish will be left lackluster. If using butter or ghee, use grass-fed butter for the higher nutritive benefit.
Serves: for 10-12 sliders
- 1 pound russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1” cubes, placed in a bowl covered with water.
- 2 carrots, chopped crosswise into ½” pieces
- 1 cup frozen peas
- 1 cup cauliflower florets
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 tablespoon canola oil
- 1 large yellow onion (about 1 pound), finely chopped
- 10 peeled garlic cloves, minced
- 2 teaspoons grated peeled gingerroot
- 2 tablespoons pav bhaji masala (see notes below)
- ¼ teaspoon turmeric
- 2 teaspoons paprika
- 1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt
- 1 14-ounce can whole peeled tomatoes, drained and coarsely chopped
- Wedges of lime
- Minced shallot
- Finely chopped cilantro
- Butter or ghee
- 8 hamburger buns, split in half
- Drain potatoes. Boil or pressure-cook the potatoes, carrots and peas in slightly salted water. Drain well and mash coarsely. Set the mashed vegetables aside.
- Heat butter in a large saucepan or wok on medium-high until butter is foamy. Add oil and heat thoroughly but not smoking hot.
- Add the onions, garlic, and ginger and sauté 10 minutes over low to medium heat.
- Add pav bhaji masala, turmeric, paprika, and salt.
- Mix well and cook 10 minutes.
- Add tomatoes and increase heat to high. Cook 5-10 minutes and you will see the oil separating.
- Add the mashed vegetables and 1 cup of water. Mix well. The pav bhaji curry will be a very thick consistency and will bubble at the edges. Add more water if necessary. You want a consistency that will allow you to dip your bread into the curry and scoop some up, without dripping everywhere.
- Serve with piping hot buttered grilled bread.
- Garnish with a squeeze of lime, a sprinkle of cilantro, and a bit of minced shallot or red onion. Douse the curry with butter or ghee if you wish!
- Grill the buns on a hot buttered grill pan or nonstick skillet and serve with pav bhaji.
You can of course use fresh roma tomatoes in the summertime if you wish—you will need about 4. If using canned tomatoes, I prefer Muir-Glen fire-roasted tomatoes. Note that canned tomatoes usually have a bit of salt and I’ve taken that into account in the recipe. You may wish to adjust the salt to your liking.
© Shefaly Ravula/ Shef’s Kitchen