Pav Bhjai is a popular Indian street food originating in Mumbai. Originally a meal created for mill workers – Pav meaning bread and bhjai a vegetable and curry mix – evident in the simple and accessible mix of ingredients. It is now sold in most metropolitan areas of India and even in some restaurants.
Buttery mash potato with green peppers, tomatoes, peas and plenty of fragrant spice including mango powder and star anise. On the street you will see the locals cooking Pav Bhjai in a tava – a large round flat cast iron pan which is also used as a griddle for flat-breads and meat. The wide circumference of the pan and open surface space allows room for tossing and mashing the ingredients around which eventually results in the smooth blended texture.
If you’re a fan of fast cooking, the all important Pav Bhjai spice mix that makes this dish what it is can be purchased pre-made from Asian supermarkets, but taking the time to prepare a batch yourself definitely adds a fresher more fragrant result. For an authentic Pav Bhjai spice mix, recipe below.
I like to make this for a Sunday morning breakfast, eaten with freshly toasted thick-cut bread and a cup of hot tea – its like a spicy version of bubble and squeak! But it also makes a great lunch or mid-week dinner.
The cooking process is relatively quick and easy – you will need a large flat frying pan and a potato masher. The key in achieving the right texture for pav bhjai is to have all your ingredients readily prepared and at arms reach. Then the cooking time will be fast, adding each ingredient and continually mashing with a little water to get the smooth texture.
At this point a well is made in the center of the pan, some butter added along with garlic, ginger and your spice mix. This is then blended through the vegetables and after a short cooking time taken off the heat and served with a little extra butter.
As long as you have Pav Bhjai spice mix readily available on your shelf, and vegetables in the fridge you’ll be able to make this anytime as a quick and very satisfying meal. Try experimenting with other vegetables if you wish, cauliflower is also a popular ingredient as well as carrot.
3/4 cup finely chopped green peppers
1 cup finely chopped red onion
1 and 1/2 cups mash potato
2 and 1/2 cups chopped tomato
1/2 cup marrowfat peas
Large handful chopped coriander
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
1 fresh red chilli, chopped
1 fresh green chilli, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
2″ piece fresh ginger, minced
1 and 1/2 tbsp Pav Bhjai spice mix **
Lemon wedge and fresh coriander for garnish
1. Add a knob of butter to a medium heated pan, along with the green peppers and onion. Fry a few minutes then add a splash of water and with your potato masher mash the vegetables until a smooth consistency (not as smooth as a puree – there will still be a little texture from the vegetables)
2. Next add your tomatoes and repeat instructions: fry for a few minutes, add another splash of water and mash tomatoes with masher until smooth.
3. Add turmeric and mash potato, repeat process with water and mashing. Now add another knob of butter along with the marrowfat peas and a good handful of chopped coriander.
4. After a few minutes you should have a smooth like consistency, still maintaining a little of the vegetables texture. At any point during the cooking if your mixture does become dry just keep adding small splashes of water to loosen up.
5. Next step is to make a small hole or well in the center of your vegetable mix and to this add another knob of butter. Once melted throw into the butter your minced garlic and ginger, fresh chopped chillies and pav bhjai spice mix. Fry a couple of minutes until fragrant then carefully bring the vegetable mix into the center and combine all ingredients together.
6. Continue cooking for a few minutes, moving mixture around with your masher and adding a small amount of water if needed to keep mixture loose. When ready remove from the heat and sprinkle with remaining coriander.
7. Serve pav bhaji with an extra knob of butter on top, lemon wedges and fresh or toasted thick white bread.
** Make this spice in advance so it is ready to use anytime for cooking. Stored in an air-tight container, it will last for 1 – 2 months.
Pav Bhjai Spice Mix
4 tbsp coriander seeds
2 tbsp cumin seeds
2 tsp fennel seeds
4 star anise
2″ piece cinnamon
6 dry red chillies
4 cardamon pods, seeds removed
1 tbsp turmeric powder
2 tbsp mango powder
Dry-roast coriander, cumin, fennel seeds, dried chillies, cinnamon and star anise for a few minutes until fragrant. Transfer into a pestle and mortar or small electric grinder, and blend until you have a fine powder. Add turmeric and mango powder mixing well.