This Mumbai street-food specialty – a mashed vegetable curry (the bhaji) with a ghee-toasted soft bun (pav) – will be love at first bite, guaranteed. The first time I visited Mumbai, on the inbound flight I sat next to a Mumbaiker who was returning home, and we had a great conversation about the food culture of this fascinating city. I jotted down the names of some restaurants to try and the districts to visit as he reeled off a list of delicious things to eat and intriguing places to go. As we got off the plane, my last question to him was this: If I should try just one food from this crazy, bustling city, what would it be? His answer was clear: It must be pav bhaji.
Because of my love for this mouthwatering street food, I love sharing its deliciousness and its origins as a Mumbai specialty and showing how simple it can be to make at home. Garam masala and ghee are musts, and choose a pillowy soft bun to serve with it.
Excerpted from New Indian Basics: 100 Traditional and Modern Recipes from Arvinda’s Family Kitchen by Preena Chauhan and Arvinda Chauhan. Copyright © 2022 Preena Chauhan. Cover and book design by Andrew Roberts. Photography by Reena Newman, with photos on pages iii, 10, 18, 28, 129, 209, 255, 272 by Sandy Nicholson. Published in Canada by Appetite by Random House, a division of Penguin Random House Canada Limited. Reproduced by arrangement with the Publisher. All rights reserved.
Related: You Must Try This Bombay Sandwich
Pav bhaji is meant to be eaten with your hands! Break off a piece of the pav and dip it into the bhaji and pop it into your mouth!
For the bhaji: In a large pot, combine the potatoes, cauliflower, beans, red peppers, water, and 1 teaspoon salt. Be sure there is enough water to cover the vegetables, adding more if necessary. Cook on medium-high heat for 25 minutes or until very soft. Drain any excess water.
In a medium tawa, wok, or non-stick pan on medium-high heat, melt the butter. Add the onions and fry until softened and light golden brown, 5-10 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium and add the fresh tomatoes and crushed tomatoes and stir.
Sprinkle in the coriander, cumin, garam masala, remaining 1 teaspoon salt, chili powder, and turmeric. Stir to combine, then add the garlic and ginger pastes. Mix well and cook for a couple of minutes.
Add the cooked vegetables and, using a potato masher or flat utensil, mash the vegetables until smooth. Cook for 10 minutes, until all the ingredients are combined. Add a little water if necessary to make a soft vegetable curry (bhaji). The bhaji shouldn’t be too watery or runny, but neither should it be overly thick and dry. Add salt to taste.
For the pavs: Slice the buns (pavs) in half, leaving one edge attached. Apply a generous amount of butter on each and toast in a frying pan until they are crisp and golden brown.
To serve, spoon hot bhaji into individual bowls. Serve with a toasted pav on the side. Add a pat of butter as a garnish on top, red onions and cilantro to taste, and a lemon wedge on the side. Add a squeeze of lemon to every bite.