Head to a spot lined with street food stalls in Mumbai, and there’s a good chance you’ll encounter several steaming hot plates of pav bhaji. A classic addition to every home cook’s repertoire, there are several variations to this beloved dish. Our recommendation? A punchy, flavourful rendition by chef Sanjyot Keer.
At its core, pav bhaji is a simple blend of staples like tomatoes, potatoes, onions, peas, capsicum, and cauliflower with a pre-made masala. However, the results, especially when served with a generous dollop of butter, sprinkle of lime juice, and a side of bread rolls is anything but simple. This comfort dish can stand in for a complete meal or satiate mid-day snack cravings. It’s no wonder that the soupy, spicy mash has made it to the favourites lists of many avid foodies.
The origin of pav bhaji can be traced back to the 1860s
Reports suggest that when the American Civil War was underway in the 1860s, the British suffered from a disruption in the supply of cotton. This brought them to India, where cotton mill workers in Bombay (now Mumbai) had been flooded with large orders. As the workers burned the midnight oil, street food vendors innovated their menus to keep them fed, combining leftover vegetables with a range of spices before serving it with a side of bread. Later on, the Portuguese introduced pav to the city, rounding out the meal now known as pav bhaji.
Other reports insist that the dish was invented by frugal homemakers as a means to produce something healthy from leftovers. Today there are far more versions of the dish than speculations around its origin. While vendors in the South add curry leaves to their mash, those in Kolhapur blend an onion-garlic chutney into the mix. That said, there’s nothing quite like the original, which has firmly established itself in the hearts and dietary habits of Mumbai residents.
Chef Sanjyot Keer’s pav bhaji recipe promises an explosion of flavours
If you’re looking for a classic pav bhaji recipe to whip up for your loved ones or serve at parties, look no further than the delicious, classic recipe by Mumbai-based chef and digital content creator Sanjyot Kheer.
A food producer for MasterChef India season four, Sanjyot has worked alongside renowned chefs like Vikas Khanna, Sanjeev Kapoor, Saransh Goila, and Ranveer Brar. He aims at furthering the flavours of Indian food on a global platform while keeping the recipes simple and accessible for all foodies. His YouTube channel Your Food Lab boasts about 30.5 lakh followers, many of whom have been raving about his new street-style pav bhaji recipe.
A step-by-step guide to making pav bhaji like Sanjyot Kheer
This recipe serves about seven to eight people and will take you about 40 minutes (inclusive of prep time) to whip up.
Pav bhaji masala
5 tbsp coriander seeds, 3 tbsp cumin seeds, 20-22 cloves, 4-5 star anise, 5-6 black cardamom seeds, 3-5 sticks of cinnamon, 4-5 bay leaves, 20-25 Kashmiri red chillies, 3 tbsp kasuri methi, ½ tsp turmeric powder, ½ tsp dry ginger powder, 1 tsp hing, 1 tsp black salt, 1 tbsp amchur powder (mango powder), 1 tbsp salt.
Red chilli paste
15-20 Kashmiri red chillies (deseeded and soaked), water as required
3/4th cup garlic cloves, water as required
50 grams butter, 2 tbsp oil, 2 tsp jeera, 2-3 medium-sized onions (chopped), 2 medium-sized capsicum (chopped), 7-8 medium-sized potatoes (boiled and mashed), 7-8 medium-sized tomatoes, 3/4th cup green peas (boiled), 1 medium-sized cauliflower (boiled), 1 medium-sized beetroot (boiled and grated), handful of fresh coriander (chopped), salt (to taste), 2 tbsp prepared pav bhaji masala, 1 tsp Kashmiri red chilli, 1 tbsp coriander powder, ½ tsp turmeric powder, 1 tsp Kasuri methi, 2 green chillies (blended to form a paste), 7-8 tbsp prepared garlic paste, 7-8 tbsp prepared red chilli paste, hot water as needed.
50 grams butter, a pinch of jeera seeds, 4-5 tbsp prepared red chilli paste, 2-3 tbsp garlic paste, 1 tsp pav bhaji masala, a pinch of garam masala, salt to taste, freshly chopped coriander leaves, 1 tsp lemon juice, butter as per your preference
Red chilli garlic chutney
304 tbsp oil, 1 tsp jeera seeds, ½ cup prepared chilli paste, ½ cup garlic paste, salt to taste, 1 tsp pav bhaji masala, 1 tsp garam masala, 1 tsp jeera powder, 1 tsp black salt, 2 green chillies (blended to form a paste), 1 tbsp fresh coriander, 1 tsp lemon juice
1. Start with making the pav bhaji masala. To do this, set a pan on medium low and heat until moderately hot. Then lower the heat and add coriander seeds and jeera seeds, roasting them on a low flame for 1-2 minutes.
2. Add the remaining whole spices and roast on a low flame until fragrant. Then add kasuri methi and briefly roast for a few seconds.
3. Transfer the roasted spices to a plate and allow them to cool down to room temperature. Then transfer the mixture to a grinding jar, add the powdered spices, and grind to form a fine powder.
4. Store this mixture in an airtight container and set it aside in the fridge until needed.
5. For the red chilli paste, transfer the soaked Kashmiri red chillies to a mixer grinder, add water as required and grind to form a fine, runny paste.
6. For the garlic paste, transfer garlic cloves to a mixer grinder, add water as required, and grind to form a fine, runny paste with a watery consistency.
7. To boil the vegetables just right, set the water to boil in a stock pot, add the vegetables, turmeric powder and salt. Cover with a lid and boil until the vegetables turn soft and are cooked through. Strain the water and put them aside for later.
8. Set a big size pan on medium high heat and add butter and oil. Then add jeera and allow the seeds to crackle.
9. Now add onions and cook until they turn pale pink. Add capsicums, turn the heat up to high, and cook for 2-3 minutes.
10. Add the boiled and chopped vegetables, salt, prepared pav bhaji masala, powdered spices and green chilli paste. Combine these ingredients well and try to break down or mash the vegetable chunks with your spatula.
11. To this mixture, add in the prepared garlic and chilli paste and combine well. At first, you could add 1-2 cups of hot water and then use a masher to start mashing the bhaji really well. Keep the flame on low at this point.
12. Adjust the consistency of the bhaji by adding additional hot water. Chef recommends thinning it out as street vendors do. This whole process should take about 15-20 minutes.
13. Let the prepared bhaji simmer on a low flame and switch to making the tadka that you can add to the mixture.
14. Set a pan on medium heat, add butter, jeera, prepared red chilli paste and garlic paste, and pav bhaji masala and garam masala. Cook this on a medium-high flame for 1-2 minutes.
15. Add the tadka into the bhaji and mix well. Taste the mixture and adjust the seasoning to taste.
16. Add in freshly chopped coriander leaves, butter, and lemon juice. Combine well and cook on medium heat for 2-3 minutes.
17. You bhaji is now ready!
18. Make the red chilli garlic chutney by adding oil and all the listed ingredients in order to a pan on medium heat. Sir and cook until the oil separate from the chutney. Serve this as a condiment with your pav bhaji!
Assemble your delicious meal with some butter and red chilli garlic chutney
Grab pav and slit one into two equal halves, keeping the ends intact. Place a pan on medium heat and add butter, red garlic chutney, and fresh coriander to it.
Place the pav on the Tawa and coat it with the butter completely. If you’d prefer, toast the bread until it’s golden brown in colour.
Serve them alongside your bhaji and red chilli garlic chutney as well as a quick medley of cucumber, chopped onions, and lemon. Don’t forget a massive dollop of butter on top!
All images: Courtesy chef Sanjyot Keer