I’ve written before about my favorite spicy street food stew that’s sopped up with buttered bread, but I’ve arrived at a new recipe. My old recipe for pav bhaji was made with chopped vegetables in a pressure cooker. Now, I use whole boiled mashed potatoes with lots of tomatoes, onions, ginger and garlic, all simmered in one big pot. I’ve also given up entirely on pre-mixed store bought masala that’s been languishing on the shelves. Fresh pav bhaji masala (my mom’s recipe) just brings the bhaji vibrantly to life. Plus, I’m not left wondering what was in the mysterious store masala. It also makes me think of the time when my masi brought home some dry ground pav bhaji masala from Mayaram’s in Calcutta to understand what made their bhaji so incredibly lip-smackingly delicious. Her conclusion was that the masala had nothing special in it – the “secret” ingredient was just fresh grinding of the whole seeds.
Here is how to do it.
Pav bhaji masala (for 2 medium potatoes or to serve 2)
Grind to powder:
2 tsp coriander seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
1/2 tsp of whole black peppercorns
2 cloves, the round tops removed
1 inch piece of cinnamon stick
1-2 dried red chillis, optional
1/2 tsp amchur powder (add separately)
Potatoes: Begin with 1 boiled, mashed potato per person. If you like, substitute half the potatoes with a mix of carrot, beans, peas, cauliflower.
Tomatoes: The volume of tomatoes must be at least as much as the potatoes or potato-vegetable mixture. Therefore, a ratio of 1:1 for potatoes:tomatoes. Very important. If you feel that your bhaji looks insipid or not brightly colored enough, add more tomatoes, even if it’s late in the cooking. In pav bhaji you can add raw chopped tomato at various points and keep on simmering the bhaji. The flavor will be moist and marvelous.
Aromatics and flavor base: Finely chopped onions, ginger and garlic are a must. About 1 cup of onions, 2 tbsp of garlic and 1 tbsp of ginger to serve 2. Optional: but almost a must: finely chopped green chillies and diced green bell pepper.
Butter: Always cook your bhaji in butter, about 2 tbsps per potato.
For garnishing: chopped coriander leaves and a squeeze of lime. Brightens the flavors considerably.
Recipe in a nutshell
1/2 stick butter
1 generous cup onions
2 tbsp garlic, finely chopped
1 tbsp ginger, finely chopped
1-2 green chillies, chopped
1/2 small green bell pepper, diced
2 medium potatoes, boiled and mashed
2-3 medium tomatoes, chopped
Dry pav baji masala, as made above
kosher salt to taste
1 cup loosely packed cilantro leaves, chopped
1 lime, cut into wedges
First, heat the butter in a large sauté pan. Add the onions, ginger, garlic, green chillies. and cook until the onions are a golden brown. Add the bell peppers and cook for a few more minutes. Add the tomatoes, and cook for a several minutes. Add the potatoes and vegetables, nicely mashed, into this mixture, and stir well. Allow to simmer over low heat. Add some water if needed, a quarter cup at a time, if the mixture starts looking too dry. You can also add an extra chopped tomato if the bhaji appears to lack in color and vibrancy. Add the dry masala powder and salt to taste as the mixture cooks. Keep cooking over slow heat, stirring occasionally. Remember, the longer pav bahji slow-cooks, the better it tastes (but within reason!). Taste and adjust any seasonings. Stir in chopped coriander and serve with wedges of lime and finely chopped red onions, along with pan toasted hot buttered bread rolls.