Pav Bhaji . . or Spicy Yummy Indian Vegetables

On the northern side of Chicago, not too far from where we live, is a stretch of Devon Avenue absolutely covered with amazing Indian and Pakistani restaurants and shops. It really does feel like stepping into another country while being there. We haven’t frequented it as often as I’d like–only a few times–but the last time we were there, we dropped in an Indian grocery store to see what they had. I had plans to buy spices, but the container were all huge and I was so overwhelmed by all of the choice, I simply grabbed one spice mix box from the shelf that looked promising and left promptly.

Pav Bahji Masala (masala just means mix of spices)--this is the brand I got, but I hear "Everest" brand is good.

Pav Bahji Masala (masala just means mix of spices)--this is the brand I got, but I hear "Everest" brand is particularly good.

Boy am I glad that I did! I have no idea why I grabbed the box that I did, other than that it looked like the spice mix was meant for vegetables rather than meat, and I thought it was kind of weird and intriguing that the dish pictured on the box included a big, buttered, yeasty-looking roll.

I came home with the Pav Bahji Masala, and for whatever reason, never looked up a recipe online to learn more about the spice mix. However, the mix smelled delicious, and the picture featured a tomato-based sauce, so I ad-libbed with some canned tomatoes, lots of fresh veggies, and a tablespoon or so of the spice mix. It was spicy, and oh so good.

Apparently, Pav Bahji is a common kind of street food in central and western Indian states. Cooked veggies, especially potato and cauliflower, are mashed along with tomatoes and the spice mix to make kind of a thick stew or gravy that is traditionally served with a pat of butter on top and a roll (that’s the Portuguese influence coming in), as well as diced raw onion and lemon/lime slices on the side.

As a vegetarian, I do find that I sometimes do crave fat, specially in the winter, and so I did mix in a small pat of butter into the cooked veggies at the end a couple of times, and I must say it is very satisfying. My bastardized version of this dish is usually served on top of quinoa or Israeli couscous (the latter is especially nice), and without a roll. While the butter does add richness if you stir it in, you can control how much fat you add, and unlike many Indian vegetarian dishes, it doesn’t contain paneer, cream, or lots of ghee, all of which are difficult for a lactose intolerant person like myself. That said, I know in the traditional dish (not my own version), additions of cheese are common, so go that route if you’d like. Also, while I haven’t tried it, you could definitely add in kidney beans or chickpeas if you wanted to add some protein to this dish, and I think that would be very tasty.

Pav Bahji with broccoli, peas, and bell peppers and a lime and pat of butter to top.

Pav Bahji with broccoli, peas, and bell peppers and a lime and pat of butter to top.

I’m imagining this spice mix could be hard to come up with unless you have a good Indian store nearby, or order it off the internet. So I’ll try and look up a recipe for the spice mix to make from scratch over the next few weeks. In the meantime, my internet sources tell me that this masala contains chili, coriander, cumin seeds,black pepper, cinnamon, clove, cardamom, mango powder, fennel seeds, and turmeric.

Pav Bahji, Cat Style

  • 1 Tb. vegetable oil or coconut oil
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1 jalapeno, minced
  • 1 tsp. ginger, minced
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 Tb. pav bahji
  • 1/4 tsp. turmeric
  • 1 1/2 C. diced tomatoes (canned or fresh)
  • 3 1/2 C. mixed veggies–whatever you have in your fridge (potatoes, sweet potatoes, cauliflower, broccoli, bell pepper, peas, etc.)
  • a handful of chopped cilantro
  • optional: lime slices, butter

Heat the oil over medium heat, and then add the onion and jalapeno, sauteeing for about 5 minutes, or until it starts to soften. Add the ginger and garlic, and saute another 5 minutes or so. Add in the pav bahji and the turmeric and saute for about a minute. Add in the diced tomatoes and bring to a simmer. Add the vegetables, and a tiny bit of water if more liquid is needed to make a sauce for the veggies. You may need to add the vegetables at different times if their cooking times vary–it depends on what you add in. Once all of the veggies are tender, take off the flame, and stir in the cilantro. Serve with a tiny pat of butter and a wedge of lime, if desired. Very nice served over Israeli couscous.

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