Here Is A Recipe To A Saucy, Spicy Indian Classic To Riff On At Home Pav Bhaji

(MENAFN- The Peninsula) The Washington Post

Khushbu Shah's first cookbook 'Amrikan' is a paean to the cooking of the Indian diaspora that defined her upbringing in Michigan. "I grew up eating quesadillas, but I also grew up eating aloo paratha and stir-fried cabbage and things with a lot of turmeric and Kashmiri red chili powder,” she said. "All of these foods feel equally of my upbringing, of my palate. And so it makes sense for those to start to intersect, and not just on my palate but also on the plates of other people who are part of this diaspora.”

Shah's book reflects her personality: vibrant, creative, outspoken, thoughtful, fun-loving. She grew up in a vegetarian household, so the book is mostly vegetarian, but it includes some meat as a reflection of the "complicated and complex relationship with meat” Indians have historically had.

Before she left Food & Wine magazine, Shah was the first person of color to be a national restaurant critic, so she spent years crisscrossing the country in search of the best places of all types to eat. And along the way, she tried Indian restaurants everywhere she could. That research, along with nostalgia about her childhood, informs the wide range of recipes, including such classics as dal makhani and chana masala and such inventions as saag paneer lasagna, green chutney pizza and jalapeño popper samosas.

Pav bhaji, meanwhile, is one of the classics in the book, treated traditionally because that's how people in the diaspora tend to still make it. And it's already the product of fusion; it was born, Shah writes, when Portuguese colonization brought pav, a soft bread roll, to India's western coast. Shah uses grilled potato rolls or hamburger buns for ease.

The dish is refreshingly flexible in other ways; while it usually includes potatoes and peas, it's perfectly acceptable to use whatever vegetables you have on hand, as long as they're mashable. Shah includes cauliflower in hers, but the first time I made it, I took it as part of a meal train to a friend who can't stand the crucifer, so I doubled up on the peas instead. At home, where my husband is an avowed pea hater, I doubled up on the cauliflower.

Either way, the enduring appeal of pav bhaji lies in its riot of flavors and textures: a deeply spiced tomato-onion gravy coats the mild vegetables, while the chunky-but-soft mash contrasts with the griddled bread and, as Shah prefers, "a mountain of raw onions.”

Pav bhaji, in fact, is one of Mumbai's most famous street foods; Shah calls it "the ultimate late-night snack.” The main connection to the retro American sandwich is in its sloppiness. So the next time I come across a sloppy joe, I plan to refer to it as "American pav bhaji.” Loudly and proudly.

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Pav Bhaji

This easy Indian dish consists of mashed vegetables cooked in a tomato-onion gravy, heavily seasoned, then spooned over soft rolls and topped with raw onions. One of Mumbai's most famous street foods, it is what cookbook author Khushbu Shah calls "the ultimate late-night snack.” While potatoes and peas are the default veg combination, anything mashable is fair game. Here's where leftover and/or frozen vegetables can come in handy for an on-the-fly meal.

6 servings (makes 6 cups)

Active time: 45 mins; Total time: 1 hour 5 mins

Storage: Refrigerate the mashed seasoned vegetables (bhaji) separately for up to 4 days.

Make ahead: The vegetables can be boiled and refrigerated for up to 3 days, then proceed with the rest of the recipe.

Where to buy: Kashmiri red chili powder and amchoor powder can be found at Indian markets, well-stocked international supermarkets and online.


For the pav bhaji masala

1 tablespoon garam masala

2 teaspoons Kashmiri red chili powder (see Substitutions)

2 teaspoons amchoor powder (green mango powder; see Substitutions)

1 teaspoon ground turmeric

1 teaspoon ground coriander

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom

For the pav bhaji

1/2 teaspoon fine salt, plus more to taste

4 medium red potatoes (1 pound total), scrubbed

1/2 small head cauliflower (8 ounces), cut into large florets

1 cup frozen green peas

2 tablespoons neutral oil, such as vegetable

1 large white onion (12 ounces), chopped, plus sliced onion for serving

4 or 5 large Roma tomatoes (1 pound total), chopped (see Substitutions)

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

12 potato rolls or 6 hamburger buns, lightly toasted

lemon wedges, for serving


Make the pav bhaji masala: In a small bowl, whisk together the garam masala, chili powder, amchoor powder, turmeric, coriander, cumin, cinnamon and cardamom until well combined.

Make the pav bhaji: Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the potatoes (left whole) and boil until a skewer meets only slight resistance, 20 to 25 minutes. Add the cauliflower and cook until almost tender, about 10 minutes, then add the frozen peas and cook until tender, about 2 minutes. Reserve 2 cups of the cooking liquid, then drain the vegetables. Let sit until the potatoes are cool enough to handle, then use your hands to slip the peels off the potatoes (and discard or compost the peels).

While the vegetables are boiling, in a Dutch oven or other large pot over medium heat, heat the oil until shimmering. Add the onion and saute until translucent, 4 to 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes, and cook until jammy, 7 to 8 minutes. Turn off the heat and let the tomato mixture sit while you finish boiling the vegetables and peeling the potatoes.

Add the potatoes, cauliflower and peas to the tomato mixture and gently mash them into the gravy, leaving some small pieces so the mash has some texture. Add the pav bhaji masala, salt and 1 cup of the cooking water, and stir to combine. Bring the mixture to a simmer and cook until it thickens and the flavors meld, about 10 minutes. Turn off the heat, cover and let sit for 5 to 10 minutes. Stir in up to 1 cup more of the cooking water if needed; you want the texture to be like sloppy Joes - scoopable but not stiff. Add the butter and stir until it melts.

Transfer the mixture to a serving bowl and serve hot, with the rolls or buns, lemons for squeezing over and lots of sliced onions for topping.

Substitutions: Don't want to make the pav bhaji masala? >> Look for a premade blend at Indian grocery stores. (You might want to add more turmeric and/or chili powder to taste.) Store-bought garam masala >> homemade (see related recipe). To make it vegan >> use vegan butter or more neutral oil. Kashmiri chili powder >> conventional chili powder. Amchoor powder >> 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice. Roma tomatoes >> 3/4 cup canned crushed tomatoes.

Notes: If you'd like to add richness to the bread, brush it with melted butter and griddle it until lightly golden brown.

Nutrition | Per serving (1 cup bhaji plus 2 rolls): 445 calories, 76g carbohydrates, 5mg cholesterol, 11g fat, 8g fiber, 13g protein, 2g saturated fat, 643mg sodium, 13g sugar

This analysis is an estimate based on available ingredients and this preparation. It should not substitute for a dietitian's or nutritionist's advice.

Adapted from "Amrikan” by Khushbu Shah (W.W. Norton & Co., 2024).


The Peninsula

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