Thursday, April 8, 2010

Pav Bhaji (Mixed vegetables served with a buttery bun)

Pav bhaji is one of the most popular street foods in Bombay. You'll find industrial-sized woks of this on the street side, with an iron pan beside it for the bread to toast drenched in butter. The key to this meal is BUTTER. And a soft bun. It is always eaten with white bread, and for the sake of authenticity for someone who has never eaten it before, we did the same. I promise that next time we'll be eating this with whole grain rolls.

"Bhaji" just means mixed vegetables that are mashed together and "Pav" or "Pao" means bun/bread roll. Everyone has their preferences as to what vegetables to include, but I'm sure everyone agrees that potatoes dominate the dish, and rightly so. Other than the butter, its what adds creaminess to it. Feel free to use whatever you have lying around, as long as you respect the place of the potato.

Since the potatoes, carrots and cauliflower have to be boiled until tender for this recipe, I used a pressure cooker because it cooks it in literally 10 minutes (one whistle). You can boil the vegetables until tender without a pressure cooker too, of course.

The key to cooking Indian food is cooking in stages, so that everything has a chance to come alive. It's important for the onions to turn golden because that adds a distinct flavor to the dish, and it's important for the spices to cook a few minutes to awaken them, and it's also important to cook the tomatoes to dissolve its rawness.

Pav Bhaji - Mixed Vegetables with a buttery bun
Serves 4

550g (3 medium sized) potatoes, peeled and cut into cubes
280g (1 palm sized) cauliflower, florets, a bit larger than the potato
150g (a medium sized) carrot, peeled and cut to resemble the other vegetables above
2 tbs canola oil
2 tbs butter
1/2 cup peas
150g (a medium sized) green pepper, diced
178g (2 medium) onion, diced
1 tbs ginger, grated
1 tbs garlic, grated
1-2 serrano chilies, finely chopped
400g canned plum tomatoes
2 tbs tomato paste

1 1/2 tsp cumin powder
1 1/2 tsp coriander powder
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/4 tsp dried mango powder or "umchur" - optional
1/8 tsp clove powder or 2 whole cloves
1/8 tsp red chili powder
1 - 2 cardamon pods
1 small cinnamon stick
A pinch of asafetida or "hing" - optional but good for digestion
Salt to taste

* If you have pav bhaji masala, then ignore the spice list above, and add 1 tbs pav bhaji masala, 1 1/2 tsp cumin powder and 1 1/2 tsp coriander powder.

1. In a sauce pan (or pressure cooker for one whistle), boil the potatoes, cauliflower and carrot until tender.

2. Heat a heavy-bottom pan on medium heat and add oil, butter and the chopped onion. Cook until the onion is golden brown, stirring occasionally. Then add the garlic, ginger, green peppers and all the spices and cook for a minute or two. Add the crushed tomatoes and tomato puree and cook for about 10 minutes. 

3. Mash in the cooked vegetables and peas and cook for another 10 minutes, adding 1/2-1 cup of water, depending on how thick you want it.

4. Garnish with chopped cilantro (coriander) leaves and another tablespoon of butter.

5. In a warm pan with some butter, toast a bread roll, split in half, on both sides.

6. Serve with chopped red onion that is salted and dressed with lemon.

Eat with your fingers for a more authentic experience!

Makes 12 rolls

5 cups (675g) all purpose flour
2 1/4 tsp active dry yeast
1/2 tbs sugar
2 cups (425g) warm water
3 tbs canola oil
1 tsp salt
Butter for greasing the tops

1. In a large bowl, proof yeast with warm water and sugar until active and bubbly, about 3 - 5 minutes.

2. Add the flour, salt and oil and knead until smooth and elastic, about 7 - 10 minutes. Cover with a tea towel and keep in a warm place for 1 1/2 hours. 

3. Grease a large dish or a sheet pan with oil. Carefully divide the dough into 12 balls. Place 1/2 inch apart in the dish. Cover with a tea towel and proof for 45 minutes. 

4. Preheat oven to 200C or 400F. Once warm, bake rolls for 20 - 25 minutes, until golden. A digital thermometer inserted in the center should read at least 97C. Immediately apply butter over the tops of the buns. Cool for 15 - 20 minutes before eating. 

Notes: This bread is deliciously soft on the first day, but slightly less soft the next day, so try to enjoy on the day it's made. 

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