Pav Bhaji: Indian Vegetarian “Chili” with Spiced Buns

Across the United States, everyone has their favorite version of Chili–a thick stew made with peppers, beans, meat, tomatoes, and spices.

I grew up eating my Mom’s version of chili (which I have to say may be the best…).  Her’s included tomato sauce, pork and beans, lots of beef and absolutely no chunky vegetables.  Man, it’s tasty!  But once I met Piyush, the chili had to change!

Because Piyush is Indian and was raised Hindu, beef is not something he eats.  Mom tweaked her recipe a little and substituted the beef with ground turkey or venison.  Once Piyush took a bite–even he was in awe!  He said it reminded him of Pav Bhaji–a wildly popular Indian street food found all over Mumbai (he grew up in Mumbai).

Since Piyush and I have been married, I have changed my mom’s chili even more.  I’ve added chopped veggies and about 5 different kind of beans. And every single time Piyush takes his first bite, he always says the same 2 things.

“This isn’t as good as your moms.”

and

“This reminds me of Pav Bhaji.  You should make me Pav Bhaji.”

So…finally–after 3 years of marriage–I have made him Pav Bhaji.

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And he was happy.

Actually, more than happy!  He told me that my version tasted better than what he used to get on the streets–mostly because he thought they used way too much butter.

Pav Bhaji simply means “buns and vegetables.”  It is quite easy to make and has an incredible flavor—no doubt from all the butter used to make the dish!

Because I had never tasted pav bhaji, I did a little research online and quizzed Piyush about the vegetables, the spice mix…and even the taste of the buns.  I decided to use a pre-made masala (spice mix), simply because my tounge would have no idea what the final dish was supposed to taste like.  I purchased the masala from the local Indian market–and according to Piyush, the flavor was spot on.

I never really use recipes when I cook Indian food–but I always write down what I’m doing, just in case it’s awesome and I want to replicate it later.  This is definitely one of those dishes!  In fact, if food didn’t have calories…and we could eat whatever we wanted; I think I would eat this every. single. day.  It is that good.  Seriously.

I don’t miss the meat.  I don’t miss the beans.  Nope.  This vegetarian (vegan–with modifications) chili is now my absolute favorite.  It’s even better than mom’s.  ((Sorry, Mom!))

It is also pretty simple to make.  You boil vegetables and mash them…then cook some more vegetables and mash them, too.

Then you add spices, aromatics…and butter.  Lots of butter.  I used 1/2 cup butter for this entire dish—buns and all.  Piyush tells me that the pav bhaji you would get on the street would have nearly that much just for one serving!  Yikes!

Pav Bhaji (Buns with Vegetables)

Makes 6 very generous servings –approximately 350 cals/ea (including 1 Kings Hawaiian dinner roll)
To make this recipe vegan–replace the butter with your favorite vegan butter substitute.  I recommend Earth Balance. You will also need to use a vegan dinner roll instead of the Kings Hawaiian rolls. 
Ingredients:
  • 1 large potato- peeled and diced
  • 1/2 c. cauliflower- cut into small pieces
  • 2 carrots- peeled and diced
  • 1 tsp. olive oil
  • 1 medium green bell pepper- diced
  • 2 roma tomatoes- diced
  • 1/2 c. peas (I used frozen sweet peas)
  • 1 1/2 tbsp garlic paste (fresh would be ideal!)
  • 1 1/2 tbsp. ginger paste (fresh would be ideal!)
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1 tsp. turmeric
  • 1/2 c. butter (1 stick)- divided into 2 tbsp. portions
  • 1 1/2 tbsp. pav bhaji masala (I used a pre-made spice mix, available at Indian grocers or online)
  • small handful of fresh coriander (cilantro)- chopped
  • chili powder- to taste
  • 2 tbsp. dried fenugreek leaves
  • 1/4 tsp. asafetida
  • 1 tbsp. paprika (I use this to impart a beautiful red color)
  • Juice of 1/2 small lemon
  • about 4 c. water (including water reserved from boiling veggies)
Directions:
  • Put the potato, cauliflower and carrots into a medium sized sauce-pan.  Add water to the pan and put over medium-high heat.  Allow the water to boil and cook the vegetables until they are very tender and the potato can easily be cut into. Drain. (reserve the water–if you’d like–and use it to thin the curry later). Mash the vegetables and set aside.
  • In a large skillet or fry-pan heat 1 tsp. olive oil over medium-high heat.  Add green bell pepper, tomatoes and peas.  Toss in a little water and stir everything.  Cook until the pepper becomes soft and the tomatoes break down–adding water as necessary (to keep veggies from sticking).  About 8 minutes.
  • Add 1 tbsp. ginger and 1 tbsp. garlic pastes, turmeric, water and 2 tbsp. of butter.  Cook, stirring constantly for approximately 3 minutes.  Using a potato masher, mash the veggie mixture (it might still be a little chunky) and add a little more water (you don’t need much).  Bring to a boil.
  • Add 1 tbsp. pav bhaji masala, salt and chopped cilantro.  Add a little more water (just to keep things from sticking), keep mashing and cook until all the veggies are very tender.  Add mashed potato mixture and continue to mash everything together.  Once the mixture begins to get a little dry, push it to the sides of the pan and create a well in the center.
  • Add 2 tbsp. butter, chopped onion, 1/2 tbsp. ginger paste, 1/2 tbsp. garlic paste, chili powder, 1/2 tbsp. pav bhaji masala, fenugreek leaves, asafetida, paprika and lemon juice.  Cook until the onion becomes soft and the spices are fragrant.
  • Stir everything together, add a little water to keep the mixture from sticking, and mash until the vegetables become almost like a paste.  There should be a few little chunks; but you should not be able to distinguish the vegetables from one another.  Add 2 tbsp. butter and stir.
Garnish with chopped cilantro, raw onions, wedges of lemon and spoons with a little blob of butter.

Put a dollop of butter on a spoon to serve: I used about 1/2 tsp.

Serve with Pav (buns) that have been cooked with butter and spices (see recipe below)

Kings Hawaiian rolls toasted with butter, spices and chopped cilantro

For the Pav (buns):
  • 2 tbsp. butter
  • handful of chopped coriander (cilantro)
  • 1 1/2 tsp. pav bhaji masala
  • 6 small Kings Hawaiian dinner rolls- split (or make your own.  These are nice because they impart a little sweetness)
 Add all ingredients in a large skillet and stir to combine. Once the butter melts, add the buns to the skillet–cut side down.  Move them around a little so each piece gets some butter mixture on it.  Allow to toast over medium heat for a minute or two.  Flip the buns and let the top/bottom toast for about 30 seconds. Remove from heat and pair the top pieces with the bottoms.
Serve with Bhaji!

Printer Friendly Version

The bhaji freezes very well too–making it easy to keep some of this delicious vegetarian meal on hand!

It also washes down nicely with an ice-cold Thums Up!  haha I had to pick up 2 of these when I saw them at the store.

Indian Cola

It’s kind of like Pepsi.  It’s kind of like Coke.  But it’s better than both!  …we don’t really drink much soda here though…so Piyush and I split one!

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27 thoughts on “Pav Bhaji: Indian Vegetarian “Chili” with Spiced Buns

    1. Klika

      My husband and I LOOOOOOVED this! He is highly carnivorous and has no religious restrictions on beef so I added ground beef to it and put a half the water recommended (I think my large potato may not have been large enough). I want to try it with veggies only and will let you know how it is. Thank you so much for posting this. My friend at the Indo-Pak food store got excited when I asked him to assist me with finding the spices. I went to the store slightly after twilight and he told me that at this time in India they sell pav bhaji on the street, and he totally got misty. lol

      Reply
    2. Melissa

      That’s stunning! Ironically, your version of pav bhaji is now one of the first to come up on Google image search. ;)

      I totally feel for you about the “I’ve never tasted X but made it anyway” thing; I am a white European married to an immigrant Indian and have not actually tasted the “authentic” versions of some of the stuff that I cook for us these days.

      One of the ingredients that my husband’s family regularly uses in pav bhaji is shredded cabbage. I also use a very tiny amount of cooked beetroot to give a reddish-brownish hue to the dish, can’t taste the beetroot in the final product at all. I don’t think I’ve met an Indian who doesn’t use ready made pav bhaji masala for this so you were probably right to get the masala from the store.

      Reply
      1. Shari Post author

        Thank you for the comment, Melissa! Adding cabbage to the pav bhaji sounds like a wonderful idea, and I love that you use a little beetroot to color the dish…genius!

        I agree, I haven’t found anyone who makes the masala themselves either…I’d like to give it a go sometime though!

  1. mjskit

    What a hearty and healthy chili! Love all of the ingredients and the flavors! I beat those buns are good with this!

    Reply
  2. carpe season (@carpeseason)

    This looks fantastic! Every year, I think, “this will be my year to really learn to cook Indian food.” I’ll have to give this a try soon, and get that effort off to a great start. Where did you find asafetida around the twin cities?

    Reply
    1. Shari Post author

      You should learn! It’s easy!

      Well, I’m in Rochester; but I was able to find asafetida at my local Indian grocer. I know there are a few Indian grocers up in Mpls, St. Paul and surrounding areas too.

      Reply
  3. profiterolesandponytails

    I’m so impressed that you were able to “crack” this recipe so quickly. Looks like those Pav buns really make the dish. I’ll have to give this a try sometime when friends are coming over, as I don’t think my girls are adventurous enough yet. Great post!

    Reply
    1. Shari Post author

      The buns really do make the dish. My mouth waters just thinking of them, actually!

      I think Piyush was surprised I “cracked” this dish so fast too…I really think the key is in the spice mixture (which, unfortunately, I can’t take any credit for).

      Reply
  4. Richa

    Oh my god, this looks very tempting. I Love Pao bhaji, i make them quiet often, however never added fenugreek leaves (kasuri methi) before. Cant wait to try this.Thanks for sharing :)

    Reply
  5. g'ma

    Why are you and Michelle up at 3:10 am and 4:33 am? S’pose you’ll sleep all day. haha Have a good one, love ya, oh and by the way that pav-bhaji etc does look good.

    Reply
    1. Shari Post author

      haha grandma, the times aren’t central time…I’m not sure if I can fix that. I think it was closer to 11pm. If I made the pav bhaji for you, would you try it? Love you! :)

      Reply
  6. mustardseed

    Wow! This is probably one of the best looking pav bhaji I have seen. I am sure it tastes that way too. And you nailed the whole experience with Thums up.

    Reply
  7. The Steaming Pot

    Hi Shari,

    Pav Bhaji is a favorite street food of mine, love your recreation of it. I am no fan of Thums Up though, too “hard” for me – give me Pepsi or Coke any day.!

    Nominated you for a Liebster Blog Award. I’ve discovered your blog recently and think it’s awesome.

    Reply
  8. Shweta

    Haha how cute! This is the first time I’ve heard of Pav bhaji being described as “indian Chili”, and I have to say it seems kind of appropriate! :) Pav bhaji has to be hands down one of my favorite things in the world. Having spent 23 years in Mumbai I’ve sure eaten a lot of it! And now in the U.S. I just learnt to make my own! The pictures look amazing!

    Reply

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