Recipes may well have been one of the first forms of globalisation. A codified and universal way to break down a dish, transport it and re-create it in another kitchen in across the other side of the world. It’s been happening for centuries.
Therefore I shouldn’t have been surprised to be fed a lovely bit of Mumbai street food, pav bhaji, in my family home in Gujarat. Pav bhaji is a delicious curry, stuffed into a ‘pav’, a sort of bun customarily dripping with butter. Lucky for all of us, my wonderful cousin, Disha gave me her secret recipe so you can make it wherever you may be.
DISHA’S PAV BHAJI
I have to try hard to contain my excitement when someone gives me a recipe for something I’ve just eaten and fallen in love with. This is my cousin Disha’s recipe for pav bhaji, which is a famous and much-loved street food in Mumbai. It’s a mash of spicy vegetables slathered in butter, best mopped up with a hot ‘pav’ – a bread roll – while the juices escape down your chin.
- 3 medium-sized mashing potatoes (around 200g), such as Red Lincolnshire or Désirée
- 40g unsalted butter
- 2 large white onions
- 4 cloves of garlic, crushed
- 4cm piece of ginger, peeled, then grated or puréed
- 2 medium aubergines (around 500g), cut into 1cm cubes
- 400g tomato passata
- 1 tablespoon tomato purée
- 2 teaspoons ground cumin
- 2 teaspoons ground coriander
- 1 teaspoon garam masala
- ¼ teaspoon ground turmeric
- optional: ½ teaspoon amchur (dried mango powder)
- 1½ teaspoons salt
- ¾ teaspoon chilli powder
- ½ a head of cauliflower (around 250g), broken into 2cm cubes
- 8 to 12 soft white bread rolls
- 1 red onion, finely chopped
- a small handful of fresh coriander leaves
- a couple of lemon wedges, to squeeze over
Peel and chop the potato into equal-size chunks, then boil them for around 10 minutes, or until you can poke them easily all the way through with a knife. Once they have boiled, take them off the heat, drain and then mash. Set to one side.
Put the butter into a wide-bottomed, lidded frying pan on a medium heat. When the butter starts to foam, add the onions and cook for 8 to 10 minutes, until golden. Add the garlic and ginger and give it a good stir.
After a minute, add the aubergines to the pan and cover. Stir them every now and then to ensure they don’t burn, and add a splash of water if they’re looking dry. Cook until they’re soft – this should take around 10 minutes. Add the passata and tomato purée, and cook for around 5 to 7 minutes until it is thick mash, rich and dark red.
Add the cumin, coriander, garam masala and turmeric, the amchur if you have it and the salt. Stir and taste, adding the chilli powder if you’d like more heat. Finally, add the mashed potato and cauliflower. Stir to coat with the sauce and put the lid on, leaving it to cook for around 10 minutes, or until soft. You might need to add another splash of water to loosen the bhaji from the bottom of the pan.
Taste and adjust any seasoning as needed. Transfer the pav bhaji to a suitable dish or bowl to mash it in, and use a potato masher or a fork to mash it. The consistency should be somewhere between mashed potato and thick pasta sauce – you can add some hot water to loosen the bhaji if need be.
Taste and check for seasoning, adjusting it as you see fit. For a final flourish, add a generous knob of butter and stir it in.
Serve with toasted and halved bread rolls, generously spread with butter. Put a layer of pav bhaji in the middle of each roll, and top with a sprinkling of red onion, coriander and a squeeze of lemon juice. Close, eat, rejoice etc.
*just a little note to say i’m still on the road travelling and will be for another week. The moment I get back, i’ll test this out – but for the moment this recipe is based on Disha’s notes scribbled on a bit of scrap paper.