August 2, 2010

Pav Bhaji With Home-made Laadi Pav (Spicy Indian Vegetable Curry With Bread Rolls)

Street food is the same all across the world in some aspects. It’s made from locally available ingredients, freshly made, tasty, filling, and easy on the pocket. It isn’t much different in India. Mention street food and each state in India has its own local favourites, but some have moved across state borders to become popular in most parts of the country.
Ask an Indian what his/ her favourite street food is, and 8 times out of 10 you’ll hear the words Bhelpuri, Panipuri and Pav Bhaji.

When I was a child, eating out was considered a waste of good money. I could never make my maternal Grandfather understand why eating out was so desirable when he felt the best food was served at home, three times a day. For him, eating was about familiar, wholesome food that he enjoyed rather than some strange and unfamiliar stuff cooked by someone he didn’t know or trust.

This was despite the fact that he was someone who traveled from India to East Africa and back regularly for work. Of course, those were the days when flights were uncommon and so one crossed the seas by ship. His trips kept him away from home for a large part of the year.

I now see how difficult it must have been for him, as vegetarian who didn’t even eat eggs, to have survived those journeys. After weeks of meals which would have largely consisted of bread, butter, cornflakes, milk, fruit and the like, all he must wanted was to get back home to my Grandmother’s delicious home-cooked meals. And she was an excellent cook.

My sister and I grew up outside India and looked forward to our annual vacation back home once every 2 years, with a lot of impatience. Coming to India on vacation meant fun, including eating Indian food we couldn’t get where we lived. Our mother used try and bridge this gap by cooking a lot of it at home, but it wasn’t easy as many of the ingredients we take for granted in India just weren’t available wherever we lived then.

Pav bhaji was one such food though we discovered it only when we were a bit older. In those days, I don’t remember it being on the menu in eateries or restaurants, and pav bhaji was usually sold on street corners in the evenings from food carts.

I believe it has its origins as lunch eaten by the Mumabi textile mill workers, for whom it was affordable and easy to eat during a very short lunch break. Today, it has risen above its humble origins and can be found on the menu in most restaurants across the country. It also helps that this is a dish which is very easy to cook and serve up.

The “bhaji” is a very spicy red coloured vegetable preparation made of onions, tomatoes, potatoes and spices all cooked an mashed to a the consistency of thick gravy. This is served with chopped raw onion and fresh coriander, a dash of lime juice and a generous dollop of butter on top, all alongside the pav.
For authentic pav bhaji, the butter must be Amul butter which in those days, used to be the only brand of salted butter available in India.
Some say that one hasn’t really eaten pav bhaji until one has had “bhaji on the beach”, where the beach in question is Mumbai’s Chowpatty beach. Now, I have eaten my pav bhaji on that beach. I’d definitely give that beach a miss, and I would probably give the bhaji a miss too, but for a different reason.

The one thing I remember from then was that the bhaji was so spicy, it set my tongue and throat on fire which a lot of water didn’t do much to quench. It probably was because I cannot tolerate very high levels of spiciness because there was any number of people around who were thoroughly enjoying their pav bhajis, my husband included.

Apparently, the trick is to eat some of the raw onion first as this deadens the tongue to the spiciness of the bhaji! What I cannot understand is the point of this, when all one has to do is to reduce the chilli powder in the bhaji. And I do not like the taste of raw onion on its own.

It is, however an experience not to be missed, watching the guys who make the bhaji. They have these large flat iron griddles called “tava”on which they cook the bhaji and the speed and dexterity with which they keep mashing and stirring the cooking vegetables with quick flicks of their wrists is unbelievable.

So what do you do if you don’t live near Chow patty beach? You find a pav bhaji vendor close to you, or head for the nearest eatery serving chaat.
And if the urge to eat pav bhaji hits you, but you would rather not be bothered with changing and going out, you could make some of your own like me.

Home-made Laadi Pav (Soft White Indian Rolls)

The “pav” (also pao or pau and considered the legacy of the Portuguese) refers to small delightfully soft bread rolls that are eaten with the bhaji/ vegetable gravy.
Another explanation for the name “pav” was that pav bahji was always served with a set of four rolls, which were pulled apart and eaten one at a time. In the Marathi language, “pav” means one-fourth.
A slightly weird story also doing the rounds is that the dough for the bread rolls (which were made in huge quantities) was kneaded with the feet instead of hands, to produce enough bread to meet the huge demand for it! “Pav” in Hindi means feet.

The pav for pav bhaji is also called “laadi pav” which means a slab of bread rolls as the rolls are baked as one big slab and the individual rolls are pulled apart.
The “pav” is slit sideway in half and placed, cut side down, in hot butter till lightly toasted and brown before serving it with the “bhaji”.

Before you all admire me for making my own pav, let me assure you that I have never made my own pav till now, though we have pav bhaji at home quite often. I live in Goa where there is no shortage of freshly made bread, and it is also delivered to my door every morning and evening. So I do not see myself regularly making my own pav as long as I live here.
I did want to try my hand at it, and have a good recipe on hand just in case. I have no idea where to find an authentic pav recipe, so I adapted this one for soft white dinner rolls.
You could choose to replace half or all of the lour with whole wheat flour, but remember that pav for this preparation has to be very soft.

Home-made Laadi Pav (Soft White Indian Rolls
(adapted from The New York Times)


3 1/2 cups to 4 cups all purpose flour

1 1/2 tsp active dried yeast

1 tsp salt

1 tbsp honey or sugar

1 1/2 cups milk

1 1/2 tbsp butter, softened

1 to 2 tbsp melted butter for brushing on the pav


Put 3 1/2 cups of flour, the yeast, salt, sugar (not honey, if you are using it) in a big bowl and whisk together. If you’re using a food processor you can do this in that, by pulsing everything a couple of times.

Put the milk and the butter in a small pan and heat it, while whisking a couple of times, till the milk is just lukewarm. Take it off the heat. If you are using honey instead of sugar, add this to the milk.

Add the lukewarm liquid to the dry ingredients and knead (by hand or in the processor) till a soft and elastic dough forms. You will have to add a bit more of flour (a tbsp at a time) while kneading, to achieve this. Do not be tempted to add more flour, or your rolls will become tough.

Your dough must be soft and elastic, just short of sticky. Shape the dough into a ball.
Place the dough in an oiled bowl, rolling the ball of dough till it is coated with oil. Cover with a towel and allow it to double in volume (should take a bout an hour).

Lightly knead the dough and divide equally into about 15 pieces. Shape each piece into a ball and place on a greased rectangular baking tin. Place the balls of dough about 1/4” apart in 3 rows of five each.

Cover them with a towel and allow them to rise for 30 minutes. Bake them at 220C (425F) for 10 minutes till they rolls have risen and started browning. Take them out of the oven and quickly brush them with melted butter and bake them for another 5 minutes till the tops have browned well. Take the rolls out and let them cool on a rack.
This recipe makes one sheet of 15 pavs.

The Bhaji

There are many versions of this recipe but this is the one I use to make mine, which is a lot less spicy, and friendlier on the tongue and digestive system. Bhaji (pronounced ‘bhaaji”) means vegetable unlike the word which is pronounced “bhaji/ bhajji” which means fritters.

A true bhaji for pav bhaji need to be very smooth so the vegetables need to mashed very well. There are people who like to see a bit of the vegetables in their bhaji. If you belong to this group, you can mash the vegetables well without destroying their identities!
I have tried both, and the only real difference is in the texture.
You can also use capsicum (green bell peppers) here. If you do, add it just before you add the tomatoes.

You can use pav bhaji masala if you have it, but you don’t really need to buy it just for this. You can use a combination of coriander powder, cumin powder, turmeric powder and garam masala, which works just as well. Using Kashmiri chilli powder also gives you the colour without as much of the fire.
If you have never made this before, do watch the video in this link to get a better idea of how it should look.

Bhaji (Spicy Vegetable Curry)


3 cups mixed vegetables (carrot, cauliflower, beans, peas)

3 big potatoes

3 big onions, chopped small

3 medium tomatoes, chopped

1 tsp garlic paste

1 tsp ginger paste

2 tbsp oil

1/2 tsp turmeric powder

1 tsp Kashmiri chilli powder (adjust to taste)

1 1/2 tsp coriander powder

1 1/2 tsp cumin powder

1 tsp garam masala

salt to taste

2 lemons

3 to 4 tbsp chopped fresh coriander

2 to 3 tbsp salted butter, softened


Steam cook the mixed vegetables and the potatoes till well done. Mash them very well and keep aside.

In a largish wok, heat the oil. Add the ginger and garlic pastes and sauté taking care to see it doesn’t burn. Add half the onions and sauté again it is soft and translucent. Add the chopped tomatoes and cook them till they’re soft and mushy.
Use your potato masher, or a wooden spoon, to mash the onion-tomato mixture further. Cook until the oil appears on the edge.

Add the turmeric, chilli, coriander, cumin and garam masala powders. Cook over medium heat for a couple of minutes, stirring often, until the raw smell of the spices disappears. Add the mashed vegetables, salt and about half a cup of water. Cook for another 5 to 10 minutes until everything blends into a homogenous thick gravy-like consistency, adding a little more water, if necessary.
Add the chopped coriander and a couple of tbsps of butter, mix and serve hot.
This recipe should make four hefty servings.

To serve:

To serve pav bhaji, first melt a couple of tbsps of slated butter in a pan. Slice 2 pieces of the pav sideways and place both, cut sides down, on the melted butter and allow the pav to absorb the butter and brown slightly.

Remove and place on a plate. Add a couple of ladles of the bhaji on the side and top with some of the remaining chopped onions, a dash of fresh lime juice and a dollop of slated butter.
Enjoy your pav bhaji.

My laadi pav goes to Susan for YeastSpotting!


Jaya Wagle said...

First Aqua and now you, with your ladi pavs and pav bhajis. I have to make it over the weekend now to control the drool and relive the nostalgia. :)

What you said about your grandpa reminded me of my FIL. He loves eating out but only proper restaurant food that is not always easy to make at home. But when it comes to street foods like chat, pani puri and pav bhaji, he feels it a waste of money. My SILs make these at home. When he visited us in the US, he refused to eat snacks of any kind in the restaurants.

Torviewtoronto said...

similar to the way we make buns looks delicious

Satya said...

wow these home made pav looks simply superb ...i love pav bhaji too ...very beautiful clicks makes me drooling here ...will surely try this soon


Priya (Yallapantula) Mitharwal said...

Pics are soooooooo tempting, I love pav bhaji, hands down any time and that too with fresh pav made at home must have tasted divine :)

Cooking Blog Indexer said...

Wow..pav bhaji from scratch..nice work...

arundati said...

the laadi pav in that baking pan looks absolutely stunning...simply wow!

Foodie Ann said...

Looks so good....

Asha @ FSK said...

I love pav bhaji!! but, for some reason, never thought to make the buns at home!! The slider buns you get here are a bit too big and not as soft! Ok, I am making them this w/e!!! YAY!

Swathi said...

Pav Bhaji and laadi pav looks delicious Aparna. I haven't tried pav making in home yet. I think now i can give a shot.

Kamalika said...

Thanks for sharing this lovely dishes....home made pavs look grt...have to try marked....

jayasri said...

hi, the buns look lovely in that baking tray, lovely click!!, I made pavs too.., a few months back!!, I haven't posted it yet!!, I did not know that it was called Laadi pav!!, Reading about the pav bhaji the way you described is making my mouth water!!, the bhaji looks great too!! will try your version of pav and bhaji.. thanks for sharing.. Inbtw thanks for asking, I did make DB challenge, I haven't had time to post it yet!!.., not a pretty looking one, I forgot all about it and it was like a frozen cake!! but tasted very well

Divya Kudua said...

OMG..I am gaping at the pic of pretty Pao's sitting on the baking tray.Looks so so good Aparna.I am determined to try out this recipe despite my fear of the Yeast!!

Madhuli said...

Love the pav, the bhaji,the writeup and the whole post..lovely partial since Pav-Bhaji is my all time fav. street food..the pav looks awesome

Jayashree said...

Pav bhaji is called that because it is kneaded with feet? I hope that's only a story!!!
Love the dolls that you've used as props.

PJ said...

My grandpa is just like yours!He never fancies meal in a restaurant however hungry he is.He would rather have some fruits and tender coconut water during the trips instead of eating out.He still maintains this at the age of 86!!We[cousins and me] tried to talk him into eating out but he didn't bulge but he doesn't mind if we enjoy a meal outside :)

Your pav and bhaaji is sooo tempting that I am going to make them this weekend.Wonderful clicks Aparna :) said...

Pav bhaji looks wonderful and tasty.Simply mouthwatering.

Akila said...

wow.... really stunnig...

i never make it at home... i always go to restaurant for having this..

After seeing this defintely going to try this....

love it dear....

Aparna S Mallya said...

The pav looks delicious! I have never tried making pav at home. Looking at yr pics I feel like trying it out.

Happy Cook said...

Wow the pave bread looks so so soft and yumm. I have never made pav bhaji at home, don't know if H will like, he never takes it when we are in India. Last time i had this was in sisters place. I think i should give it a try and force H to taste it.

Nags said...

the pav looks amazing!!

Chitra said...

pavs are very well done.Perfect.I love pav bhaji.Nice click :)

Jaya said...

Delicious and I guess if one hasn't eaten pavbhaji at Juhu Choupati,then perhaps he/she is missing something.Lovely post.
hugs and smiles

Curry Leaf said...

:P :P :P .Can't wait to make the pavs.Love bhaji and pav.I can understand you feeling.Growing, pav bhaji was the first thing I discovered as outside food. Too PERFECT Pavs.

Vaishali said...

Pav-bhaji: just the words make me hungry and set my mouth watering. I love it when street food can actually be good for you, and a lot of Indian street food actually is. What a lovely dish with lovely memories, Aparna.

jayasree said...

The first pic - pavs in the tray is absolutely stunning. Brilliant photography.
Well written post on Pav and Bhaji.

Avanika [YumsiliciousBakes] said...

Aah you've got me craving some, bad!! I've never eated at Chowpatty, but have at Juhu beach, and while there are places that offer better, the entire experience is a lot of fun! I think I'm going to go for some Pav Bhaji tonight :P

P.S - I had no idea it's called Ladi pav!

Ramya Vijaykumar said...

Pav looks gorgeous and love the way they have turned out!!! Looks like you had fun making it and well presented too!!!

jodye @ 'scend food said...

Your rolls look so tender and perfect! And the vegetable curry.. well I could never pass that up! Everything looks beautiful

sra said...

Fascinating, the mention of your grandad. I can imagine how difficult it must have been for him in those days to get even a little of what he liked.

So we have our own equivalent of wine-crushing dances in the pav? :)

Ashwini said...

Aparna - Loved this post to bits. I know exactly what you mean when you refer to the humble Goan "Pau". Spent years eating them and cannot seem to get over the taste. Awesome post!

Mimi said...

Thank you for the wonderful post. I feel like I've traveled today.

I'm going to bookmark the recipe. I love Indian food and this meal looks delicious!

Anonymous said...

dear mam , first of all congratulations for such a beautiful blog (articulate as well as beautiful pic).I have always been a silent lurker here, bt today i must tell u that i follwed ur ladi pav,s recipe exactly and they turned out awsome...i halved the recipe for i wasnt sure if i will b a success...this is a keeper recipe...thanx and pls keep up d gud work.

MyKitchenInHalfCups said...

Your photo of the rolls is really perfection!

I would love the Bhaji!!

lata raja said...

I am one of the '8 out of 10' and the order in which I would say is, pav bhaji, bhel puri and then pani puri.
I am bookmarking the pav recipe...nah, both.. Will try the combination out, very soon.

Ezzie said...

Great recip and stories in here Aparna! Oh that I lived in an area with fresh bread delivery every morning! LOL But then that would take away most of my fun baking!

Pam @ Kitchen Cookware Set said...

I love spicy Indian food and Pav Bhaji, although I have not made it at home, I eat it often at my local Chaat place. I love these Pav, you made it seem easy for anyone to make.

shaz said...

What an entertaining read and highly informative post. I thouroughly enjoyed it, and your photos. SOunds delicious, definitely want to try it out although probably need to reduce the chilli level considerably first :)

Carolyn Jung said...

These look so wonderfully pillowy soft. I think I could eat a half dozen -- easily! ;)
Looks like a perfect roll for Thanksgiving, too.

Veggie Belly said...

absolutely delicious! cant agree more about the amul butter!

Aparna said...

Thanks a whole lot for all your lovely comments.

Jaya, I guess its just that they grew up like that. :)

Asha, am hearing of "slider" buns for the first time. :)

Am happy to hear you did the DB last month, Jayasri.

Yeast isn't quite the beast its thought to be, Divya. Can be tamed with some patience and understanding. :)

Jayashree, thank God that's only a story! :D

PJ, the difference between then and now. Perfectly justified given those circumstances.

Finla, maybe your husband would like it home-made, especially with the bread.

Yes, it is Vaishali.

Avanika, you're right there so what are you waiting for? Shouldn't miss the experirnce.

Actually, I'm very happy we don't Sra, given how much I like pav! :)

I agree, You just can't have enough of that, Ashwini.

Thank you Anon for that vote. And I'm happy this pav was responsible for your "de-lurking". :D

Thank you, Tanna.

Me too, Lata.

They are very soft, Carolyn.