Pav Bhaji: Indian sloppy joes

When planning our weekly meals, I like choosing a theme for the week. It makes grocery shopping and cooking easier. We follow the theme about 3 days out of the week. Last week was Asian: stir fries and dumplings. The week before Mexican: chilaquiles, burritos, and nachos. This week we decided would be vegetarian burger week: falafels, my mother-in-law’s bean burgers and of course, pav bhaji. The Kiwi makes his mom’s burgers and of course, his almost-as-good-as-McDonald’s homemade fries. I make the other dishes.

When I spent a summer in Bombay working over 15 years ago, I would scarf down pav bhaji  from a roadside stand every single day for lunch. It has to be the most delicious pav bhaji I have ever had. And despite subsisting on the roadside pav bhaji for three solid months, I came back home illness-free. Awesome.

The perfect pav bhaji to me has to be super spicy. I don’t mean just hot spicy, but it has to be a flavor explosion in your mouth. However, achieving that is hard. These days you get these spice packets at Indian shops specifically for pav bhaji. Some are passable; others are horrible. My problem was that I didn’t have a pav bhaji spice packet in my cupboard and the Indian store was further than I felt like going just to pick up a spice packet. So I figured I might as well try to make the masala mixture from scratch. I googled pav bhaji masala recipe and combined a few of the recipes I found online. The recipe I used is below. The spice mixture was pretty great, meeting both my and the Kiwi’s expectations. But honestly, if you can find a pav bhaji spice packet, it is much easier to just use that.

Pav bhaji is not a burger exactly, since it isn’t a patty as much as a mash. Bhaji is another word for vegetables and in this case mashed vegetables. Pav is bread. When we were little we would toast and butter sliced bread and then spread the bhaji (mash) right onto the buttered bread. I now prefer the bhaji on toasted and buttered hamburger buns. I like being able to thickly spread the mash onto them and eat them like a burger. It is messy, but can be really fun to eat. The Kiwi is more civilized, preferring to eat the bhaji on buttered sliced bread with a knife and fork.

Making the pav bhaji is relatively quick. You can use whatever vegetables you have in your fridge or cupboard. I planned to use up the leftover stir fry veggies (since last week had been Asian week) but the veggies had gone bad, so I had to chuck them and stick with just frozen mixed vegetables, potatoes, and tomatoes. No matter what you use, you have to include potatoes and tomatoes to ensure that the mash binds together.

The other thing to keep in mind is that you have to cook everything until it is practically melting, including the onions. Once everything is very soft, it becomes easy to mash it all together into a delicious dish. It may not look that pretty but this particular pav bhaji was really delicious.


3 cups chopped vegetables

2 medium-sized potatoes

1 1/2 c chopped onions

2 1/2 chopped tomatoes

3 T oil

2 chilies (or to taste)

1 1/2 t pav bhaji masala

1 t salt

juice of one lemon

Boil all the vegetables you are using, including the potatoes. Place oil over medium high heat. Put in the onions. Cook onions until they are very, very soft, stirring constantly so they don’t burn. Once the onions are soft, put in the tomatoes. Cook until the tomatoes breakdown and turn into a sauce. Add masala and salt and stir a few times to mix. Add boiled vegetables and begin mashing the vegetables into the tomato gravy. Keep going until fully mashed and incorporated. Add lemon juice. Stir and cook for a few more minutes. Add water if you need.

Masala recipe

1 t red chili powder

1 t coriander seeds, roasted

1/2 t cumin seeds, roasted

1/2 t black pepper

1/2 t cinnamon

1/2 t cloves

1/2 t cardamom

1/2 t mango powder

1/4 t fennel seeds

1 T turmeric

Place all ingredients into spice grinder and grind into a fine powder.

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3 Responses to Pav Bhaji: Indian sloppy joes

  1. Mom & Dad says:

    It looks very good. Can you attach one with your e-mail so that I can test it.

  2. Nasreen says:

    Mmmmm…yummy. Can I please pre-order this for next weekend when I come visit? With the Kiwi’s fries, please!

  3. Ashmita says:

    I love to eat Pav Bhaji!

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