Some of the best street food comes from India, and two of the Saucy Dressings’ Chief Correspondent’s Cambridge post-graduate friends, Harshita Goradia and Srikirti Kodali, are pretty much past masters (oh dear!) on the subject. One dish is particularly successful and, they very generously agreed to share the method.
The name of the dish is pav (meaning bread) and baji (or bhaji, meaning vegetable).
And the secret to its success, as with most Indian cooking, is in the spices; the selection and the balance. The key is to always measure and add the turmeric first, and then add the remaining spices according to Harshita’s formula.
We hosted a Hobby Party this year for eight of our friends. The intention of the party was to create an environment that would allow guests to work on their hobbies and socialise over drinks and dinner. It was a splendid evening of painting, reading, Sudanese drink making, cross stitching, pancakes, salad bowl percussion, and so on.
Harshitha and I were holding the party at our flat and we chose to go with an easy-to-make, delicious, heart-warming main course – a type of Indian street food called the Pav Baji meaning ‘Bread Vegetables’.
The balance of the turmeric and other spices – Harshitha’s top tip for managing spices
The Saucy Dressings’ Chief Correspondent was particularly taken by Harshita’s use of turmeric. She picked up that the turmeric is the smallest unit of measure, that it can be easily judged quantity wise due to its colouring properties (like painting), and that the quantities of every other spice in this dish can be assessed in relation to the turmeric so it’s easy to adjust quantities when making the dish for more people.
Harshitha explained to her, “spices are an essential element in Indian cooking. Broadly speaking there is the substance of the dish (consisting of vegetables, meat, pulses) and the spices which add flavour both directly and indirectly by bringing out the flavour of the substance. An understanding of the spice proportions is key to delivering your desired flavour.”
One of simplest and commonly used formulas is 1 unit of turmeric (T) to 2 units of chilli powder (Ch); 2 of coriander powder (Co); 2 of cumin powder (Cu) and ½ unit of garam masala (GM).
1 T : 2 Ch : 2 Cu : 2 Co : 1/2 GM
You can gauge the amount of spices you will need based on the volume of the substance. Turmeric adds a yellow colour to food, but the amount you add should not dominate the colour of the substance. The rest of spices are measured in the proportions above, based on the amount of turmeric you’ve added.
Therefore always start with the turmeric when adding spices.
Serving the pav bhaji
You can pick any type of bun and pan toast it to have with the bhaji. Alternatively, and not very traditionally, you can serve with a floppy lettuce salad, with creamy, garlic dressing and croutons.
Recipe for pav bhaji
- 1 medium onion
- 1 large tomato
- 1 green chilli, deseeded and chopped
- 1 medium potato
- 1 small cauliflower, or 1 small, grapefruit-sized pumpkin or squash
- 1 carrot
- 1 green or red pepper
- 1 aubergine
- 1 400g/14 oz tin tomatoes
- 100g/⅔ cup frozen peas
- Some fresh coriander
- ½ tsp cumin seeds
- A few gratings of ginger – about a teaspoon
- 2 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed with a tsp of smoked salt
- Juice and zest of half a small lemon
- Butter and oil for frying
- Pav bhaji masala made from: 1 tsp turmeric, 2 tsps Byadgi chilli, 2 tsps ground coriander, 2 tsps ground cumin, ½ tsp garam masala
- 6 rolls
- Roughly chop and boil or steam the vegetables – potatoes, carrots, peas, aubergine, cauliflower or any other combination to your liking
- Heat the butter/oil and add a pinch of cumin seeds and add most of the onion (save a bit for garnish), ginger, crushed garlic and freshly chopped chilli until they are brown
- Add chopped tomato and cook for a few minutes
- Whilst that is cooking mash all the boiled vegetables
- Start adding spices to the tomato
- Let it cook for a few more minutes
- By this point your mouth will be watering because the spices will start working their magic
- Add mashed vegetables and the tin of tomatoes to the mixture and mix well
- you can make any spice adjustments at this point and add salt and lemon juice to taste
- Let it cook for 10-15 mins.
- Toast your rolls – or fry them.
- Garnish with freshly shopped coriander, chopped onions and lemon juice.
This post is dedicated, with thanks, to Harshita Goradia and Srikirti Kodali.