Updated: Nov 15, 2018
Autumn Inspired Pav Bhaaji
Pav Bhaaji is perhaps the most famous and the most popular street food to come out of India. Originally developed on the streets of Bombay (now Mumbai), its beginnings are connected to the American Civil War by a thread.
In the early 1860s, the global supply of cotton was heavily affected due to the American Civil War. By 1862, the Union Navy had practically blockaded the Mississippi River, preventing Confederate cotton from distribution in the world market and heavily inflating cotton prices.
India was the only other country in the world that could fill the demand for cotton. This created a unique opportunity for Indian businessmen, particularly Gujaratis, that began trading and selling cotton to other nations. Their biggest customer, the British, through the East India Company.
The increased demand also meant increased production from all the textile mills. Traders, mill workers and telegraph operators were working late into the night and a demand for late-night food rose up. Food vendors took leftover vegetables, daal, and sauces from the day and mashed them up into a spicy concoction, known as bhaaji.
The bread to eat with the bhaaji came from Portuguese missionaries. It was quick to heat up on a tawa, compared to any of the traditional Indian breads, which had to be rolled out and freshly cooked. The word “Pav” derives from the Portuguese word, “Pao” which means small bread. In Marathi, “Pav” also means one-fourth of something. The bhaaji was served with set of 4 smalls buns and you’d have to break of a fourth of it to scoop up the bhaaji.
It's important to point out that this early version of Pav Bhaaji probably didn't have a consistent recipe or used a specific blend of spices. Hence, many food historians and native Mumbai residents believe that it was invented in the 1960s by street fruit vendor named Sardar Ahmed. In Mumbai's Tardeo neighborhood, Ahmed noticed that many of the local factory workers were working long hours and mainly had a diet of Vada Pav and other cheap snacks. To give them more of a quick, cost-effective and a substantial meal, he started making pav bhaaji.
My thoughts are that he was probably the one that came up with the blend of spices that's now popularly known as Pav Bhaaji Masala. He also probably loaded the bhaaji with a hefty amount of butter, which was now easily available to the masses thanks to Amul Cooperative. Sardar Pav Bhaaji is still in business, using the original recipe using potatoes, tomatoes, bell peppers, peas and their unique blend of spices.
Pav Bhaaji is traditionally made with mashed up potatoes, peas, tomatoes, onions, and sometimes carrots and cauliflower and is doused in lots of butter.
Trying to stay healthy, I opted to try a vegan version, using pumpkin, sweet potatoes, carrots and butternut squash spiced with a fragrant pav bhaaji masala, pumpkin pie spice and lots of ginger and served it with a rustic cranberry bread!
2 Sweet Potatoes, boiled and mashed
1 can Organic Pumpkin, 15oz
2 Carrots, boiled and chopped
1 cup Butternut Squash, divided (half cup chopped, half cup boiled and mashed)
1 medium Onion, chopped
1/2 cup Tomato, chopped
2 cloves Garlic, chopped
1/2 tbsp Ginger Paste
3 Thai Green Chilis, chopped
2 tsp Oil (I used a combination of olive and coconut oil)
1/4 tsp Mustard Seeds
1/2 tsp Cumin Seeds
1/8 tsp Asafoetida
1/2 tsp Pumpkin Pie Spice (5 Spice Blend works too)
2 tbsp Pav Bhaaji Masala
1 tsp Red Chili Powder
1 tsp Turmeric Powder
1 tsp Cumin Powder
1 cup Water or Vegetarian Broth
2 tbsp Maple Syrup
1/4 cup Black Beans, par-boiled
1/4 cup Roasted Corn
Pumpkin Seeds for Garnish
Salt to taste
Heat oil in a Dutch Oven or large pot on medium-high heat
Add in mustard and cumin seeds along with asafoetida, until the seeds start to gently pop
Add in chopped butternut squash, onions, ginger paste, chopped garlic and green chilis
Sprinkle in some salt and cook for 3-4 minutes
Add in the tomatoes along with all the spices and give a good stir
Pour half of the water or broth into the pot, stir and cover for 3-4 minutes, until it boils
Once it's gently boiling, carefully add in boiled sweet potatoes, butternut squash, carrots and pumpkin
Turn the heat down to low and carefully mash everything using a potato masher until it's a chunky stew-like consistency
Mix in the roasted corn and black beans
Cover and simmer on low-medium heat for about 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally
Add some water and broth as needed and make sure nothing is sticking to the bottom
Adjust salt and any spices to your taste and stir in the maple syrup
Serve with some fresh hearty bread of your choice and top with roasted pumpkin seeds