Pav bhaji is a popular street food made with mashed up veggies and served with pav bread. This one-pot recipe can be made in the Instant Pot or pressure cooker in under 30 minutes.
Mumbai Pav bhaji is a popular Indian street food, that originated in Mumbai. To eat pavbhaji off a street-cart is an experience that can't be missed. The vendors let the 'bhaji' simmer on a large cast-iron pan, add unmentionable amounts of butter, and let the vegetables come together into a delicious mashed up curry. The 'pav' is the buttered bread that goes with the bhaji.
Pavbhaji can be described as an Indian version of Sloppy Joes. Served with lemon wedges, chopped up red onions, and garnished with cilantro, you grab a hot, buttered piece of pav, dunk it in the bhaji and enjoy!
Although there are a few versions of pav bhaji recipes, at its core, the dish is made with mashed potatoes, cauliflower, bell peppers, and peas cooked in a tomato-based gravy, spiced with a special pav bhaji masala.
Why this recipe works
- One-pot recipe if using an Instant Pot, dump and go!
- As close to the real taste of authentic pavbhaji as you can get!
List of Ingredients
To make pav bhaji, you will need:
The Veggies: Pav bhaji is made with cauliflower, potatoes, green bell pepper, peas, onions, and tomatoes. These are the key ingredients. You can also add carrots, green beans, and cabbage if you want, but these are entirely optional ingredients. I prefer using canned to fresh tomatoes.
The spices: To make pav bhaji, you will need Pav Bhaji Masala, Kashmiri Red Chili powder and cumin powder. Pav bhaji masala is a blend of spice powders that give the pav bhai its unique taste. My preferred brand of spice powder is Everest Pav Bhaji Masala. Read this guide to Indian spices if you'd like to know more about Indian spices and how to use them in Indian cooking.
Other ingredients: Additional ingredients include ginger garlic paste, salt for seasoning, and lemon juice.
Butter: Butter is a key ingredient if you want to make street-style pavbhaji. Butter is added to the bhaji right at the end, mixed in, and served with the pav.
Step by Step Recipe Instructions
Make the bhaji in the Instant Pot or pressure cooker
I like to make my pavbhaji in the Instant Pot, instead of the stovetop. The pressure cooker is the perfect appliance to make a one-pot pav bhaji. It is almost entirely a dump-and-go recipe, with the only additional steps of sauteeing the onions at the beginning and mashing the pressure cooked ingredients at the very end.
Start by setting the Instant Pot to 'Saute' function. Add ghee or butter. You can optionally add vegetable oil, but for a truly authentic taste, butter or ghee work best. Add the chopped onions and saute for a couple of minutes until the onions turn translucent.
Add the ginger-garlic paste and saute for a minute more. Hit Cancel and turn off the Instant Pot. Now add all the veggies.
Add the spice powders (pavbhaji masala, coriander powder, Kashmiri red chili powder). Add the canned tomatoes and 3/4 cup of water. Mix well (Pic 6).
Close the lid of the Instant Pot and set it to Pressure Cook mode for 7 minutes.
Once the cooking cycle is complete, let the pressure valve come down on its own. Open the lid, and using a potato masher, mash all the cooked vegetables well. Add salt, lemon juice to season, a little butter and mix well.
To serve, heat butter in a saucepan. Slit the dinner rolls or pav bread and toast them in the saucepan until the sides are golden brown. Serve the toasted bread, with chopped up red onions, a few wedges of lemon. Serve the bhaji garnished with chopped coriander leaves and more butter.
Tips for making Pav Bhaji
Use Butter: To make pav bhaji that tastes authentic, don't skip the butter! I like to use either butter or ghee to saute the onions at the very beginning, and I also add a little cube of butter on top of the bhaji while serving it. The classic street style Mumbai pav bhaji is made with ladles of butter, and the mashed veggies are mixed well in butter while cooking. The pav or dinner rolls that are served with the bhaji are also toasted in melted butter and then served.
Use Kashmiri Chili Powder: Kashmiri red chili powder gives a deep red color to any dish but imparts very little heat. I recommend using it for almost all Indian recipes that call for red chili powder. A close substitute is paprika powder - although paprika is sweeter in taste.
Use very little water while pressure cooking: While pressure cooking the veggies in the Instant Pot, add just enough water as specified in the recipe. Too much water will make this a stew. You want the bhaji to be the consisteny of a mash, not a stew.
Season with lemon juice: To balance out all that richness, use lemon juice to finish the dish. Mix it in with the mashed veggies before serving. It balances the flavors well and gives you that authentic Mumbai pav bhaji taste!
Most Pav bhaji masala brands that you get at your local Indian stores or via Amazon are pretty good. I prefer to use Everest pav bhaji masala and have been using it for many years now. MDH is another good brand that I recommend you use.
Pav bhaji masala is usually made up of cloves, cumin seeds, fennel, cinnamon, cardamom, coriander, black pepper, dry ginger powder, and dry mango powder. At times, black salt is also added. The whole spices are dry-roasted on the stovetop, then ground n a spice jar/blender and kept in an air tight container for use as needed.
More Instant Pot Indian Mains
Instant Pot Pav Bhaji
- 1.5 tbsp ghee or butter
- 1 onion fined diced (red or yellow onion will do)
- 1 tbsp ginger-garlic paste see notes
- 3 medium sized potatoes peeled and chopped into cubes
- 3/4 of a medium-sized head of cauliflower chopped into florets
- 1 green bell pepper chopped
- 1/2 teaspoon kashmiri red chilli powder see notes
- 2 tablespoons pav bhaji masala
- 1/2 cup peas I use frozen peas
- 1/2 can tomatoes
- ¾ cup water
- Salt to season
- Juice of ½ lemon
- 1 tsp butter
- Set the Instant Pot to 'Saute' mode. Add the ghee or butter and the chopped onions.
- Saute for 2-3 minutes, until the onions turn translucent.
- Add the ginger-garlic paste and saute for a minute more. Hit 'Cancel' and turn off the Instant Pot.
- Important: If there is any residue from sauteeing the ginger-garlic paste or onions, then add a little water and deglaze the bottom of the Instant Pot. And residue will trigger the 'Burn' notice for newer models of the Instant Pot.
- Now add all the veggies, followed by all the spice powders - pav bhaji masala, coriander powder, Kashmiri red chili powder.
- Add the canned tomatoes and 3/4 cup of water. Mix well.
- Close the lid of the Instant Pot and set it to Pressure Cook mode for 7 minutes.
- Once the cooking cycle is complete, let the pressure valve come down on its own. Open the lid, and using a potato masher, mash all the cooked vegetables well. Add salt, lemon juice to season, a little butter and mix well.
- To serve the pav bhaji, heat butter in a saucepan. Slit the dinner rolls or pav bread and toast them in the saucepan until the sides are golden brown. Serve the toasted bread, with chopped up red onions, a few wedges of lemon. Serve the bhaji garnished with chopped coriander leaves and more butter.
- To make pav bhaji that tastes authentic, don't skip the butter. Ghee is a good substitute. For a vegan option, use vegan butter.
- Use Kashmiri Chili Powder – it imparts a deep red color to any dish but gives the dish very little heat. A close substitute is paprika powder - although paprika is sweeter in taste.
- While pressure cooking the veggies in the Instant Pot, add just enough water as specified in the recipe. Too much water will make this a stew. You want the bhaji to be the consistency of a mash, not a stew.
- To balance out all that richness, use lemon juice to finish the dish. Mix it in with the mashed veggies before serving.
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