Sunday, October 30, 2011

Bhaji Pav -Humble Man's Feast

The King of Indian street food that has been ruling the streets of India since its inception, satisfying the hunger pangs of millions of vegetarians in this nation. I'm talking about none other than our own Bhaji Pav or a pot of mix veggies in a special Indian spices with Soft, melt in your mouth bread. 

Bhaji translates to vegetables and pav means bread. It is considered to be a healthier option in street food because not only its served piping hot, but also because its a sure fire way to eat all the healthy vegetables which you wouldn't otherwise consume.

A treat for butter lovers cuz a plate of Bhaji is made in about 100 gms of butter! I am talking bout on the streets, in my home of course, I didn't have the heart to use that much butter. I do think of calories. Ohh shush...don't laugh, I do..... I do think of calories when I'm cooking just not when I'm eating! (giggle giggle)

It is spicy and it is mouth wateringly delicious!!! A visit to India is incomplete if you don't indulge in a serving of this western Indian specialty which is now famous everywhere in the country. 

This post is inspired by one of my fellow foodie's picture- Rich Fletcher. I am not quite sure as to where he lives but he must've been to this food show where he came across this Bhaji pav. 

You can see it is not quite authentic enough, altered to suit the international tastes better, presented it in a different way too. It inspired me to make it for all my friends here- the authentic version of course!! Btw, this reminds me, you should go take a look at his blog. Its inspiring. He makes everyday food looks so easy to make n so yumm... Make sure you visit and don't forget to tell him that I sent you there! 

This is a guaranteed way to make your kids eat all the vegetables, just like our mom used to when my brother and I were younger. She cheated us by presenting the veggies in such a tempting way that we couldn't resist. I say it really wasn't fair! Now how were we supposed to refuse such a tasty treat!? 

Well, take a look at this recipe and decide. 

Make sure you have on hand ready made Bhaji Pav Masala. Its is a special blend of dried and powdered Indian spices which is easily available in Indian stores. It is this magical ingredient that will give you Bhaji (veggies) an authentic taste. 

Most importantly, you can use the veggies of your choice. You need tomatoes, onions and potatoes for the base, the other vegetables can be whatever you like. The amount of the vegetables are just to give you an idea, no need to be exactly specific. 

Serves: 6-8

Time: 40 mins 

Complexity: ***

You'll Need

6-7 tomatoes, pureed
3 medium red onions
10 garlic cloves (use less if you don't like garlic)
2" pc of ginger
3 Large potatoes (you can use regular potatoes or sweet potatoes, or even a mix)
100 gms french beans
100 gms Cauliflower
1 med capsicum
1 1/2 cups green peas (boiled separately)
2 carrots
3 tsp salt
1 tsp red chilli powder (use paprika if you don't like it spicy)
1 tsp cumin seeds
3-4 green chillies
4 tbsp butter divided
cup of coriander leaves
1/2 tsp of turmeric powder
2 tbsp of Bhaji Pav Masala
3 tbsp oil
1 Lemon
handful of cashews, roughly chopped
Pinch of love
4-5 cups of water


Take the potatoes, beans, cauliflower, half the capsicum and carrots and pressure cook them with the water. Drain veggies and save the water. Don't even think of wasting that liquid gold. I froze that vegetable stock and used it later. 

Roughly chop the onions and ginger, peel the garlic and add to the chopper to make almost a mince. You can do this manually if your chopping is really fine. Mine isn't and I have no shame admitting it! But don't make a complete paste in the chopper. 

Heat oil and 1 tbsp butter in a biggish pan. It needs to be able to hold all the veggies. Originally the vegetable part of the dish is made on a tava or a flat griddle which is almost 2 feet in diameter so that the water content evaporates quickly. Its an experience itself to see how the vendors make this Bhaji. Back to the recipe. 

Slit the green chillies length wise and add to the hot oil along with the cumin. Saute for 30 secs till it begins to splutter. Add the onion, ginger and garlic mince to this. 

Saute till the onions become golden-ish in colour. Now chop the rest of the capsicum too, chop it finely, and add to the translucent onions. Isn't the aroma enticing?! Saute for a minute. 

Add the tomato puree to it. You can use canned tomatoes if you like, but you know me. I just plop roughly chopped tomatoes in my best friend- the chopper and in a minute, they are pureed! Keep them kinda chunky though. You don't want a smooth paste. 

Saute for another minute on a medium low flame and then add in the drained softened, mashed vegetables to this. The veggies should be so soft that if you mash them, they should turn into mush without resistance, which is exactly what you are going to do. Mash them with a masher. Not completely, but about 90% of the way so you can just see bits of green or red or white here and there.  

Add the boiled but not mashed green peas. 

Combine everything well. Let it all simmer for about 5-8 mins on a medium low flame till almost all the water evaporates. Now add salt, turmeric, red chili powder, coriander and the magical ingredient- the Bhaji pav masala powder.

Don't forget to add your love! Roughly chop up some cashews and add to the mix. Squeeze the lemon juice on to the bhaji and mix.

Your Bhaji is ready. Spoon in 2 tbsp of butter and mix well. While serving top it off with a spoon of butter melting away to glory on the piping hot sensationally spicy Bhaji! Look how the butter has melted and cascaded down the grooves and crevices in the Bhaji. hmmhhmmm

This Bhaji is served with Pav or really soft Indian Bread. The recipe for pav follows. You can get it ready made from stores too if you don't want to put in a lot of work! 

Pav/ Pau

The bread that accompanies the Bhaji is always verrrrrrrryy soft. It will like literally melt in your mouth. Even kids without teeth can eat needs to be that soft! Alright, think I've stressed enough on how soft it is and it should be. 

Making it at home is as simple as it can be. You just need to plan it in advance. On to it then, shall we?

Serves: 6-8

Complexity: ***

Time: 2 hours 

Tip: Start making the Pav before you start making the Bhaji. This way your bread will have a chance to cool down before you ready it for serving. 

You'll need

3 cups flour
1 1/2 tbsp dry active yeast
3 tbsp melted butter + 2 tbsp melted
75 ml milk
1 1/2 tsp salt
150 ml water
2 tsp sugar

The trick here if you want to make a soft bread, the moisture content needs to be about 55% of the flour used. 

To activate the dry yeast, add the sugar to 150ml tepid water and stir to dissolve partially. Make sure the water isn't too hot or else the yeast will not get activated. It should be slightly warmer than room temperature water. Now add the dry yeast in it and stir for a few seconds. In about a couple minutes you'll see foaming on the top of the water which means that yeast has started working and is now activated. Set aside for 10 minutes

Take the flour and add salt. Combine well. Make a well in the centre and pour the yeast mix in it. Slowly start incorporating flour from the edges. When almost 70% through, add the milk and butter to this. 

Knead to form a very soft dough. It won't even be a proper dough. Just barely enough to hold its shape. If it is too wet, dust a little flour and knead some more. The only way you can tell its right is if it stops sticking to your fingers. Knead for 10 minutes minimum. 

Grease a largish bowl- atleast double in size with some oil and place  the dough in it. Cover with a damp cloth and since yeast loves warmth, set aside in a warm place. You can now rest a while before you come back to it. 

After an hour or so, the dough should've risen to double its size. (Oops, should've taken a bigger bowl!) Take it out of the bowl and punch it a little- yes work those muscles! Blow the air out of the dough. It should become a little smoother now.

Grease the baking tray with butter. Real honest to God butter.

Divide into 10-12 equal portions approx golf ball size or slightly bigger. Now place the balls of dough adjacent to each other. 

Cover with damp cloth and leave for another 20 mins. The balls will rise and the spaces between them will lessen. They will almost stick together as if it were a loaf of bread.

Brush the remaining butter on top of the bread. If you want, you can give it an egg wash, a milk wash or just use plain butter. We want the tops to get golden brown. 

Now, in a preheated oven place the bread and bake for 15 mins or till the bread has risen and is golden from the top. Remember, it needs to be very soft. Take it out and cool. I baked mine for about 25 mins. Gave them a slightly harder crust. That was enjoyable too if you like having crusty bread! Goes great with soups. But keep an eye because we want the Pav to be as soft as possible. 

Tear away individual pieces of bread and your Pav is ready!! 

To serve, slice them in half so you have a top and a bottom. I'm partial to the top pieces. Butter them up and heat them in a pan. This infuses the nutty buttery flavour deep into them. Oh how dearly I do love butter!!! 

Serve with piping hot Bhaji and a side of finely diced red onions and lemon wedges. Indulge! :)) 

Friday, October 28, 2011

Diwali- The Festival of Lights

Its Huge, its Noisy, its Bright, its the time of Festivities all throughout the Nation and Hindus living around the world. Its Diwali!!! 

Now I know I can't say anything about Diwali that hasn't been said before. After all it is one of the oldest festivals that we celebrate. Much talked about and very well known. It celebrates the victory of good over evil and the home coming of Lord Rama. 

I really liked this video of the US president Barack Obama wishing everyone a Happy Diwali. Much like Christmas, the preparations for Diwali begin almost a couple months in advance. Things are carried out in a traditional ritualistic manner keeping in mind the sentiments and customs set by the elders in the house. 

As the Diwali day draws near, the preparations get into the fast lane, the race against time begins and everyone moves at a frenzied pace to get everything done before the last minute. Last year, we were getting our home renovated and I remember how the workers and the laborers wouldn't leave till the morning of Diwali. It was such a rush. 

This year things were relatively calmer though. Thank God! But we were still doing things till the last day. I love that though, don't you? The drama of putting things of till the last minute, wondering if you'll be able to make it in time or not, the heart racing, the adrenaline- yeah thats what gets my blood pumping! That and participating with the hustling bustling throngs of people that come out of their homes to loot the markets and shop for Diwali. Oh I just love the excitement! 

The entire day of Diwali is always spent with extended family- Aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents.... fun, fun, fun! 

I have a few personal traditions of my own for Diwali. I like to make Rangoli (art with powdered colours to adorn the entrance to the house, to welcome guests) and put Mehendi or a henna tattoo on my hands. I absolutely have to do this before the sunrise of the Diwali day. 

This is my rangoli for this year. Something very simple, I didn't have much time on my hands.  

The lights on the Rangoli comes from Diyas or earthern lamps that are lit with the help of cotton dipped in ghee or oil.

This is my Mehendi for this year. The darker it comes out, the better it is considered. 

You know when we were kids, we used to have this long break of 21 days as a Diwali vacation. But the teachers didn't want us to forget our studies, so they used to give us a ton of Diwali homework which of course would be left till the last day of vacation and finished with the help of our parents. I hope none of my teachers are reading this at the moment!  There are so many fond memories associated with this festival, I can't imagine my life without celebrating Diwali. 

I just hope though that people would stop the bursting of fire crackers. That too begins a month prior to Diwali and lasts well till almost 20-25 days after Diwali. And for all those 45 odd days or so, you can hear fire crackers in the wee hours of morning till laaaaate at night. People, my humble request to you, celebrate Diwali with your hearts not fire crackers.  

I do realise that this blog is about food, how could you think I'd forget that! I made Bhaji-Pav for dinner on the Diwali day, recipe to follow this post. The days after Diwali are celebrated by gorging on delicious snacks, most of them fried and leading straight to calorie hell, but hey, Diwali comes just once a year. And who's complaining when you can stuff your mouth with sweet and savoury dishes that will break any steely resolve. I wish I had the time and energy to make all these at home. We used to when we were kids, with out mom patiently making these in the kitchen, but not anymore. I rely on a few trusted stores to provide me with these delicious snacks anytime I want! 

There's a ton of variety and here's just a little teeny tiny sample.

Feast your eyes.... for this shall come only on the next Diwali. Till then to all my friends who celebrate this wonderful festival and even to those who don't, a VERY HAPPY DIWALI to you. May God illuminate your lives with true love and compassion towards your fellowmen.To all my Gujju friends- Saal Mubarak!  

Bhature/ Fried Bread

To accompany the delicious Chole, you will need to make these crispy and yet soft n yummy Bhature. Bhatura (singular) is a deep fried bread that originates from Punjab. It is soft and fluffy and quite chewy. Essentially it is served in huge sizes almost the size of your full dinner plate, sometimes even a tad bigger. Eating even one whole bhatura is sometimes a task, but you can't seem to stop yourself because it is positively delicious. 

So simple to make, you'll see. Originally the Bhatura uses yeast in the recipe, but I just used baking powder instead, so it came out soft and chewy and puffed up quite a bit. It also makes my life a little easier- not using the yeast. 

The Bhature that I'm making are a little healthier too because I'm not using only plain flour. You need some food grains in your diet, don't you?! 

Serves: 4 (2 bhaturas each)

Time: 45 mins

Complexity: ***

You'll need

1 1/2 cups plain flour + more for dusting
1 1/2 cups wheat flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
5-6 tbsp yoghurt (preferably homemade or use greek yogurt)
Pinch of love
Oil for frying


You need to first make the dough for the bhatura. I know it requires some kneading, but no pain, no gain, right? Combine the salt, baking powder and the flours. Mix well so the salt and baking powder is well dispersed throughout. Don't be afraid to use your fingers. Now add the yogurt to this. The yogurt just gives a slight tang to the dough and makes it really soft. Add your pinch of love. Combine together to form a dough. If required, add some water to the mix to make a soft dough. Knead for 10 mins minimum to activate the gluten in the flour. Keep punching and stretching- might as well get in your exercise done before you fry and eat these lovely golden babies. 

The dough should be springy to touch. Cover with damp cloth and rest for 30 mins.

Heat oil/ clarified butter or ghee in a wok/ frying pan. The oil should be atleast 3 fingers deep. Keep it on low flame, you don't want it smoking. 

Divide it into 10 parts and make balls out of it. They will be roughly the size of a golf ball. Roll it out with a rolling pin or if you want to keep it authentic, stretch it out with your hands. Keep patting it and pulling the ends out. Thats how they do it in Punjab! 

Slowly and carefully, slide the bhatura in the oil. 

It will sink to the bottom first and them make its way to the top real soon. 

Oh and it puffs up so beautifully! Like a big golden ball. 

Flip it over with a slotted spoon to cook the other side too and after about 40 -50 secs, remove from the pan. The sides should be golden in colour. If you like them a little darker or crispier, you can very well leave it in the pan for an extra few secs.  

Hey did you know that we have specially slotted spoons to fry the Indian flat breads?! Take a look at this sweet little helper! Even the handle's loooong to prevent clumsy people like yours truly from burning myself with the spluttering oil.

Repeat the process for the rest of them. It is essential that the bhaturas be eaten right out of the frying pan. Don't even bother draining the oil on a kitchen paper. Just use your fingers to tear the bread (I know it might burn your fingers just a little, but who cares!) ...see how the smoke comes out of the bhatura....pick up the Chole with it and put it straight into your eagerly awaiting mouth! Hhhhmmmmmmmmmmmm satisfaction!!! 

I'm salivating at the thought of it...maybe I'll make some today again. Indulge!! :)) 

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Punjabi Rendezvous with Chole Bhature

You think of Punjab, and you think of the vast green fields. You think of Punjab and you think of the effervescent townsfolk. You think of Punjab and you think of the very popular beats of Bhangra. You think of Punjab and you think of the most delicious mouthwatering cuisine. 

The most common sight in the streets of Punjab or the galiyaan are the street food vendors and the pedal rickshaws. The first time I visited this beautiful land of 5 rivers, I was absolutely astounded by the hustling markets and the way people gorged on the yummy food. Street food is easily accessible at any given time of the day and is so darn inexpensive. You can't resist even if you try your hardest because the aromas WILL captivate you!

I was just a child then and I remember seeing teenagers, youngsters and elders alike standing in front of the food stalls, eating plates of delicious authentic punjabi food. The girls are usually dressed to the T in beautiful Indian wear and the boys as usual vying for their attention! Fun times! That image has since been imprinted in my mind.

It is there only that I tasted these Chole Bhature or Spicy tangy chickpeas with fried flat bread. The uniqueness to these Chole is that they are sort of dry and very dark in colour, almost blackish. Thats what gives it that amazing taste. The roasting of the spices gives that immense depth of flavour. 

I couldn't stop myself from making these since the time I've stepped foot in the kitchen. Been making them for a long time now and they are a specialty of mine, I can very modestly boast! 

Try them and you'll be transported to the streets of Punjab, I guarantee you that! They're just a little time consuming and have a longish list of ingredients but so darn easy to make. You'll never visit a restaurant again to eat these! On to the lip smacking recipe...

Serves: 6

Time: 2 hours (most of the time you have to sit out)

Complexity: ***

You'll need

2 cups Chickpeas or Garbanzo beans or Kabuli chana soaked overnight in water
2 tea bags
3 Onions, ground into a paste
4-5 tomatoes, pureed
1"ginger, minced
5-6 cloves of garlic, minced
3 green chilies, split in half lengthwise
1-2 bay leaves
2" pc of cinnamon stick
7-8 black peppercorns
4-5 cloves
3 Black cardamom or large cardamom
3 green cardamom
3 whole dry red chilies broken in half
1 tsp whole cumin
1 tsp freshly ground cumin powder
2 tsp coriander powder
1 tbsp dry mango powder
1 tsp carom seeds or ajwain
1/2 tsp asafoetida 
1 tbsp pomegranate seeds (anar dana)
1 tsp garam masala powder
1 tbsp salt
1 tsp red chili powder (more if you like it spicy)
1 tsp turmeric powder
1 tsp black/rock salt or kala namak
3 tbsp oil
1 tbsp ghee/ clarified butter (for tempering)
2" ginger julienne, for tempering
Pinch of love


First and foremost, you need to pressure cook your chickpeas till the time you try to press them between your fore finger and thumb they should get squished. To boil you will need twice the water of the chickpeas. To that you will add the tea bags, black cardamoms and 1 tsp of the total dry mango powder and 1 tsp salt. 

The chickpeas will take about 20 minutes total to get to that softened stage. Reduce the flame to low after one whistle and continue to pressure cook for 10 minutes. 

While the chickpeas are getting done, roughly shop your onions into cubes and grind them to a paste in  the food processor. 

Heat a large-ish pan on medium flame. Add the oil to it. When the oil starts to shimmer a little, add cumin seeds, carom seeds, black peppercorns, cloves, asafoetida, cinnamon, bay leaf and whole red chili to it. Saute for about 30-45 secs till the cumin begins to crackle and the asafoetida sizzles. 

Now add the green chilies and pomegranate seeds to this.

To the spice mix, add the onion paste. Mix and keep the flame on medium. Saute for a minute so the water from the onions starts to come out. Now add the minced garlic and ginger. You need to now saute and roast this till the onions change colour and become almost brown. This will take around 20 minutes. Keep stirring sporadically so that the onions do not stick to the bottom of the pan and get burnt. 

See how the oil is starting to get released on the sides which is exactly what we want. The aroma will be driving you quite hungry by now, but be patient.

Now is the time when we add the tomato puree. You can use the ready canned puree or you can use canned whole tomatoes and then crush them. But I prefer making the puree at home. Fresh ingredients and no preservatives. 

Stir and combine with the sauteed onions. Now we need to saute and roast the tomatoes as well till the water in them almost evaporates just like in the picture. You can see how the oil begins to leave on the sides. It means that the tomatoes are fully cooked. 

Now add the seasoning and dry powdered spices- salt, turmeric, red chili powder, roasted cumin powder, garam masala, coriander powder and black/rock salt and mix well. 

After adding the seasoning and the powdered spices, we can add the boiled chickpeas along with the water they were boiled in. Don't forget to take out the tea bags though. 

Cover with a lid to let it simmer for 30 minutes. The water will reduce considerably and the oil should come to the top. The gravy will be quite thick and a deep red brown in colour. We are just one step away from the chole being done! 

Remove pan from the stove. Take a small pan and heat the ghee or clarified butter. Let it heat a little and then add the ginger julienne to it. 

Temper for about 30 secs and then pour it onto the chickpeas. Don't forget to stir in your love. 

The chole are done! Check for seasoning and add a little more salt if needed. If you want it even more spicy, add some red chilli powder to it. But don't they just taste absolutely divine?! Garnish with coriander and a couple of fried green chillies. 

Serve with Indian flat breads. You can chose from Bhatura, Kulcha, Paratha, Roti or even rice and Indulge!! :)