Friday, February 22, 2019

Indian Street Food

It has probably been more than a year since I first came across mention of something called Pav Bhaji. The first word is pronounced "pao." It is a mushed up mixture of vegetables that is served on or with buns.
Pav Bhaji
Pav Bhaji

When I think of India and breads, I envision lots of flat breads, or Naan, which can be made as a flat bread or made with yeast. Never, though, had I come across a recipe for something that looked like a common bun, as we know them in the U.S. When I saw this recipe, it intrigued me, and for a while I meant to try it out, and then, as with many things, it got buried, and I never got back to it. 

Recently I met a young girl who hails from Mumbai. Anyone from India is of great interest to me, because while I am fascinated with India, Indians, Indian food, culture, etc., I have never been to India, nor eaten anything Indian outside of a few restaurants, nor have I ever had the pleasure of eating at an Indian household. So while my Indian restaurant visits have given me a baseline idea of the flavors involved, I am far removed from actual firsthand experience. Yet I do cook things Indian all the time, because the flavors are exceedingly high on my list of "most amazing flavors." 

So after meeting this young Indian girl, I asked her out to lunch, so I could pick her brain and get ideas - more firsthand. We talked of many, many different foods, and she asked if I had ever tried an Indian street food called Pav Bhaji. Well!
Pav Bhaji just cooked
Pav Bhaji just cooked

When I got home, I was busy that day and the next, but finally got around to unearthing all my notes on that dish. Yesterday I put them into action. The dish consists of various parts. The vegetable dish, the main event, is made of mainly potatoes, with other vegetables such as green peppers and tomatoes. Other vegetables that can be added are things like cauliflower and /or peas. And while I have read that carrots are never found in the actual street-vendors' dish, they can be added if making it at home. I always look for more, so I used all these vegetables in my dish. As for the vegetable part of this dish, it can be made into a puree or it can be simply mashed with bits left in it. This is up to your own taste. I chose to mash, not puree my vegetables.

The next part is making or buying a Pav Bhaji Masala. The ingredients in this mixture are similar, but have variances, in the many recipes I looked at online. The spices that seem most common in this mixture are black cardamom, coriander and cumin seed, cloves, cinnamon, tej patta (Indian bay leaf), black peppercorns, aamchur powder (dried unripe mango powder), dried red chilies. Other things added in some recipes are fennel seed, turmeric, powdered ginger, star anise, asafetida and even curry leaves. Of course, the amounts will vary in all recipes, but if you choose to make your own Pav Bhaji Masala, here is my recipe:

Pav Bhaji Masala

Makes about ¼ cup

4 black cardamom pods, seeds removed, pods discarded
3 tablespoons coriander seeds
1½ teaspoons cumin seeds
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
2 dried red chili peppers (remove seeds for less heat), crumbled
3-inches cinnamon stick
6 whole cloves
2 tej patta leaves (do not substitute Bay Laurel leaf), crumbled
1 tablespoon aamchur powder
1½ teaspoon ground turmeric powder
½ teaspoon black salt (or regular salt)

Place the first 8 ingredients into a hot, dry skillet over medium heat and stirring quickly, toast until fragrant. Pour out in a plate to cool, then grind to fine powder, adding in the remaining three ingredients, mixing well. Store in a clean jar with tight fitting lid in a cool, dark place for up to 3 months.


The third part of the whole Pav Bhaji experience is the bread. The bread is supposed to be bun-like, made without eggs. The buns are halved and dredged through melted butter with some of the Pav Bhaji Masala on a hot griddle, then served either alongside or filled with the vegetable mixture. 

I have not made the buns, yet. I was making two kinds of breads yesterday, and did not have the time to make a third type of bread, but I will get to those at a later date. In the meantime, I (gasp!) bought some whole wheat dinner rolls to accompany the veggie mixture. 

The Pav Bhaji is then served with a pat of butter melting on top, chopped red onion and a wedge of lemon or lime on the side, as well as a green chutney. I had no green chutney made, so I went ahead without. For the first time, it was fine, as I wanted to really taste what this dish is like, without other distractions. All I can say is AMAZING! I loved this dish. I have no problem eating a vegetarian meal, and this was excellent.

Pav Bhaji

Pav Bhaji
Pav Bhaji

Serves about 4

2 cups potatoes in small cubes (½-inch)
1½ cups green pepper, chopped small
1½ cups cauliflower, chopped into small bits
½ cup carrots in tiny cubes (about ¼-inch)
½ cup peas (I used frozen)
½ - 1  (15 ounce) can petite diced tomatoes with juices
2 tablespoons Pav Bhaji Masala
2 teaspoons Kasoori Methi (dried fenugreek herb)
1 teaspoon Indian red chili powder (powdered chili peppers)
¾ teaspoon salt
½ cup cilantro, chopped
1 - 2 tablespoons oil or butter
1 shallot, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1-inch fresh ginger, minced
2 green chilies, minced (omit seeds for less heat)
4 buns, halved
butter, for buns
butter, to serve
red onion, chopped, for garnish
lemon or lime wedges  
Green Chutney

Place the first 5 vegetables into a saucepan and just cover with water. Bring to boil, then reduce to simmer and cook until the vegetables are soft and can be smashed without resistance.  If there is still a lot of water in the pan, drain off some of it, but some water should remain. Use a potato masher or a glass and smash the vegetables into a chunky mash.

Add to the pot of smashed veggies the tomatoes (amount is up to you), the Pav Bhaji Masala, the Kasoori Methi herb, Indian chili powder and salt and stir in. Stir in the cilantro.

In a skillet over medium low heat, saute the shallot, garlic, ginger and chilies in the oil until the mixture just turns golden, then pour this into the pot with the vegetables. Stir well.

To serve: Halve Pav Bhaji buns or dinner rolls. Melt some butter into the skillet and sprinkle in some of the Pav Bhaji Masala powder. Dredge the cut side of the buns in this butter mixture. Chop some red onion to serve alongside and set out lime or lemon wedges to squeeze over top. If you have some green chutney, serve this also. 


Green Chutney (Dhania Poodina)

Green Chutney or Dhania Poodina
Green Chutney or Dhania Poodina

Makes about 1 cup

1 cup (packed) fresh mint leaves
1 cup (packed) fresh cilantro
1 to 5 fresh Serrano peppers (remove seeds for less heat)
½ cup unsweetened coconut, optional
½ small onion or 1 large shallot
1 teaspoon sugar
¼ teaspoon cumin
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ cup lime juice, more, if needed

Place all the ingredients in a powerful blender and puree completely. Store in refrigerator, tightly sealed and use the chutney within three days.  

My passion is teaching people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and passing along my love and joy of food, both simple or exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. I would love to hear from you, to help me continue my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own. Join me also at A Harmony of Flavors on Facebook, and Pinterest and sign up for my Newsletter.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

More South Indian Curry Recipes

About a month ago, I wrote about a "South Indian Lamb Curry." I guess I have been leaning towards South Indian dishes of late, and this Madras style curry is not a lot different than the previous one, but there are some differences. The South Indian Lamb Curry recipe calls for a can of tomato paste, which makes the resultant curry brightly colored. This Madras Style Lamb Curry uses either fresh chopped tomatoes or a can of petite diced tomatoes, making it paler in color, and also uses tamarind, giving a sour note to the dish.
Madras Lamb Curry
Madras Lamb Curry

Southern India, particularly the southernmost tip, encompasses the states of Telangana, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Kerala. Madras, now called Chennai, is located in the northern part of Tamil Nadu. Anything from South India is likely to be very hot. Chili heat makes one sweat, helpful in the torrid heat. Of course, how much chili (fresh or dried or powder) is used is all dependent on who makes the recipe. When I make any Indian recipe, heat is totally optional. It is entirely possible to have all the Indian flavors without burning your entire mouth, esophagus and stomach. In this same vein, I created my own Madras Curry Powder, but again, left out all but the smallest bit of chili-heat. Feel free to add as much ground chili as you prefer.

Madras Curry Powder

Makes about ⅓ cup

2 tablespoons coriander seeds
1 tablespoons white poppy seeds
2 small whole dried red chilies (remove seeds for less heat)
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon black cumin seeds
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 teaspoon brown mustard seeds
1 teaspoon black peppercorns (preferably Tellicherry)
½ teaspoon fenugreek seeds
2-inches cassia cinnamon stick, broken
6 whole cloves
½ star anise
½ teaspoon garlic powder
½ teaspoon ground ginger powder

Heat a dry skillet on medium to medium high heat. Add in one spice at a time, stirring quickly and constantly, until the spice releases its fragrance and darkens slightly. Do not burn! Once the spice is ready, pour it into a shallow plate to cool and proceed with the next spice. Be careful with the dried chili, as it may cause irritation to breathing as it heats. Have an extractor fan on. Or, simply replace the whole dried chilies with ¼ teaspoon (or more) of your preferred hot chili such as cayenne or Kashmiri chili powder at the end of the process along with the last two ingredients. Once all the spices are toasted and cooled, grind them to a fine powder in a spice grinder, in batches if needed, and then stir together along with the garlic and ginger powders. Store in a glass jar in a cool, dark place for up to 6 months.


Most south Indian recipes I have seen have some mixture of most of these spices in the Madras Curry Powder. Some have more of one thing, or less of another. Some have something not listed in my recipe and some have less things than are in my recipe. But some mixture of this is in most recipes for curries in the south. After that, there are some variances, as noted above, and this recipe for Madras Lamb Curry uses chopped tomatoes (which up in the frigid north means tasteless grocery store tomatoes, so I prefer to use a can of chopped tomatoes instead, with their juices), and tamarind. Tamarind is a very common ingredient in south India, and if not tamarind, then possibly amchur (dried green mango powder). The sourness that come from tamarind and mango powder is a flavor also highlighted in Kerala, where often vinegar is used to this effect. 

To Use Tamarind Pods

Tamarind Pods
Tamarind Pods
If you have access to tamarind pods, they do keep for a long time. Use about 3 or 4, depending on size, for a recipe. Crack the brittle outer pod and peel it away. Remove the long, stringy fibers. Soak the sticky inner parts in about a cup or less of warm water for about 30 minutes or more. As the fruit softens, using very clean hands, begin squishing the fruit until most of it has softened in the water. The fruit will have a series of black, shiny seeds inside; these will need to be expelled and discarded. Once the fruit is all reduced to lumpy, stringy bits, set a strainer over a bowl and pour the tamarind, fibers and all, into the strainer. Press the solids against the strainer with a spoon, pressing until you have extracted as much as possible from the pods, then discard the remaining fibrous bits. This may make more than you need for a recipe. If there are leftovers, use it to make a refreshing beverage, adding some of it to water and stirring in sugar to taste.

Back to my recipe, southern Indian recipes often call for mustard oil to be used, though other oils are perfectly acceptable. I think mustard oil, because it must be heated to smoking to make it easier to eat/digest, and diffuses into the air, is the ingredient that really leaves hair and clothing reeking of that very typically "Indian food" scent. I do use it occasionally, but not always, and in this recipe I chose to use coconut oil. Use what works best for you.

Madras Lamb Curry

Madras Lamb Curry with Masala Potatoes
Madras Lamb Curry with Masala Potatoes

Makes 4 servings

1½ pounds lamb stew meat, in small, ¾-inch cubes
¼ cup plain yogurt
¼ cup water
4 tablespoons Madras Curry Powder (see recipe above)
2 green chilies, more or less as needed for heat preference
4 cloves garlic
1-inch ginger, minced or grated
1 - 2 tablespoons coconut oil
2 teaspoons brown mustard seeds
1 large onion, chopped
10 - 12 curry leaves 
1 (15-ounce) can petite diced tomatoes
3 tablespoons tamarind puree (see above), (OR
½ teaspoons tamarind concentrated paste, mixed into water)
1 Tej Patta (Indian "Bay" leaf)

Stir together in a mixing bowl the yogurt and water, then stir in the meat (beef may be used if lamb is not available). Stir in the Madras Curry Powder to coat evenly, and set aside while preparing the remaining ingredients.

Mince very finely the garlic and ginger, then add in the green chilies, minced finely (remove seeds if less heat is preferred). Set aside.

Heat the oil in a large skillet. When the oil is very hot, add in the mustard seeds and allow them to begin spluttering, then add in the chopped onion and the curry leaves. Saute these ingredients until the onion is well softened, then add in the reserved ginger, garlic, chili mixture. Stir, cooking for a few minutes until very fragrant. Add in the whole can of tomatoes with juices, the tamarind puree or diluted concentrate, the tej patta leaf and then pour in the meat with its marinade and stir together until evenly blended. Bring to boil, then reduce heat to a simmer and cook until the meat is tender, about 40 to 60 minutes, checking for liquids and stirring occasionally to prevent sticking to the pan. Serve garnished with cilantro leaves.

My passion is teaching people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and passing along my love and joy of food, both simple or exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. I would love to hear from you, to help me continue my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own. Join me also at A Harmony of Flavors on Facebook, and Pinterest and sign up for my Newsletter.