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Southern Pao Bhaji Casserole

August 20, 2013

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What in the world is “Southern Pao Bhaji Casserole”, you say? Well, it just brings together two very popular dishes in two continents. Pao Bhaji is a humble Indian street food favorite, that originated as a light lunch for the mill workers in Bombay. Pao, from Portuguese, means bread, and bhaji from Marathi ( Bombay’s local language) means vegetables. Here’s an interesting video that shows how this dish is made at a street food vendor in Bombay.
Coming back to my dish then…I wanted to elevate the humble pav bhaji for a dinner party I was having, and the theme of the menu I had decided on was global. Cornbread is the simplest and heartiest bread I know of, and the sweetness would go very well with the complex layers of the Indian bhaji, I thought. With that hunch,I went about making the dish. So here goes the recipe:

What you need

For the bhaji

  • 1 medium cauliflower, cut into small pieces
  • 2 sweet potatoes or yams, peeled and diced
  • 1 small golden potato, peeled and diced
  • 1 green bell pepper, diced
  • 1/2 a red bell pepper, diced
  • 1 cup of green peas
  • 1 onion, grated
  • 4 roma tomatoes, diced
  • 1 tblsp of minced ginger
  • 4- 6 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1/2 tblsp coriander powder
  • 1 tsp Asafetida
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 2 tblsp kasuri methi ( dried fenugreek leaves)
  • 2 tblsp Pav Bhaji masala
  • 1/4 a jalapeño, minced
  • Juice of a lime
  • 2 tsp of chili powder or cayenne
  • 1/2 a stick of butter
  • 2 tblsp cooking oil
  • salt and pepper
  • Water as needed

For the cornmeal pao


  • 1 1/2 cup of cornmeal
  • 1/2 cup of all purpose flour
  • 1 cup of buttermilk
  • 4 tblsp of olive oil or melted butter
  • 3 tsp of baking powder
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tsp of salt
  • 2 Tblsp of chopped cilantro

How Its Done

  • Prep the vegetables- mincing, grating, dicing as needed. Don’t Bother separating the cauliflower florets;just cut them into small pieces. Remember, the bhaji is an amalgamation of all the veggies in a soft, mushy consistency
  • Put the potatoes and cauliflower in a microwave safe bowl with 1/2 a cup of water and a pinch or so of salt and cook till the veggies are softened and can be mashed
  • Heat oil in a pan
  • Add the asafoetida, and let cook for a minute
  • Add the grated onion and let brown
  • Add the minced ginger and garlic, and cook till the raw smell goes away
  • Add turmeric and coriander powder and let the spices become fragrant
  • Add the bell peppers and let soften; about 7-10 minutes
  • Add the tomatoes, stir, cover and let cook till the juices are released, then absorbed and the mixture starts to stick to the pan
  • Add some water to prevent the sticking and mix
  • Now add the mashed potato-cauliflower mix, and peas and mix and mash
  • Add the pav bhaji masala, jalapeno, chile powder, salt and pepper to taste, mix and mash; add some more water if needed to continue the cooking, so all flavors meld together. About 10 more minutes

Now add the lime juice and half the butter. Mix and turn off heat. Bhaji is ready. You can make the bhaji ahead and also eat this with a toasted slice of bread, and stop right here. However, if you’re patient, and make the cornbread topping, you will be glad you did!

  • Preheat the oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit
  • For the cornbread topping, whisk the dry ingredients in a mixing bowl. Beat the eggs, buttermilk and oil, and incorporate into to dry ingredients, just enough that everything is well mixed. Add the cilantro and mix. Do not overwork this.
  • Let the mix rest while you prepare the bhaji in an ovenproof dish. Butter the dish and spread the bhaji. Distribute the remaining butter on top of the bhaji.
  • Now add dollops of the cornbread topping.
  • Bake for 15 minutes or so till the bread is golden, and a toothpick inserted comes out clean

Enjoy! The sweet cornbread contrasts and balances the spicy bhaji to make one überly satisfying meal – a definite crowd-pleaser. I barely had any leftovers!

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  1. What a FANTASTIC idea! Hurray, weekend lunch sorted! 🙂

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