Keto Pav Bhaji: Low Carb Indian Street Food

One of my goals this year is to spend more time exploring Indian cuisine. Our family has Indian heritage, it’s a huge part of our lives and we eat Indian food often (like this chai). So I’m hoping to reflect this more in my recipes here. My first exploration is a new dish for me; keto pav bhaji.

What is Pav Bhaji?

Pav bhaji is a popular Indian street food dish hailing from Mumbai, which consists of a thick mashed vegetable curry served on a toasted bread roll. It has quite a literal translation; ‘pav’ means ‘bread roll’, while ‘bhaji’ is the Marathi word for vegetables or vegetable-based dish.

When was Pav Bhaji invented?

The dish was created in the 1860’s by street stall traders in Mumbai (then Bombay), as a meal for late night textile workers around the time of the American Civil War. Workers at the cotton exchange received telegrams with cotton rates from America during the evenings and so needed to eat at late night hours. The street stall traders developed the perfect dish to fill this need; they took the days leftovers to create a mashed vegetable curry, which they served with buttered rolls (to soak up all the gravy).

Pav bhaji is now found around the globe; from handcarts to formal restaurants (such as the much-loved Dishoom in London). It is the ultimate snack in Mumbai and a must try when visiting. There are loads of variations with different ingredients and toppings; such as cheese pav bhaji, paneer pav bhaji and jain pav bhaji (no onions, no garlic).

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Vegetables in Keto Pav Bhaji

The vegetables used in a regular pav bhaji can differ drastically depending on the region and style. When researching the dish, I found an incredible number of variations! That said; the core ingredients usually consist of potatoes, tomatoes, capsicum (bell peppers), onions, ginger and garlic. Some other variations include cauliflower, green peas, carrots, green beans, eggplant, broccoli or plantains. This recipe focuses on the low carb veggies; cauliflower, tomato, capsicum, onions, ginger and garlic.

What are the ingredients for Pav Bhaji Masala?

One of the most essential ingredients in this dish is pav bhaji masala, the spice blend that gives the unique flavor to this dish. This blend is available pre-made and can easily be found at Indian grocers or ordered online (this one is my favorite).

The spice blend can also be homemade. Pav bhaji masala typically includes ingredients such as black cardamom, coriander seeds, cumin seeds, black pepper corn, fennel seeds, chili powder, cinnamon, cloves, turmeric powder and mango powder (known as amchur, which is carb rich, so use only a small amount).

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Don’t compromise on butter!

Butter is an essential element to a decent keto pav bhaji. Butter is cooked into the curry itself, slathered on the buns and added as a garnish to the curry when served. It’s part of what makes it so delicious and keto friendly too.

How to make red color Pav Bhaji?

It is common practice to add red food coloring to pav bhaji to achieve the bright red color. Some recipes add beetroot for color. Without these additions the pav bhaji remains more of a yellow orange color. Add a few drops of food coloring if you like.

Keto Pav Bhaji

This popular dish typically consists of bread and potato, so is super high in carbs. By omitting and replacing some of the ingredients it’s totally possible to achieve this same incredible flavor and texture! We’ve replaced the potato with cauliflower and switched out the large bread rolls for smaller keto buns. I also prefer to keep a chunky texture, which is less traditional – blend it to your desired consistency!

Shopping List

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Keto Pav Bhaji

Ingredients

  • 1 whole cauliflower cut into florets
  • 2 tbsp butter (extra for garnish)
  • 2 whole tomatoes finely diced
  • 1 whole green capsicum (bell pepper) finely diced
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 tsp red chili powder
  • 1/4 tsp turmeric powder
  • 1 1/2 tsp pav bhaji masala
  • 3 tbsp fresh coriander finely chopped (extra for garnish)
  • 1 tsp ginger garlic paste
  • 1 whole red onion finely diced (extra for garnish)
  • salt to taste
  • 1 whole fresh lime to taste (extra for garnish)

Instructions

  • Fill a large pot with water and add a pinch of salt, bring to boil.
  • Once boiled, add the cauliflower to the pot and cook for about 8 minutes. The cauliflower should be soft and easy to mash, you don’t want it al dente.
  • Remove the cauliflower from heat and strain. Return to the pot and mash the cauliflower. Don’t go so far to turn the cauliflower to a paste.
  • Return the pot to the stove and make a well in the middle. Add 1 tablespoon of butter, the diced tomatoes, green capsicum and 1 tsp of salt. Mix everything together and saute for 2 minutes.
  • Add half a cup of water and mix well before covering the pot and boiling for 10 minutes.
  • Remove lid and mash everything together until it’s a smooth consistency.
  • Add 1 tsp chili powder, ¼ tsp of turmeric, 1 tsp pav bhaji masala and 2 tbsp of finely chopped coriander. Mix everything together and sauté for 1 minute.
  • Make a well in the middle of the pan by pushing the mixture to the edges. Place 1 tbsp of butter in the centre, as it is melting add ½ tsp pav bhaji masala, 1 tsp of ginger garlic paste, 1 finely chopped red onion, 1 tbsp of finely chopped coriander and some lime juice. Saute these ingredients in the centre of the pan by mixing well for 1 minute.
  • Combine all the ingredients well and add ½ cup water to adjust the consistency. Boil and mash the mixture for 5 minutes. I like to keep mine quite a chunky consistency, but it can be mashed down to a fine paste if you prefer. If using, add red food coloring at this point. 
  • It’s ready to serve! Garnish with a knob of butter, red onion, a slice of lime and fresh coriander. 
  • Serve alongside keto buns toasted in butter. Eat by dipping pieces of bread and scooping up the mixture, or by smearing the mixture onto halved buns. 

Adapted from Hebbar’s Kitchen

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