Pav Bhaji: The Fall Version

Oct/04/2020 / by Neelma Patel

pav bhaji

Did you know we can credit some of the popularity of Pav Bhaji to the American Civil War? I’ll explain that a little later.

Pav Bhaji literally translates to bread and vegetables. Originally put together in the 1850s to feed hungry textile mill workers in Mumbai, it became popular through the city. Found at food outlets from street stalls to five-star restaurants, this is a quick dish to rustle up in many Indian homes today.

A lot of people debate about the original ingredients and method of preparation, but as the name suggests, it ultimately has vegetables and bread playing key roles. There are many variations of this dish in India. As winter approaches, it makes sense to whip up some Pav Bhaji with the cold weather produce available. I decided to make this with kaddu (sugar pumpkin) for lunch today.

To the point of the role the American Civil War played, American production dropped during that period, sharply raising demand for cotton worldwide. The traders at the cotton exchange in Bombay (as it was then known) were especially busy and worked around the clock to meet the shortfall. Since the workers worked late into the night, they needed a fresh meal in the wee hours. This drew in more street vendors who would produce this humble but delicious dish using the leftover bread from the Jesuit priests who lived nearby.

Having done with the history, I present my version of this famous dish, made in my InstantPot.

The traditional bread used in India is the laddi pav, which are similar to a soft milk bun. You can use almost any kind of bread. Here I’m using an artisanal white sliced bread to make a quick Saturday lunch. My family loves this dish, one of the only few Indian ones my boys will warm up for themselves without encouragement or guidance. Recently my senior, who is in college, called asking for the recipe so he can make it for his non-Indian roommates. How is that for a win?


  • 1 tablespoon butter + 1 tablespoon oil
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 1 red onion, finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon minced fresh ginger
  • 1 teaspoon minced fresh garlic
  • 2 cups pumpkin, peeled and cut into small cubes about 1/2 inch
  • 1 large potato, cubed 1/2 inch
  • 2 tomatoes, roughly chopped
  • 1 cup frozen peas
  • 2 teaspoons tomato paste
  • 2 teaspoons pav bhaji masala
  • 1 teaspoon red chili pepper powder
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup water
  • Cilantro for garnish


  • Heat butter and oil in inner steel pot of the InstantPot set to sauté on high. Add cumin seeds and bloom.
  • Sauté onion until translucent, 2 to 4 minutes.
  • Stir garlic and ginger and cook for 30 seconds.
  • Add pumpkin, potato, tomatoes, water, green peas, tomato paste, pav bhaji masala, turmeric, salt and red chili pepper powder, and mix.
  • Lock lid in place and set steam vent to sealing.
  • Select pressure cook (manual) and cook for 10 minutes on high pressure.
  • After time is done, let pressure drop naturally for 15 minutes or less.
  • Open when safe. If necessary, burn off some moisture by using the sauté function again.
  • Garnish with cilantro if desired.
  • Serve with pan fried bread or buns, finely chopped onions and lemon/lime wedges.

For more scrumptious recipes on the SEEMA Network, check out these cookout-perfect dessert options

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