Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Pav Bhaji With Paneer Cheese (Indian Style Ratatouille or Caponata or Sloppy Joe)

Pav Bhaji with pan grilled Ciabatta rolls

Here is a delicious dish that can do double duty as appetizer or snack (or even a meal)! Pav Bhaji means Bread and Veggies. It is based on popular snacks sold by vendors in big cities all over India. Although there are many versions of this dish, this one includes paneer (Indian fresh cheese) along with a lot of veggies. Paneer, Pav Bhaji Masala and Garam Masala are readily available in Indian Grocery stores. I have used a few brands of Pav Bhaji Masala such as MTR, MDH, and Roopak's from India; they were all good.

The last, but not least is the choice of bread; only good crusty bread like Ciabatta, or sourdough French rolls will do. The rolls are split, toasted and buttered or roasted on a griddle only on the buttered cut sides until golden brown. I have also used toasted whole wheat sourdough or whole wheat pita bread in a pinch. One favorite way the children like it is to spread the Bhaji on a Pita bread, sprinkle with grated Parmesan and Cheddar cheeses, and heat in a toaster oven until the cheese melts; seriously YummY!!

I usually make Pav Bhaji for a weekend brunch or snack or as an appetizer for company. The children like it even for a breakfast! I use the food processor to grate all the veggies first. The grated veggies cook quickly and give a nice texture to the dish. I don't use a food processor for chopping the onions, slicing the green beans or chopping the paneer; these I hand chop. I save the pureeing of the tomatoes with garlic (if using) for the last in the processor and pour it directly into the pot.

A few days ago I was getting started to make a festive meal but much to my dismay everyone wanted a snack and not a big meal :(. Since the zucchinis and carrots were already grated, I decided to make Pav Bhaji instead. I did not have any potatoes on hand but had a block of paneer and decided to add it to the Pav Bhaji to make it more substantial. Well, what do you know, everyone absolutely loved it! I had forgotten to stir in the customary butter; but the paneer had added so much buttery flavor, that we did not miss the butter at all! We had the Bhaji with freshly pan toasted Ciabata Rolls; the soft veggies with little nuggets of paneer and the buttery, chewy, crunchy rolls made a fantastic combination :). All anyone wanted with this meal was plenty of hot Masala Chai

Ingredients:

2 Tablespoons Oil
1/2 teaspoon Cumin seeds (Jeera)
1 Tbsp Fresh Ginger, finely grated
1 medium Red Onion, finely chopped
1 Red Bell Pepper, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon Red pepper (cayenne)
1 teaspoon ground Turmeric (Haldi)
Salt to taste
2 Tablespoons Pav Bhaji Masala (Your favorite brand)
1 block (14 0z.) Paneer, cut into small cubes (about the size of peas)
4 large, ripe Tomatoes, quartered and pureed
1 clove Garlic (Optional)
1 large Japanese Eggplant, finely chopped or grated
1/2 a small Cauliflower, coarsely chopped or grated
1 large Carrot, grated
1 large Zucchini, grated
1 small bunch Green Beans, finely sliced crosswise
1 cup corn kernels (fresh or frozen)
1 cup tiny Green Peas (fresh or frozen) (sometimes called petite peas)
1/2 teaspoon Garam Masala
1 or 2 Tablespoons Butter (Optional)
1/2 cup fresh Cilantro, chopped

Garnish:

Red Onion, chopped
Cilantro, chopped
Lemon or Lime wedges

Method:

Heat the oil in a large Stainless Steel Dutch Oven or an Indian Wok. Add cumin seeds and when they start popping and browning a little, add ginger, onions and bell pepper. Stir and add pinch or two of salt, a pinch of turmeric, and half the spices and cook until the onions soften. Stir in the paneer cubes and cook until lightly browned. Remove the paneer and veggies with a slotted spoon and set aside. Add the tomato puree to the pot with one tsp salt, turmeric, and the rest of the spices and allow it to come to a boil. Stir in the eggplant and simmer for 10 minutes. Mix in the cauliflower, carrots and zucchini and cook on medium heat stirring occasionally for 15 to 20 minutes. Keep the pot covered between stirrings to keep the heat in and steam the veggies. Add the green beans along with the corn kernels and cook for 10 minutes. Mix in the green peas and cook until heated thoroughly, about 5 to 10 minutes. Taste for seasonings and adjust the salt and Pav Bhaji masala to your taste. Sprinkle the Garam Masala and add the butter and the cilantro and mix well. Let sit covered for 5 minutes or so while you are toasting the rolls. If you are using an Indian cast iron wok, the veggies should be transferred immediately after cooking to a non reactive container like a ceramic or glass dish.

To serve Pav Bhaji traditionally, split rolls and butter the cut sides. Roast them only on the cut sides on a griddle or skillet and press down on them to brown evenly. Cook until golden and hot. Arrange the rolls on a plate with a scoop of the hot Bhaji on the side with a pat of butter on top and sprinkled with chopped red onions and cilantro and Lime/Lemon wedges to squeeze according to the individual diner's taste.

Variations: Mild vegetables like Opo squash, chayote squash, green bell peppers etc. or frozen mixed veggies can be used instead of or along with the above mentioned veggies. One or two cooked potatoes can also be added towards the end of cooking. Aromatic fresh methi leaves or spinach can also be used in small quantities (about one cup). Or one can sprinkle one Tablespoon of dried methi leaves called Kasoori Methi (available in Indian Markets) at the end of cooking with great result.

Note: A large wok (Indian or not) is the perfect vessel for preparing Pav Bhaji. It heats quickly and conducts the heat throughout the veggies so the dish is prepared very fast. The only caveat is that even a seasoned wok can have scratches and the exposed iron surface will react especially with the acidic and moist contents and hence has to be transferred to a non-reactive container at the end of cooking.

2 comments:

Mama P said...

Come on over to my house anytime for dinner! Of course, you'll have to cook, but come on over.

Geetha said...

Hi Mama P: Thank you for the invitation :); just say when!