We Indians are masters at the art of cleverly turning leftovers into delicious meals, and this is very evident in the dish created by the industrious stall owners of Khau Galli (a very popular street/by lane that houses food stalls in downtown Mumbai) called Tawa Pulao.
The base of the dish is the bhaji, or the gravy part of an immensely popular anytime snack, Pav Bhaji. There are many stories as to the origins of this dish and the most plausible story to me is that it was created for mill workers. The cotton mills in central Bombay used to work 24 hours a day and worked in multiple shifts, the night shift used to break very early in the morning and needed a little something to quench their appetites, here was born the Pav Bhaji.
Pav Bread was very easy to procure and store. The Bhaji consisted of leftover vegetables smashed together with rehydrated green peas, a healthy amount of spices thrown in and finally sprinkled with the classic salted Amul butter to enhance all flavours. Now taking this delicious dish a bit further and as an alternative, the Bhaji is mixed with leftover rice, which acquired a posh version when steamed basmati rice was used. Tossed along with the Bhaji and aromatics like coriander and mint leaves, crunchy diced onions and green capsicum along with copious amounts of salted butter on a very hot tawa or cast iron griddle, the Tawa Pulao was created.
I particularly love this dish, not just because it unites two very obvious Indian loves of something chatpata and soothing rice, but because there is no “authentic” recipe! Just toss whatever leftover vegetables you have on hand, add a good amount of butter and the star, which is Pav Bhaji masala. I sort of fake my way through this dish every time, since there is no “strict” recipe – just a method and a single masala (you can use whichever garam masala you have on hand), this dish can turn leftover vegetables into something spectacular, go ahead and give it your twist.
Recipe for Tawa Pulao
3 cups cooked rice (basmati if possible)
2 cups par boiled, finely chopped vegetables of your choice (cauliflower, peas, potatoes, green capsicum, french beans, carrot, cabbage, sweet corn)
1 cup finely chopped tomatoes OR
1/2 cup tomato purée
1/2 cup finely chopped onions
3-4 tbsp salted butter
1 1/2 tbsp ginger-garlic paste
3-4 tsp pav bhaji masala
2 tsp Kashmiri red chilli powder
2 tsp cumin seeds
Salt to taste
Coriander leaves, lime wedge, salted butter and finely chopped onion for garnish.
Heat a wide skillet/tawa or a wok, add the butter, cumin seeds and let it sputter. The rest of the dish is cooked on a high flame. Add the ginger-garlic paste, onions and let it cook for a minute or two. Add the tomatoes and Pav Bhaji masala and Kashmiri red chilli powder. Cook until the tomatoes turn pulpy. Toss in the vegetables, and cook until the vegetables are coated, constantly mixing to prevent the them from burning. Add the rice and toss everything until well mixed. Add the coriander leaves, extra butter, toss again. Serve warm with chopped onion and lime wedges.