This updated recipe is a vegan, lentil-based version of Pav Bhaji, the vegetarian street food of Mumbai. It’s like an Indian sloppy Joe!
Think of it as the Indian version of sloppy Joes.
Pav Bhaji, the delicious street food of Mumbai, traditionally consists of a potato and vegetable curry (or bhaji) served on a bun (or pav). I’ve never had the pleasure of sampling Pav Bhaji in Mumbai, but I did cook up my own version last year, and it was immediately one of my favorite foods.
I got a craving for pav bhaji last week, but there was a little problem: I’ve been limiting my servings of starchy vegetables lately, and if I wanted to stick to my diet, I could either have the bread or the potatoes but not both.
So I decided to do a little revamp of the recipe and substitute quick-cooking masoor dal (red lentils) for the potatoes. I have to say that it was a huge success. I think I’ll be making dal bhaji from now on!
My husband and I ate this hot off the stove on whole wheat hamburger buns. The next day, we ate the leftovers cold, scooped up with triangles of pita bread.
Hot or cold, it makes a great dip for pitas or crackers. Serve it at your next party and it may be the most colorful dip your guests have ever seen, with its flecks of green and orange and red vegetables. And with all those vegetables and its 14 grams of fiber per serving, it will definitely be the healthiest!
Check out all my low-fat Indian recipes!
Update June 2020: I just remade this recipe and shot new photos and discovered a way to make it even easier: cauliflower rice. Actually, any packaged riced vegetable will work. I was out of cabbage and had too much zucchini, so I used 1 cup green beans, 1 1/2 cup zucchini, and 1 1/2 cup frozen riced cauliflower. It reduced the amount of time I spent chopping and mashing the vegetables. Give it a try!
Dal Bhaji (Curried Lentil and Vegetable Sandwiches)
- 1 cup masoor dal or moong dal or red lentils
- 3 cups water
- 1 cup each of each of these vegetables, finely diced: green beans, carrots, zucchini, cabbage
- 1/2 cup frozen green peas
- 1 large onion chopped finely
- 1 teaspoon ginger minced
- 1 teaspoon minced garlic
- 1 bell pepper finely chopped
- 2-3 teaspoons pav bhaji masala (spice mix available at Indian markets) (use less for less spicy bhaji)
- 1/2 teaspoon red chili powder or cayenne or to taste
- 1/4 teaspoon turmeric powder
- 3 roma tomatoes finely chopped
- salt to taste
- 1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
- Check the dal carefully for debris and rinse it well in a strainer. Put it and 3 cups water in a pot and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer until the dal is softened, about 15 minutes. Add more water if necessary to prevent it from drying out. Set aside when done.
- Cook the green beans, carrots, zucchini, and cabbage in water until soft. (I did this in the pressure cooker, with 1/2 cup of water at high pressure for 5 minutes.) When they’re soft, add the peas and mash the vegetables well, in the liquid.
- Heat a good non-stick wok or large pot. Add the onions and cook, adding a little water as necessary, until they begin to brown, about 4 minutes. Add the ginger, garlic, and bell peppers and cook for another 2 minutes.
- Stir in the pav bhaji masala, red chili powder, turmeric, and salt. Add the tomatoes, and cook until they start to break down, about 5 minutes. Add the dal and the mashed vegetables and salt to taste. Cook on low for about 20 minutes. Add lemon juice and serve on toasted buns, with pita bread, or as a dip.
Nutritional info is approximate.
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I hope you enjoy this remake of Pav Bhaji. If you’re a potato lover, be sure to try the original recipe.
AnonymousSeptember 12, 2009 at 2:44 pm
To those who wondered about substituting garam masala for the pav bhaji masala. I wouldn't recommend it! The two masalas are quite different — and garam masala isn't usually used in amounts over 1 teaspoon.
An Indian Cook
ChitraFebruary 21, 2011 at 5:05 pm
Simply great with no potato. I tried this recipe last Friday and turned out to be a hit. My whole family liked it. I liked the simplicity and no carb.
Thank you and looking forward for healthier food substitution recipe like this.
carblvrJune 14, 2018 at 10:28 am
Complex carbs FTW!
Brenda ExlineJune 15, 2011 at 9:35 am
What can you substitute, if anything for the masala. You read my mind I was thinking garam masala since I have some. Also my husband hates cabbage. What veggies could I substitute. Thanks!
SusanVJune 15, 2011 at 9:41 am
I would probably use curry powder over garam masala; to me that would be closer to the flavor of pav bhaji masala, but if garam masala is all you have, use it to taste. Instead of cabbage, you could use more of the other vegetables or substitute any vegetable your husband likes. Cauliflower would probably be best, but kale or other greens would also be good.
RitaJune 15, 2011 at 12:07 pm
This is almost exactly like a soup/stew I make with mung beans. It’s a bit more texturey because the mung beans won’t break down as fully as the lentils, but like this, it’s a riot of colour and I usually make twice what we’d normally eat for dinner because the flavours develop beautifully overnight.
Like yours, leftovers are just as good cold as heated. We stuff pitta, or eat with naan bread. Nyom nyom!
ShimmeringSeptember 14, 2011 at 1:41 pm
I have made pav bhaji the traditional way and never once thought of substituting dal. And after looking at your recipe, I made it with dal to make it more healthy. I didn’t replace the potato but the cauliflower, because I didn’t have any at home. It came out awesome. One other time I tried it with toor dal ( pigeon dal), and that turned out awesome too.
My personal suggestion would be not to replace the pav bhaji masala, it is a mix of some 16 or more different spices and it really makes all the difference.
Thanks for such and awesome recipe idea.
Sarah ClarkOctober 11, 2011 at 9:51 pm
We made this for dinner tonight, and it was a hit! I gave my younger two kids a taste of the dal bhaji as I cooked it and then had a hard time keeping them out of it before dinner. I did end up substituting garam masala, so it was obviously different in taste from this recipe, but it was still delicious. When I have a bit more time, I’ll track down a market where I can buy the right masala and see how it changes the taste. 🙂 Thanks for all of the wonderful recipes!
AnnaFebruary 17, 2012 at 10:50 pm
I made this tonight subbing in curry powder for the masala, adding more veggies and kale in the last couple minutes. Delish!
LisaJune 12, 2012 at 7:48 am
Sounds yummy! I might attempt to make my own pav bhaji masala at home, as I have most of the spices needed in my cupboards. You can find recipes for that by googling. Thanks for this!
Shiv mantraJune 18, 2016 at 5:48 am
I LOVE your blog and website so much. It’s a true inspiration. Thank you for doing what you do
RebeccaJuly 25, 2019 at 10:40 am
Can this be cooked in the Instant Pot, to minimize the number of pots to clean up? (I’m lazy, therefore a huge Instant Pot fan…)
Susan VoisinJuly 25, 2019 at 3:13 pm
You probably can. I would cook the veggies first. Then take them out of the Instant Pot and use it to cook the lentils (how long will depend on what kind you’re using split red lentils will only take about 5 minutes.) Only use 2 cups of water in the lentils. Then proceed with the recipe.
RebeccaNovember 14, 2022 at 10:25 am
I adore your dal bhaji recipe and make it almost every week. Fortunately I live in multicultural Toronto with several Indian groceries nearby, so can get pav bhaji masala easily. What I wonder is whether I can make it – from start to finish – in the Instant Pot? What adjustments would I have to make? Thanks, Susan –