A homesick Puneite…that’s me!

It’s been long since I visited home. I’m from Pune and it’s simply the best place on earth. Its where I grew up, went to school, made my first friends…and the most memorable memories of my life! Pune today is very different from the little city I call home. Decades ago, Pune was a hill station, a little town nestled in the Sahyadri Hills, that attracted hot-shot crowd from Bombay (now Mumbai, but always ‘the city that never ever sleeps’)  to come and cool their heels. Rich in culture and filled with the mystical stories of the Peshwas and the exploits of Shivaji Maharaj, Pune was almost frozen in time. Then I went to college, got a new hair do and a new boyfriend and my little hometown got an attitude 😉 . You could dunk a beer at the ‘Black Cadillac’, shake a leg at ‘Ten Downing Street’, shop the brandz on Main Street and be cool at the Swiss Cheese Garden!

Today, going back home is a mixed bag. I love to go back to the places I know and love, and then stand and stare in awe at everything that’s brand-new. I look forward to meeting my family and friends, gorge on mom-made goodies (can’t afford to skip those!) and then get out, visit Pune… my Pune, the city I grew up in…..

Getting down to business.. top eating adventures in Pune;  butter chicken at Sarovar, methi mutter malai at Portico, the pav bhaji from Anand Juice Bar,  cheese pizza from local pizza joint – Supreme, cold coffee and chicken burgers from Marz-o-rin, and many more.

No more food-ostalgia! I’ve been cooking up all those delicious memories right here in my kitchen. Blast your taste buds with food from the past!

Pav Bhaji

(Spiced Tomato-based Vegetable Mash with Grilled Dinner Rolls)

Pav Bhaji is the most popular street food and fast food all over India. When I think of pav bhaji, I think of a very popular street side joint near my home in Pune, Anand Juice Bar a.k.a. at “AJuBa”. Their melt-in-the-mouth pav bhaji is hands down the best in town! As much as I would love to catch the next flight back and eat Ajuba’s pav bhaji, my kitchen is only a hop skip away. Over time, I have played with the ingredient proportions and perfected the art of pav bhaji making so that it smells and tastes  just like Ajuba’s.

In my recipe, I throw in the usual veggies sitting in the refrigerator or freezer like peas, carrots, green peppers along with the common denominators – cauliflower and potatoes (those are a must!) in a pot and boil them until they turn mushy (the pressure cooker does the job most efficiently). After mashing them all up, I toss them with tangy tomato-onion sauce spiced with the classic spice mix, the pav bhaji masala, that does gives the dish it’s magical flavor. After a few minutes of simmering, the hot and spicy bhaji is served on the side of generously buttered and grilled dinner roll-type of bread called the pav.

Pav Bhaji is a great meal in itself – hearty, healthy and family-friendly. Give my recipe a try and enjoy Ajuba style pav bhaji at home!

Serves 4-6

For the Bhaji

3-4 medium-sized potatoes (white or red), quartered

3-4 large cauliflower florets, washed

½ cup green peas (fresh or frozen)

2 small carrots, peeled and cut up in big chunks

1 small green pepper, cut up in big chunks

1 tbsp canola (or any other cooking) oil (I do not recommend olive oil)

1 tbsp salted butter (Amul Butter recommnded)

1 large or 2 medium red onions, minced with some reserved for garnishing

2-3 garlic cloves, smashed, peeled and minced

1-inch piece of ginger, peeled and minced

2 medium tomatoes, diced

½ cup tomato sauce/purée or 2-3 tbsp tomato paste

1 – 2 tsp red chilli powder or cayenne pepper

2 – 3 tbsp Pav Bhaji Masala (Everest brand recommended)

salt

For the Pav

2 packets of pav (9 pav each) available at the Indian stores or dinner rolls 2-3 per person

salted butter

For serving

lemon wedges

reserved minced red onion

a few springs of cilantro, minced

cold salted butter, cubed

Cover the potatoes, cauliflower, peas, carrots and green peppers with water in a pot with a lid and add some salt to it. Bring it to a boil and let it simmer till all the vegetables, especially the cauliflower and potatoes, are fully cooked (about 20 mins). Alternatively, you can cook the veggies in a pressure cooker.

When cool enough to handle, drain the excess water from the cooked veggies, reserving it for later and mash the veggies to a smooth consistency with a potato masher.

In a deep sauté pan, heat oil and butter over medium high heat and sauté onions along with ginger and garlic till they turn light brown in color. Add the diced tomatoes and the tomato sauce along with chilli powder and pav bhaji masala and continue sautéing for a few more mins over medium heat till oil separates out. Add a little bit of the reserved water, about 1/2 cup, and simmer for a few mins till the oil separates out again.

Add the mashed veggies to the pan and continue cooking, stirring till everything is well incorporated. Add some more of the reserved water, if the mixture is too thick. Season with salt and more chilli powder or pav bhaji masala, if needed. Continue simmering for 15-20 mins, stirring occasionally and adding more water if it starts to thicken too much.

While the bhaji simmers, make the pav. Heat a flat pan over medium heat. Slice the pav or dinner roll laterally and spread generous amount of butter on both sides. Grill the buttered bread over the flat pan till golden brown.

Serve grilled bread with steaming hot bhaji, garnished with a cube of butter, cilantro, minced onion and a lemon wedge.

Supreme’s Veg Pizza

Another joint that’s also popular for their pav bhaji is Supreme Corner on J.M. Rd, one of the busiest streets in Pune, lined with branded outlets on one side, the huge Sambhaji park on the other and all kinds of food joints (from fancy restaurants to street-side stalls and hole-in-the-wall eateries) in between, make it a bustling thoroughfare. While I’m not a big fan of their pav bhaji, their veggie pizza is a winner! Nothing beats the characteristic Indian spicy spin on  the world’s most popular food – a simple thin-crust pan pizza, topped with a hot & sweet tomato sauce, red onions, green peppers and loads of the Indian Amul cheese…. and that’s exactly how I made mine! And the first bite took me back to my favorite corner table at Supreme 🙂

Makes 1 medium 12″ pizza

1-2 tbsp cooking oil, canola, corn or vegetable (I do not recommend olive oil)

1 small garlic clove, minced

½ inch ginger, peeled and minced

1 medium onion, minced

2 medium tomatoes, diced

½ cup tomato sauce or pureé

scant ¼ cup tomato ketchup

½ tsp cayenne pepper or red chilli powder

1 small green pepper, sliced

a few sprigs of cilantro, minced

salt

sugar (optional to adjust seasonings)

pizza crust, store-bought (like Boboli in the US or Empire Bakery in Pune) or make your own crust using store-bought or homemade pizza dough

a pack of Amul cheese, grated or any other shredded cheese

Heat oil over medium heat in a deep skillet or frying pan and add onions, ginger and garlic. Sauté for a min or so till fragrant and stir in the tomatoes.

Continue cooking for a couple of mins till the tomatoes and onions soften and then add the tomato sauce, ketchup and season with salt and cayenne pepper. Cook cover on medium low heat for 10 mins or so, stirring occasionally.

Stir in the green peppers, add a little water, if needed and adjust seasonings with salt, cayenne pepper and sugar to get a sweetish spicy topping sauce for the pizza. Stir in the cilantro and simmer for 3-5 mins, making sure the green pepper is cooked but still crunchy.

While the sauce cooks, prepare the pizza crust by baking it in the oven as per the directions. Remove the crust from the oven (leaving the oven on) and quickly assemble the pizza by spooning the prepared sauce over and covering it with a generous amount of the grated cheese. Pop it back in the oven for a few minutes till the topping heats up and the cheese melts a little (but not completely).

Remove the pizza from the oven and cut in to slices. Serve hot.

Marz-o-rin Chicken Burger

Well, technically these are chicken salad sandwiches but the Parsis on Main Street took it to a whole new level! At Marz-o-rin you’ll find a variety of vegetarian and non-vegetarian sandwiches and rolls in addition to their signature chicken (or the vegetarian cheese) burgers. Stuffed with heaping amounts of zesty chicken (or cheese) salad between a hamburger bun, these babies are bites of heaven! And to go with these, you gotto have a cup of cold coffee or bright pink rose milk.

This unique and humble cafe on Main Street has retained its characteristic charm throughout the years. This is one of those places I know that will always be the same. I hear their menu now has hot bakes, some new kinds of sandwiches and rolls but for me it’ll always be this burger…can’t wait to go back and grab a bite!

Makes 4 burgers

4 hamburger buns (I like to use the Sara Lee Whole Grain White)

For the Marz-o-rin Burger

1 boneless, skinless chicken breast

1 tbsp canola or olive oil

salt

black pepper

1/3 cup mayonaise (homemade or store-bought)

¼ cup Maggi Hot & Sweet Tomato Chilli Sauce (You can find it in any Indian grocery store. Alternatively, you can use ketchup and your favorite brand of hot sauce)

1 small red onion, minced

1 small green pepper, minced

a few sprigs of cilantro, minced

Brush the chicken breast with oil and sprinkle with salt and black pepper. Grill on indoor or outdoor grill or roast in the oven at 350 deg F for 35-40 mins. Let it rest for 15-20 mins, covered in aluminium foil.

When the chicken is cool, shred it by using two forks or by pulling small pieces with hands.

Whisk the mayo with the sauce and stir rest of the ingredients in a bowl. Season with salt and pepper and add the shredded chicken to it.

Mix well and spoon it over lower halves of the buns. Place the top halves and serve.

These chicken burgers can be refrigerated for 24 – 48 hours and are easily potable. Enjoy them at home or bring it for picnics and even to work for lunch. The a vegetarian version of this at Marz-o-rin has shredded cheddar cheese (Amul cheese) instead of chicken.



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6 thoughts on “food-ostalgia!

  1. Four thumbs up(2 from me & 2 from Neel)for the Marz-o-rin chicken burger. Loved the crunchy texture of bell peppers & onions. I’m really looking forward to making these again when my nephew is here in another week or so 🙂

  2. Vasanti, just looking at your pizza and burger pictures, takes me back to the “THEIR” taste…..yummy….

  3. Hi Vasanti. Your recipes are amazing. They are a hit with my family 🙂 I tried the chicken burger recipe and everybody including my 3 yrs old son loved it. Thanks for posting such a wonderful blog.

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