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Hello! I’m Anjali. I’m a board certified health coach, author, wife, mom and food lover from the SF Bay area (now living in Seattle, WA!); with a passion for delicious food and a desire to make healthy eating easy, tasty and fun! Learn more about me here and stay for a while!

Anjali Shah

Pav Bhaji (or Indian Vegetarian Sloppy Joes)

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This Pav Bhaji is the perfect Indian inspired street food, but it has a healthy and nutritional twist that is insanely good. Munching on this Indian spiced vegetarian sloppy joe style sandwich will keep the entire family happy and makes for an easy dinner idea. 

Pav Bhaji (or Indian Spiced Vegetarian Sloppy Joes) served on a wooden cutting board with a wheat bun

Ever since I was a kid, “Pav Bhaji” was pure comfort food for me. Typically, it’s a mix of mostly potatoes, a few peas/carrots, and Indian spices served on a warm, toasted, buttered, fluffy white bun. It’s kind of like an open-faced sloppy joe. Pav bhaji is a popular kind of Indian street food, and it tastes delicious anywhere.

If you like the warm flavors of vegetable curry, pav bhaji is definitely for you!

While I do love the traditional version, it’s not the healthiest thing to eat on a regular basis. 

Traditional pav bhaji is basically refined carbs, regular carbs, and then more carbs, with a little bit of fat from the butter and cooking oil thrown in. There’s very little fiber and virtually no protein in the original so it doesn’t work as a filling meal. 

But it tastes SO good!

That’s why I decided to try my hand at making a healthier version that’s just as tasty. For this version, I wanted to add more protein and a wider variety of vegetables to really pack in the nutrients. 

That way you can still enjoy pav bhaji at home, but without the guilt of the original street food.

Latest Recipe Video!

These vegetarian sloppy joes – or Pav Bhaji – look pretty similar to the traditional version, and taste the same, but have TONS of secret healthy add-ins that will keep you full, happy, and satisfied for hours.

Not to mention the bright flavors and sandwich presentation make this pav bhaji a huge hit with kids.

What are the secrets?

Red lentils are my first secret ingredient. When cooked down, red lentils become totally mushy and soft, and take on the flavor of anything they’re cooked with. Those little gems bring protein and fiber to the recipe and you won’t even notice them in the dish!

Plus, red lentils are pretty easy to cook. Unlike yellow split peas, they’ll be fully cooked in just 30 minutes (and even less time in the Instant Pot), so you don’t need any special equipment or advanced techniques. 

Of course, a little extra protein and fiber isn’t enough to make this pav bhaji healthy. So, I dumped in a bunch of veggies: cauliflower, zucchini, and mixed vegetables, in order to cut the potato-to-other-veggies-in-the-dish-ratio way down. There are still potatoes, just not as many as the traditional recipe would call for. And of course, all of the warm, aromatic Indian spices that you’d see in any self-respecting pav bhaji. 🙂

Cutting the potatoes and adding other vegetables helps this recipe a few ways. The big benefit though is simple: potatoes are really easy for your body to turn into glucose, which means they aren’t great for anyone trying to control their blood sugar or get long-lasting energy. 

Just 15 mins prep and 30 mins cook time, then you have a whole batch of pav bhaji ready to be served! 

I serve mine on a sprouted wheat burger bun for more protein and fiber, and to make it more like a veggie sloppy joe. The strong flavors of this healthy pav bhaji work with a lot of breads though, so feel free to experiment with your favorite buns. 

The result? An absolutely amazing, spicy, filling and fun dinner, that my whole family loved!

Recipe Ingredients and Notes

ingredients for pav bhaji

Most of the ingredients in this recipe are pretty straight forward. With the possible exception of some of the spices, you should be able to get all these vegetables at any local grocery store. 

When you’re shopping for ingredients, try to pick the freshest, ripest vegetables available. A lot of the flavor comes from the spices, but ripe vegetables will contribute more to the finished meal. Plus, the varied textures of ripe vegetables really helps elevate this healthy version of pav bhaji. 

  • Lentils: I recommend using red lentils. They cook the fastest and turn into a mashed-potatoes-type consistency, which is exactly what you want with this recipe.
  • Pav Bhaji Masala: I recommend this brand – it has the best balance of spices out of all of the pav bhaji masalas I’ve tried!
  • Potatoes: You can leave the skin on – it adds more fiber and texture to this dish.
  • Burger Buns: I recommend sprouted wheat burger buns for even more protein and fiber, or whole wheat burger buns would work well too.

Tools and Equipment You’ll Need

Pretty simple right? Pav bhaji might taste like it was made in a restaurant, but this recipe doesn’t need a lot of high tech equipment or special skills. If you’ve ever made an Indian-style curry before, you can make pav bhaji.

Step by Step Instructions

Step 1: Put the red lentils and water in a pot and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer until the lentils are softened, about 15 minutes.

lentils cooking on the stovetop

Step 2: Cook the cauliflower, mixed vegetables, zucchini and potatoes in water until soft. The goal is a kind of mash filling for the buns, so you’ll want to cook your vegetables slightly more than usual. 

veggies steaming in a pan

Step 3: When they’re soft, mash the vegetables well, in the liquid. Stir in the cooked lentils. The lentils should help thicken this mixture some, but not too much. 

Remember that you’ll still need to stir in the remaining vegetables and spice mix later.

veggies mashed in a large pan

Step 4: Heat olive oil in a large skillet or pot over medium heat. The oil should be just shimmering. One way to test if your oil is heated enough is to sprinkle a little water in the pan. If the olive oil is warm enough it will sizzle and pop slightly. Too warm and you might burn the vegetables, but cooler temperatures won’t caramelize the onions and garlic. 

Plus, this temperature will help bloom the spices for their best flavor in the next step!

Add the onions, ginger, garlic and tomatoes and cook until the onions have browned and the tomatoes start to break down (about 5-10 minutes).

onions and tomatoes sauteeing in a pan

Step 5: Stir in the turmeric, Pav Bhaji masala and garam masala, cook for 30 more seconds. The spices should be sweet, fragrant, and colorful. If the oil is a little too cool it might take a few seconds longer to bloom the spices.

Add the mashed vegetables/lentil mixture, salt, and cayenne pepper to taste (if using). Cook on low for about 20 minutes.

The extra cooking time will help all of the flavors blend and harmonize.

lentils combined with veggies and spices in a pan

Step 5: Serve with sprouted wheat burger buns, sloppy joe style!

Pav Bhaji (or Indian Spiced Vegetarian Sloppy Joes) served on a wooden cutting board with a wheat bun

What Makes This Pav Bhaji Healthy?

  • Antioxidants and Polyphenols: These intensely amazing vegetarian sloppy joes are actually packed with all sorts of antioxidants, which help with heart health and reducing inflammation in the body. Onions, lentils, tomatoes, cauliflower, zucchini, and even potatoes are filled with antioxidants. 
  • Fiber and Plant Protein: Each serving of this recipe (1/10th of the pav bhaji mixture + 1 burger bun) will give you almost 18 grams of fiber and a little over 18 grams of plant-protein!
  • Vitamins and Minerals: This dish is packed with nutrients in each bite. Vitamin C, Vitamin B6, magnesium, potassium, calcium, iron, and more!
  • Rainbow of Colors: One simple way to make sure you’re getting a variety of nutrients is to eat vegetables that are a wide variety of colors. This recipe has that covered! Especially if you use red onion or purple cauliflower for an extra boost.

Will Kids Enjoy This Pav Bhaji Recipe?

Yes, kids are going to love all the textures and flavors in this pav bhaji recipe. Because of the way that the pav bhaji is prepared they aren’t even going to notice that it happens to be packed with tons of healthy stuff. Serving pav bhaji as a sandwich makes them naturally drawn to it. You may be able to get picky kids to dig in like crazy just because it looks so much like sloppy joes.

If you do run into a kiddo that refuses, just give them a small amount and work up that amount each time you serve it. Once they get accustomed to the flavors and textures, odds are they are going to love it.

I also really love the satisfying texture of little pieces of cauliflower in this recipe. Cauliflower is very filling, and it mimics the ground meat texture of sloppy joes pretty well. That means your family might not even realize this dish is vegetarian if you don’t tell them first!

Pav Bhaji (or Indian Spiced Vegetarian Sloppy Joes) served on a wooden cutting board with a wheat bun

Recipe FAQs

What is Pav Bhaji?

Pav bhaji is made up of two parts:
1) Pav: This is basically bread. In India, they use eggless, white flour dinner rolls – but you can use any dinner rolls or burger buns you like. I recommend sprouted wheat or whole wheat for added fiber – you can even serve it with sliced bread if you like!
2) Bhaji: This means “spiced vegetables.” The most common veggies used are potatoes, peas and carrots. This recipe adds in cauliflower, zucchini, and lentils. But you could add in butternut squash, other squashes, bell peppers or even sweet potatoes.The flavor of all those vegetables would work well with pav bhaji spices, so they can be good substitutes if anyone in your family doesn’t like some of the other vegetables I’ve included. 

Just remember that you want a good balance of different colors, textures, and types of vegetables to get the full benefit of this healthier pav bhaji.

How Do You Store and Freeze Pav Bhaji?

To Store In the Fridge: Make sure the pav bhaji has cooled down completely, then transfer it to an airtight container. Don’t make the sandwiches before storing – store the pav (the burger buns) and the bhaji (the mashed veggie/lentil filling) separately. It will last up to 4 days in the fridge.
I have found that the longer the pav bhaji sits, the more flavorful it becomes. Those spices get a chance to marry together beautifully and give you an even larger explosion of flavor!
You might even want to make your pav bhaji filling a day ahead of eating it. That way the spices will be even more impressive and well-blended.
To Freeze:
Similar to storing in the fridge, the key is to freeze the buns and the filling separately. Always give the leftovers plenty of time to cool. Then place them in an airtight container. Once frozen, it will last 3 months in the freezer.
To Reheat:
You can place the bhaji in a pot and warm it on the stove, or heat it in the microwave. Warm your buns in the toaster oven or regular oven before serving.

How Do You Serve Pav Bhaji?

Serve pav bhaji hot, with warm burger buns or rolls. For a bit of decadence, you can spread some butter or ghee on the dinner rolls before serving. You can also top your pav bhaji with chopped cilantro, diced red onions, crushed cashews, diced tomatoes, or a bit of lime juice for added flavor.

Can I Make Pav Bhaji Without Sprouted Wheat Burger Buns?

Yes, you can absolutely make pav bhaji without the sprouted wheat burger buns. That’s not a problem at all. Simply add it to a bowl or plate and dig in with a fork or dip your favorite bread into it.

Top Tips for Making Pav Bhaji

  • Cook the red lentils until they are completely softened so they blend with the potatoes well and absorb all of the spices. That texture is essential to “hiding” them in this dish! You can even add some additional spice mixture to the lentils for a little extra kick.
  • While some people serve pav bhaji in more of a pureed form, I like to retain a bit of texture in the dish. So I recommend using a potato masher or a fork, versus an immersion blender or regular blender. You want the veggies to break down pretty well so they absorb all of the flavor of the spices, but you don’t want a paste-like-texture.
  • You can switch up the veggies if you like! Butternut squash, sweet potatoes, other squashes, bell peppers, would all work well in this recipe.
  • Top your pav bhaji with chopped cilantro, diced red onions, crushed cashews, diced tomatoes, or a bit of lemon or lime juice for added flavor.
  • To make this gluten free, just use a gluten free bun. It’s already vegan friendly!
  • To make this spicer, add more pav bhaji masala, cayenne pepper, or crushed red pepper.
  • To make this in the instant pot, just add all of the ingredients + 2 cups of water to the instant pot and pressure cook on high pressure for 15 minutes, natural release. When cooking in the instant pot, to avoid the “burn” error, and add the water first, then the rest of the ingredients (do not stir), and then close the lid.
Pav Bhaji (or Indian Spiced Vegetarian Sloppy Joes) served on a wooden cutting board with a wheat bun

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Pav Bhaji (or Indian Spiced Vegetarian Sloppy Joes) served on a wooden cutting board with a wheat bun
Print Recipe
5 from 6 votes

Pav Bhaji (or Indian Spiced Vegetarian Sloppy Joes)

This Pav Bhaji is the perfect Indian inspired street food, but it has a healthy and nutritional twist that is insanely good. Munching on this Indian spiced vegetarian sloppy joe style sandwich will keep the entire family happy and makes for an easy dinner idea. 
Prep Time15 mins
Cook Time30 mins
Total Time45 mins
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: Indian, Vegan
Servings: 10 servings
Calories: 340kcal
Author: Anjali Shah

Ingredients

  • 1 tsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 cup red lentils
  • 16 oz bag frozen cauliflower
  • 10 oz bag frozen mixed vegetables peas, carrots, green beans, corn
  • 3 zucchini diced
  • 3 tomatoes diced
  • 1 red onion diced
  • 3 red potatoes diced
  • 2 tbsp ginger
  • 1 tbsp garlic
  • 1/4 tsp ground turmeric
  • 3.5 tsp Pav Bhaji masala
  • 1 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp garam masala
  • 1/8-1/4 tsp cayenne pepper to taste if needed

Instructions

  • Put the red lentils and water in a pot and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer until the lentils are softened, about 15 minutes.
  • Cook the cauliflower, mixed vegetables, zucchini and potatoes in water until soft. When they’re soft, mash the vegetables well, in the liquid. Stir in the cooked lentils.
  • Heat olive oil in a large skillet or pot over medium heat. Add the onions, ginger, garlic and tomatoes and cook until the onions have browned and the tomatoes start to break down (about 5-10 minutes)
  • Stir in the turmeric, Pav Bhaji masala and garam masala, cook for 30 more seconds.
  • Add the mashed vegetables/lentil mixture, salt, and cayenne pepper to taste (if using). Cook on low for about 20 minutes.
  • Serve with sprouted wheat burger buns, sloppy joe style!

Video

https://youtu.be/yhQpBnQcrA4

Notes

Top Tips for Making Pav Bhaji
  • Cook the red lentils until they are completely softened so they blend with the potatoes well and absorb all of the spices. To increase the protein in this dish, double the amount of lentils (note: you’ll also have to add more spices to taste to account for the increase in lentils)
  • Use a potato masher or a fork to get this pav bhaji into a chunky consistency. Do not blend it into a puree! 
  • Feel free to switch up the veggies with anything you have on hand in your fridge! 
  • Top your pav bhaji with chopped cilantro, diced red onions, crushed cashews, diced tomatoes, or a bit of lemon or lime juice for added flavor.
  • To make this gluten free, use a gluten free bun.  
  • To make this spicer, add more pav bhaji masala, cayenne pepper, or crushed red pepper.
  • To store, place the pav bhaji in an airtight container and put it in the fridge. It will keep for up to 4 days in the fridge. This recipe is also freezer friendly, and will keep in the freezer (stored in an airtight, freezer safe container) for up to 3 months.
  • To make this in the instant pot, just add all of the ingredients + 2 cups of water to the instant pot and pressure cook on high pressure for 15 minutes, natural release. When cooking in the instant pot, to avoid the “burn” error, and add the water first, then the rest of the ingredients (do not stir), and then close the lid.
This recipe makes 10 servings. 1 serving = 1/10th of the mixture + 1 sprouted wheat burger bun.

Nutrition

Calories: 340kcal | Carbohydrates: 66.2g | Protein: 18.8g | Fat: 2.7g | Saturated Fat: 0.2g | Sodium: 496.2mg | Fiber: 17.9g | Sugar: 1.7g

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