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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 Spiced 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 as kind of an open-faced sloppy joe. It’s like Indian street food, and it tastes delicious.

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

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.

What are the secrets?

Red lentils to start. When cooked down they 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!

To add to that, 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 🙂

Just 15 mins prep and 30 mins cook time, then you have a whole batch of pav bhaji ready to be served! I served it on a sprouted wheat burger bun for more protein and fiber, and to make it more like a veggie sloppy joe.

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. Just a few notes:

  • 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

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.

veggies steaming in a pan

Step 3: When they’re soft, mash the vegetables well, in the liquid. Stir in the cooked lentils.

veggies mashed in a large pan

Step 4: 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). .

onions and tomatoes sauteeing in a pan

Step 5: 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.

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!

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 it as a sandwich makes them naturally drawn to it and you may be able to get picky kids to dig in like crazy just because of this. 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. 

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 and those would all work well.

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!
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 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!
  • 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

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

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. That texture is essential to “hiding” them in this dish!
  • 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.
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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20 responses to “Pav Bhaji (or Indian Spiced Vegetarian Sloppy Joes)”

  1. Wow, awesome recipe, tastes like the original! Had to add more pav bhaji masala and a bit more garam masala to get that traditional bhaji flavor. Can’t even tell it doesn’t have all the potatoes.5 stars

    • Yay! Thank you so much Neeraj – I’m so glad you liked this recipe! Regarding the pav bhaji masala and garam masala – that makes sense because the “potency” of the spices really depends on the brand you use! So definitely adjust those two as needed! 🙂

  2. The flavours in this are divine! Full of flavour – our new family favourite vegetarian recipe! We will be making this again for sure!5 stars

  3. I’ve recently loved making Indian dishes and this healthy Pav Bhaji was amazing! Definitely a new favorite in my house! The flavors are wonderful and it’s the perfect weeknight dinner meal!5 stars

  4. Can’t wait to try this! I grew up eating pav bhaji but have never seen it with lentils – it’s such a great way to get protein into this amazing dish.

    • Yay! Thanks so much Sabrina! I’m sure you will LOVE this recipe when you try it — it’s one of our favorites. And you can’t even tell there are lentils added in once everything is cooked and the spices are added! It still tastes just like regular pav bhaji, but is so much healthier for you (and well rounded because of the protein!) Let me know how it turns out when you make it!

  5. I made this for dinner tonight and it was awesome! I ended up added more spices then you called for but otherwise followed the recipe exactly!
    I wasn’t sure how much water to add in for the vegetables so I just added enought to cover the bottom of the pan (prob 2/3 cup) then covered the pan to steam.

    • That’s so great Anna! I’d love to hear what modifications you made to the spices if you get a chance 🙂 So glad you liked this recipe!

      • Oh I didn’t really change them- just increased.l! Added about 2 tsp extra of the pav bhaji masala blend and lots of cayenne. I like my food very spicy!

  6. On the weekends, my boyfriend and I like to meal prep for the week so we always have quick and healthy lunches…this one almost didn’t make it to the weekdays – we ate it for EVERY meal that weekend – in an omelet for breakfast, on bread for lunch and dinner. Just the right amount of spice, amazing texture (we pulsed the mixture in a food processor), approximately 9 veggies in each serving, and my boyfriend likes it more than the more traditional unhealthier versions! We will DEFINITELY be making this again with all our garden veggies.

    • Woohooooo!!! That is awesome!! I’m so happy to hear that Ellen! 🙂 Sounds like you guys loved it as much as we did 🙂

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