Posted in Biryanis, Pilafs and Rice based Dishes, Recipes

Tava Pulao – the next best thing to PavBhaji!

Juhu Beach style Tava Pulao of my favourite ways to jazz up dinners without a fuss. It’s just rice tossed with Pavbhaji style wet spice base. It is rustled up on huge iron Tavas which are used to make Pavbhaji by the street side sellers usually from leftover spice base of Pavbhaji. Now, i don’t have a humongous tava that is as wide as my arms spread out wide, but a little Jugaad here and there and we can infuse that clanking of metal spatulas and the smell of Amul Butter, ginger garlic, finely chopped coriander and Pavbhaji masala bubbling up steadily on the Tava into our meals. I haven’t eaten it at Juhu Beach a lot, but I have seen several maestros aka Pavbhaji Walas at work and believe me, watching them work their magic is nothing short of a conductor at an opera. It’s not easy to keep up. The Turkish Salt Bae guy has got nothing on these Thelawalas when it comes to dexterity. A quick swipe lands a large chunk of butter on the tava. A shake of a sprinkler drizzles some beautiful red orange spice mix into the melting golden pool of butter. Another quick grab and sprinkle movement means a ladle full of puree ( precooked tomato paste, I am guessing ) is ready to tango with the spices and butter. A handful of veggies go in next ( I have added a lot more than capsicum and onion, which are staples. Feel free to throw in a few chunks of paneer though). Finally, the most difficult arm movement to master in my opinion, using that steel masher to bring together everything into the centre and making a homogeneous mix of spices and vegetables where each of them still has an presence but they are no longer merely ingredients. They are the elixer that is Pavbhaji now! Add a handful of rice and chopped coriander and Voila! That’s chef-d’oeuvre I call Tava Pulao! Do yourself a favour and don’t adulterate it with a mountain of cheese. Not that it is a crime. But don’t forget to pair it with Raita or Buttermilk.

The image is from my own instagram account and can be found here


For the Masala Base/Red Gravy:

  • 2 tbsp of oil, any neutral flavoured oil is fine, + 1 tsp of butter, ( I would gently suggest using a little more, an extra tsp or so, if you are okay with being indulgent occasionally, but do not skimp on this or use very little oil, it dries out the Pulao and the dish/end result feels more like Masala Rice than slightly more indulgent street food style fare ),
  • 8-10 fat cloves of garlic + 1/2 inch piece of ginger + 1/2tsp of Kashmiri Chilli powder + 1/4 tsp of Pavbhaji Masala ( you can add a little salt to soften it up faster ), pound to a fairly smooth paste,
  • 2 ripe tomatoes, ground to a smooth paste OR You can use about 100 ml ( half a tetra pack in India ) of store bought tomato purée instead,
  • 1/2 tsp of sugar ( completely optional , but it helps deepen the red colour of the tomato by faint caramelisation without adding a sweet taste),
  • Salt to taste,
  • 1 tbsp Kashmiri red chilli powder, ( use lesser as per preference or as much as you can tolerate heat, I use Kashmiri Chilli powder because it is milder ),
  • 1 tsp of Pavbhaji Masala ( NOTE: In case you are wondering why I am adding Pav Bhaji Masala and Chilli powder separately in two different places, I recommend this way – I don’t insist you do so too but I find adding this way makes a difference to the final flavour ),
  • 1/2 tsp of Amchoor powder ( if your tomatoes are sour enough, skip if using store bought purée ) OR juice of half a lemon, ( if using lemon, drizzle it at the end after assembling, not here while simmering the masala),
  • 3-4 tbsp of water, or a little more, as needed,
  • Chopped coriander leaves, a tbsp or two or as you like it.

For assembling the Pulao:

  • 2 measuring cups of cooked rice, ( I like to use long grain rice but it is not a must. Us any that you have at hand. Avoid using extremely short grained rice or a variety that you need sticky or mushy on cooking. You can even use leftover rice after refrigeration. Leaving rice in refrigerator for a while makes the grains separate and sturdy, they don’t turn to a mush when tossing. If using freshly cooked rice, make sure to cook it a little firm/al dente/just short of fully cooked for best results ),
  • 2 cups of vegetables, finely chopped, of your choice ( you can use onions, green red and yellow capsicum or bell peppers, cabbage, carrots, etc. If using thinly sliced babycorn, sweet corn kernels, green peas, thinly sliced green beans, etc make sure to blanch or steam them beforehand and set aside ),
  • 100 gms of paneer, soaked in warm water briefly and cut into 1 cm cubes, ( if you don’t like cubes, grate it coarsely. But I feel that grated paneer turns too mushy in hot Masala and blends with it. If using grated, added it at the very end, after adding in rice )
  • 1 tbsp of oil ( optional, I almost always skip, I don’t make the tempering again, I just mix in the veggies and rice into the prepared masala, as mentioned in the method below. However, if you are making the base in advance, feel free to warm it up in some hot oil before tossing together NOTE: I sometimes make this base in advance, in multiple portions. I use one or more portions to make Pav bhaji and save a portion or so for Tava Pulao next day or later. Saves both time and helps meal prep a little in advance ),
  • A light pinch of turmeric powder,
  • 1/4th tsp of Pav Bhaji Masala ( optional, but highly recommended ),
  • Salt, to taste ,( if and only if your rice doesn’t have salt added to it while cooking. If the rice is salted, then completely skip it here ),
  • Some butter to finish ( completely optional, this is for days when you are feeling indulgent ),
  • Finely chopped coriander or mint or spring onion, to garnish.


Making the gravy:

  1. Heat the oil in a pan. If you are making the Pulao immediately after making masala base, use a wide mouth, wok like pan with a large capacity , so that tossing the rice and vegetables is easier. If you are making several portions of masala base for later use ( read notes in ingredients section ) , then you can make this in your trusted sauce pan.
  2. Once the oil is warm, add the ginger garlic red chilli and Pav bhaji masala paste. Cook on low heat until the raw smell disappears. Don’t let it burn or brown too much.
  3. Add the ground tomatoes or tomato purée, along with salt and sugar. Cook on medium heat patiently until the tomato is no longer raw, deeper red in colour than what it looks in the beginning and the oil starts to separate.
  4. Now add the Kashmiri Chilli powder, Pav Bhaji Masala and Amchoor powder ( if using ). Mix well and cook briefly for a minute.
  5. If you are storing the masala base for later use, at this point, take it off the heat, let it cool down and refrigerate. If not, and you want to proceed immediately to assembling Tava Pulao, add 3-4 tbsp of water. Oil will immediately float to the top if you have patiently cooked the tomato and it is no longer raw. Eyeball the amount of water. It should make a slightly oily slurry ( something called Tari in Hindi ) to coat all the rice and vegetables. Not too much or the Pulao will be all soggy. Finally add the chopped coriander and proceed to assembling.

Assembling the Pulao:

  1. If you are using precooked and/or refrigerated masala base, heat it with a tbsp oil in a pan. If not, then in the same pan as the one used above to make Masala base, add the vegetables in the order of increasing cooking times. Add vegetables like carrots, cabbage, sliced and balanced baby corn, French beans, etc first, and easier to cook vegetables like, onion, capsicum and blanched peas and sweet corn kernels later. Cook them briefly the way you cook vegetables for fried rice one by one, but in the masala base. ( NOTE: as mentioned in the method for masala base, use a wide mouth, wok like pan with a large capacity , so that tossing the rice and vegetables together is easier. Also, I recommend using a steel or silicon spatula for mixing the rice and vegetables together, in folding motions. This will cause minimal breakage of rice grains and paneer cubes ).
  2. Just before adding the rice, add paneer cubes, coating them well with spice base.
  3. Add the turmeric powder, salt, and then add the rice. Turn the heat absolute low at this stage. Mix it will with the vegetables.
  4. Then thoroughly mixed, sprinkle the scant amount of Pav Bhaji masala on top and give it a light toss.
  5. To make it a little more indulgent and to give it a finishing touch of street side fare, add some butter and as it melts, turn the heat to high, and toast the rice grains in some extra fat for a short while. Depending on the fat content and how firm your rice grains are, the rice grains will acquire a shiny look and feel and will turn a little crispy and glossy.
  6. Don’t let it cook further after it is glossy, barely takes a minute or so, take it off the heat, and finish with finely chopped coriander or mint or spring onion as garnish. Add the Lemon juice here, if using. Serving with raita on the side or a tall tumbler of buttermilk!

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