As an attempt at a revisionist account of my mother’s cooking (perhaps one day I will be able to discuss cooking without simultaneously discussing my mother, but this is not that day), today, with some friends, I decided to try to incorporate fresh veggies into bhajji pau. Traditionally, this is street vendor fare throughout India, a mash-up of cauliflower, peas, potatoes and carrots, spiced with whatever masala that bhaiyya or his friends have cooked up, scooped up with whitebread that’s buttered and given a turn over the skillet. Mom uses frozen peas/carrots and frozen cauliflower, mostly because a) she hates the taste of fresh peas, and b) it’s a pain to cut the cauliflower and shell the peas.

So, after hearing an program (it’s the Laura Shapiro bit) on the Leonard Lopate show about how the food industry used frozen foods as a way of keeping up market demand for mass-manufactured food after WWII, I decided to sub in fresh produce for instances in which I had mostly experienced them in frozen form, hoping to open up new avenues of goodness in what had been quite nice before.

Little, however, did I realize, that it would take more than just a line-substitution to realize actual, substantial difference in yumminess. It didn?t help that my friends and I were under a lunch-crunch, ‘coz we were slated to watch some old Wes Craven movies at the Brooklyn Academy of Music that evening. And as a further hindrance, the only thing that would stand a chance at really changing the taste on dish on it’s own, the green peas, weren’t in season (how am I supposed to know this?! In my world, all vegetables are always in season, I don’t know what planet I fell on today where they aren’t.) They were purchased frozen, at the super awesome Subzi Mandi in Jackson Heights, along with fresh versions of everything else.

The method whereby I realize the bhajji pau, in the style of my mother, goes about as follows:
Two things are to be started at approximately the same time; the pan and the pressure cooker. In the pan go oil, onions (chopped), garlic (shredded), peppers (minced, the hotter the better) turmeric, coriander and tomatoes (also chopped), whatever masala you’ve managed to procure (I get mine from some guy who works down the blocks from my grandparents, but MDH probably makes one) and salt, in that order, with a good interval between the adding of the turmeric and the tomatoes. Into pressure cooker go potatoes, cauliflower, carrots and green peas, all cut into kinda small pieces, with a little bit of water at the bottom. When the things in the pan are sufficiently cooked (indicated when the oil comes out, having taken on the color of the spices), turn it off, and use the time before the pressure cooker whistles to chop some fresh sweet/red onions, coriander, and to butter some bread. After the pressure cooker whistles, remove the pressure by means you feel appropriate and add the veggies to the onion/et al. Mush and cook with a little water, add salt or masala, or ground red pepper, whatever it needs. Serve with the bread (browned butter side down on the skillet), onions, coriander, and a bit of butter melted over the mashed veggies.

In retrospect, it makes complete sense why nothing was really different upon the inclusion of fresh cauliflower and carrots. Since they were pressure cooked to death along with everything else, you don’t get a chance to let them have much character on their own. In the future, along with the addition of good green peas, maybe the way to go is to steam the peas and carrots, while allowing the cauliflower and potatoes to become mush in the pressure cooker? I would add the former to the onions a good while after I’ve added the potatoes/cauliflower, and having decreased the total mushing, I might be able to up the heterogeneity. Just a thought.