How I met the Panzanella Salad (with recipe of course)

By Pratiksha Thanki (https://pratikshathanki.wordpress.com/)

So you are in Lucca, a small Italian town near the Ligurian coast, thinking of Luca Brasi from The Godfather and how amazing it is that you have managed to come to this town where you had no idea you will end up until the hotel was booked. There is no reason why you should be there, and that’s the best part of it.

There is a Puccini concert at 6 PM at the church. You reach there at 6:05, and the tickets are still available. Half your friends are not keen on it. You could listen to Puccini any old time on one of those free classic radios you play on the internet. But you will get to breathe the outside Lucca-air only for a few hours, till you leave in the morning that is. This is just a stop on the way after all.

So you are outside on the square where the locals are celebrating some festival since two days. You are at the tail end of it. Three different tents are preparing food, but they are not selling it yet. You don’t understand it at first. You look around, there are signs that a rock concert had just finished before you arrived. Long haired men are winding up on a stage, looking cool and formidable at the same time. There is a sports corner with a tent full of sporting equipment. Kids are playing badminton.

And suddenly people start filling up the square. They line up in front of those three carnival food tents. You line up too. Your friends split up to go check out other tents. You decide to meet at a bench under a tree. You reach the counter, and you realize the food is free. Why? Because it is a state-sponsored food festival. You feel awkward accepting free food, but carry on with your pack anyway. And take it to the bench. Friends have their own loot. There is a baguette sandwich with prosciutto. There is a pasta pack, obviously.

And then there is a salad in your pack. You start on it with your plastic fork. One bite, hmmm. Second bite, this is Delicious. Third bite, hey there are big chunks of bread in it. Bread soaking with olive oil, vinegar, Italian herbs and something else, you guess it must be that Lucca-air you were so fascinated with. There were some shallot pieces, peppers, basil, tomatoes, olives, chunks of feta cheese and something else, that surprise that bread can be turned into something so satisfying and intriguing at the same time.

You have to get home, google Lucca Bread Salad and find out it is called a Panzanella Salad. You keep making it weekly till you get tired of it. Then you feel like sharing it with your friends. And you find a way to do it. There you go:

Panzanella Salad Recipe:

Ingredients:Ingredients.jpg

  • A hunk of bread, chopped into cubes (preferably a ciabatta, baguette or any whole wheat bread will do)
  • 2 big tomatoes
  • 1 red onion
  • 1 cup chopped peppers (green, yellow, red, orange, any colour you get or all of them)
  • ½ cup cheese of your choice (preferably feta cheese or Parmesan)
  • salt, pepper, oregano flakes to taste
  • A chopped fruit (a peach, an apple, a plum, anything that can be cubed in the same size as the bread, peppers, tomatoes and onions)
  • Generous amount of olive oil
  • 2-3 tablespoons of Balsamic vinegar or any fruity vinegar you can get your hands on
  • Freshly chopped basil leaves

Method:panzanella-salad

Chop everything preferably in the same size (this is a personal preference), though it can be in any shape or size. Throw in the vegetables, cheese and bread together in a big bowl, drizzle some olive oil on it and mix it well. Now add the salt, pepper, oregano, chopped basil any other Italian herbs or spices of your choice, add balsamic and more olive oil and mix it well. Put the bowl on the side to set for an hour, or just simply dig in right away if you can’t wait. It tastes better after things have settled in.

You can control the amount of oil used in the salad and skip the cheese and that makes it a very healthy thing that gives a good balance of carbs, proteins, vitamins and what not. It can also stay in the fridge for a day or two, you can make it ahead. But don’t keep it lying on a fridge shelf for longer than two days.

Then you think of the Lucca-air and think of how something so non-complicated can make you feel so fancy just because it is called Panzanella and you got hold of it in Lucca.

Enjoy!

Paneer Corn Masala

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Spice up the rainy season with this delicious Paneer dish
There is something about Paneer. This fresh cheese is common to households in South Asian countries. Also called the Indian cottage cheese, paneer is a rich source of protein for vegetarians.

A variety of dishes–from hearty, royal curries to light and refreshing salads–can be made using paneer. My lunch box on Mondays is all about paneer. In fact, cooking a rich paneer curry on Monday mornings has sort of become a tradition, for me. And since it’s monsoon in India, I decided to combine paneer with a monsoon favourite: corn to make a delicious Paneer Corn Masala Curry!

Paneer and corn together make a wonderful combination. The sweetness of the corn enriches the milky flavour of the paneer.

Paneer Corn Masala

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Paneer Corn Masala
Ingredients:
200 gm Paneer (homemade or store-bought)
100 gm sweet corn
Onions-2 large, sliced
Tomatoes-2 medium, chopped or sliced
Green chillies-2, slit
Ginger-Garlic paste-1 tbsp
Fennel seeds-1 tsp
Cumin seeds-1 tsp
Red chilli powder-1 tsp
Coriander powder-1 tsp
A pinch of turmeric
Garam Masala-1 tsp
Oil-2 tbsp
Ghee-2 tbsp
Fresh cream-2 tbsp
Coriander leaves to garnish
Salt to taste
Water – 1 cup

Method:

In a pan, add cumin and fennel seeds and let them splutter. Add onions, green chillies and ginger-garlic paste. Saute till the onions turn translucent. Add tomatoes and saute till they soften. Add a little water, cover and cook till oil separates. Keep aside to cool.

While the sauce mixture cools, cut paneer into cubes and shallow fry them in oil. Keep aside. Boil corn till soft, drain water and keep aside.

Once the ingredients for the sauce cools, blend it in a mixer till it is a thick, gravy-like consistency. Heat ghee in a pan, add this mixture to the pan with some water if the gravy is too thick. Add turmeric, red chilli powder and coriander powder. Let the masala cook. Add the paneer and corn and let it simmer. Add garam masala and switch off the stove. Add cream and coriander leaves for garnish. Enjoy hot with chappati, paratha, pulao or plain steamed rice.

Moraiyo idli: Steamed, savoury barnyard millet cakes

Yesterday was the birthday of the person who has given me #careergoals and #leadershipgoals. Mr Ajay Umat is the editor of Navgujarat Samay, a Gujarati newspaper from the Times Group. He is one of the few celebrated journalists in Gujarat.

He is an example of how being a gentleman never goes out of style. Most of my friends in the media admire Mr. Umat for his journalistic

skills or aspire to be like him someday.  It’s his interpersonal networking skills that make him such an endearing personality. But what sets him apart as a leader is his ability to keep his team happy. I know a lot of his team members but am yet to come across a single person who is unhappy with his boss. And that’s some achievement for a boss in a world where most work environments are toxic and most employees are unsatisfied with their jobs.

For someone who follows a restrained diet, Mr. Umat comes across as a person who loves to talk about food. And today’s Indian recipe is dedicated to him because I heard about some healthy ingredients from him, long back. In spite of being born in Gujarat, I had never heard about Moraiyo (barnyard millet) till Mr. Umat mentioned to me about it (Although, I don’t remember the context). Low in calorie, Moraiyo has a lot of health benefits and is generally eaten in India during fasts.

Moraiyo Idli 
Savoury, steamed cakes made from barnyard millet

 

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Moraiyo Idli

 

Ingredients:
1 cup Moraiyo, soaked for 2 hours
1 cup Water
1/2 cup Yogurt/Buttermilk
Salt to taste
1 tsp Baking powder

Method:

Grind the soaked moraiyo in a grinder with water to form a pancake batter-like consistency. Add baking powder, buttermilk and salt and leave it for 30 minutes to ferment. Pour the batter into a stove-top idli maker or a microwave idli maker and steam for 10 minutes. Serve with coconut chutney.

Note: These idlis may not be fluffy and white but they will definitely satisfy your idli cravings in a healthier way. They are diabetics-friendly and perfect as a Shraavan/Navratri fasting dish.

Kanji Payar: Ritualistic Rain Food

As rains beat down the parched earth last night, my city rejoiced with some ritualistic rain foods. In India, it’s amazing how one relates to rain food depending on the state or region they belong to.

For example, people in Gujarat start queuing up outside shops selling hot dalwadas at the first hint of rain. This crunchy deep-fried food is served with sliced onions and fried-salted green chillies along with a steaming cuppa masala chai.

If you are from the northern part of the country, I am sure the rains will make you crave for bhutta (corn on the cob) and spicy pakode.

Khichuri with Ilish Maach during monsoon have a special place in the heart of Bengalis while Keralites (at least the ones I know) wait for monsoon to make the humble and nutritious kanji-payar (rice porridge with moong dal).

Yes, you guessed it right. This post is about Kanji-Payar, which is like a warm hug during cold, rainy nights. But most of all, this post is about a dear friend of mine, a non-Keralite, who loves this comfort food of Keralites and can have it all around the year.

image1 (8)

Vinay Umarji, whom I met about eight years ago, has been like the kanji-payar in my life. Boring usually 😀 but an indispensable part of my life. He is the kanji payar that I need after I have had a series of wrong food choice.

He is quite goofy, like Mr. Bean but smart and highly intelligent. Of course there are things that I dislike about him but the good in him overpowers the irritating things about him. The most irritating thing about him is that he repeats everything you say! But one quality (among many) for which I have high regards for him is that he really doesn’t bother what people think or say about him. He is a perfectionist when it comes to work and no, he hasn’t paid me yet to say all these good things about him.

I had been wanting to dedicate a post to him for years now but the right moment came today: When I shared exciting news about my life with him and he had the same exciting news to share with me about his life! At first I thought he was just trying to irritate me by repeating what I said! Moving on to the recipe for kanji payar…

Kanji Payar

For kanji:

Wash one cup Kerala red rice and cook it in a pressure cooker with 4 cups of water for at least 4 whistles. Once done, season it with salt.

For payar:

image1 (9)Soak whole moong dal in water for at least 4 hours or overnight. In a pressure cooker, cook the dal with a pinch of turmeric and salt to taste. Blend one cup shredded coconut, a pinch of cumin, three shallots, four or five small garlic cloves and some water to  make a paste. Add this mixture to the boiled moong dal and cook till the first boil. Switch off the stove and add a tempering of mustard seeds, 2 split red chilly and curry leaves in coconut oil.

Enjoy the steaming bowl of kanji payar while you watch the rains.

 

 

Simple, healthy Upma

I’ll eat some breakfast and then change the world!

It took me a long time in life to realize the importance of a good breakfast. And after that realization, I have been really good with planning my breakfast well in advance. So this morning, i decided to have the traditional South Indian breakfast–Upma or Upmaav as we call it in Kerala. Really quick and easy to make, Upma not only fills your appetite but is also highly nutritious. Whenever I have had a discussion about Upma (yes, i discuss Upma like other people discuss global issues :D), the most common question has been of how to make it soft without making it sticky. The answer lies in the method of making it in the traditional way, which you will find in my recipe below.

breakfast quote Upma

Ingredients:
200 gms of Semolina: The hero of this dish, semolina or rava is a coarse flour made out of durum wheat
2 cups of Water
4-5 sliced Shallots or Madras Onion
2 slit Green Chillies
A small piece of ginger, chopped
Mustard seeds
1 tsp of urad dal (split, skinless black gram)
2 tbsp Coconut oil
Curry leaves
Half a cup of shredded coconut for garnish
Salt to taste

Processed with MOLDIV
Upma served in a coconut shell

Method:

Roast the semolina in a non stick pan, making sure that it doesn’t turn brown. Keep aside.
In a pan, heat the oil, add mustard seeds and let it splutter. Add urad dal and saute till they turn golden. Then add the sliced shallots, chopped ginger, curry leaves, green chillies and saute till the shallots turn translucent. Add water and salt. Now, the consistency of your upma will depend on how much water you add. Generally, the proportion of water is the same as that of semolina. So, if you are using one cup of semolina, then add one cup of water and so on.

Once the water boils, add the semolina slowly while stirring continuously with the other hand. Cover and cook for 5 minutes or till the water absorbs the semolina. Once cooked, add shredded coconut and stir the upma before you turn the stove off. Simple, isn’t it?

 

Until next year, sweetness!

The summer’s about to end in this part of India and many are trying to make the most of mangoes before the rains take away their favourite fruit.

I see neighbours hurriedly peeling raw mangoes to pickle them, colleagues rushing to the nearby cafe to taste mango cheesecakes and mango shakes and kids being coaxed (and sometimes playfully threatened) to finish their plate of mangoes before it rains on the lovely mango trees, thus rendering the mangoes tasteless. Sometimes I feel that mangoes are like a one-time leading actress in a Hindi movie who makes a “comeback”, rather keeps making comebacks after few intervals. I know people who rigidly refuse to touch a mango after it rains. Celebrated when at the peak and sidelined at the slightest hint of pour,  I wonder what poor little mangoes have to say about this.

There were some showers in my city last Sunday. And since then, the “mango talk” has come down drastically in my circle.  But all of a sudden, two days ago, a colleague mentioned that she had a tall glass of mango milkshake for breakfast and reminded me of how delicious a mango milkshake tastes! My way of giving a decent farewell to this delicious, golden fruit until next year!

Here is my super simple recipe of a Mango Milkshake! Enjoy!

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Mango Milkshake

Ingredients:
Two mangoes, peeled, cubed and frozen for 20 mins
Milk: 1 cup if you want a thick shake and 1.5 cups if thin
Sugar: 2 teaspoons
Ice (optional)

Blend all the ingredients. Serve in a tall glass. Enjoy whatever is left of the summers! 🙂

 

Celebrating love

February 14, 2016. Valentine’s Day.jam

Sure it was Valentine’s Day. But for me, it was a day to celebrate more than one occasion. It was a day that brought great news and I couldn’t feel more happy that it came on one of my favourite days of the year.

jamTo celebrate this Valentine’s and to express my love for food, I decided to make strawberry jam with a fresh batch of organic strawberries. The idea of the jam was totally inspired by Monica Gellar (needs no introduction), who is just as lovable as she is neurotic 😀 I was recently watching that episode where Monica breaks up with the droolworthy Richard and makes a ‘jam plan’. But it was when I was watching the jam-eating Joey (needs no introduction, again) that I began craving for jam.

And what better day than Valentine’s to make jam! The lovely red strawberries matched well with the beautiful red roses I got in the morning and the overall festive mood. strawberry

It’s a super quick recipe with just three ingredients—ripe strawberries, sugar and lemon juice. The night before you decide to make jam, just pour sugar over strawberries and leave them out of the fridge overnight. This helps the sugar dissolve better and also retain the bright red colour of the berries. I used brown sugar. The next morning, all I did was add a very small teaspoon of lemon juice, mash the berries a little and put it on stove to reduce. Stirred occasionally for 10 minutes and once the berries and sugar had dissolved and I saw a thick consistency, I took it off heat, let it cool and filled it up in a little bottle.

 

It’s Monday, honey!

 

Serving of toast with butter and marmalade
Sliced white toast with butter and honey with ginger-lemon on the side 

I like my new Monday mornings! I am sure I can never fall in love with Monday after my decade-old relationship with Sunday but it’s getting better.

So, this Monday morning there was no rush to be at the office early and I had a little time to experiment with my breakfast. And here’s what I made: Lemon-Ginger-Honey syrup with Buttered Toast.

My breakfast usually is a buttered toast with honey and a fruit/milk. Today, I added a twist to honey and came up with this recipe. And the twist was to lemon zest and lemon juice along with a small piece of shredded ginger added into a bowl of organic honey.

Dear Monday,

You may be thinking that if I worked a little harder on this recipe, it could have been a Marmalade but our friendship is new so just be happy with this post.

Yours truly

 

 

World’s largest potluck party!

Foodaholics In Ahmedabad is attempting to break the Guinness World Records for the Largest Potluck Party on Sunday, December 20, 2015.

potluck

So, if you are in Ahmedabad and are a foodie, you just cannot miss this awesome event.

‘Foodaholics in Ahmedabad’ (FiA) is a Facebook community, founded by Rohan bhatt & Esha Shah. The group hosts 33,000 active members who indulge in discussions, suggestions, exhibitions and debates pertaining to food both, virtually and during various food events conducted by the group. The group helps glorify food as a culture, recipe and knowledge amidst like-minded people. Lot of the members recommend and refer numerous food joints as well as share experiences.

Registration for the event is really simple and can be found on the FiA page on Facebook. The best part about this ‘participant-only’ event is that each registered participant has to take six portions only, of food which is made or store-bought. The food can be anything—from dry snacks to mocktails and from chai-tea to complicated dishes—all your choice!

I will be making these coconut laddoos! YLHF3889

Hope to see you at this record-breaking event this Sunday morning 🙂

 

 

Welcoming winter

hellowinterIt’s that time of the year, again! Winter is slowly setting in and there is plenty of winter produce available already in my city. Bright, green leafy vegetables, colourful fruits and fresh herbs. Winter is also the time when my city, Ahmedabad, hosts many food and music festivals.

Winter is the best season to gorge on a variety of Indian delicacies, which also hold nutritional properties. From undhiyu paired with hot puri to sarson-da-saag paired with makki-di-roti, from hot rasam to sweet gajar-ka-halwa, from bajra-methi theplas with homemade white butter to the spicy thotha paired with bread. Winter is also the time when a variety of delicious side dishes come out of the kitchen. Among the most popular ones are aathela amba haldar (pickled yellow turmeric), green garlic chutney, sliced radishes, garlic-chilli chutney, white butter, mint chutney, roasted or fried green chillies, etc.

Winter is also the time for both clear or rich soups and salads because the produce is so fresh around this time of the year. So, last night, I made creamy roasted pumpkin soup and paired it with a very easy-to-make stir fried paneer and vegetables.

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Processed with Moldiv

Roasted Pumpkin Soup

Ingredients:
Pumpkin, sliced – 500 gm
Garlic – half-a-clove, peeled
Olive Oil – 2 tsp
Stock or Water
Cream/full fat milk – 3 tsp
Salt & Pepper

Method:
Heat oil and add sliced pumpkins with salt. Pot roast it till the sides catch a lovely golden brown colour. You can also roast it in the oven at 220 degrees for 30-35 minutes. Remove and pressure cook till two whistles. Keep aside till it cools down. In the same pan, roast garlic till it gets a light brown colour but should not burn.

In a blender, mix together roasted garlic and pumpkin and blend till it is of a creamy texture. Put the mixture back on the stove, add stock or water, according to the desired consistency. It should still be creamy. Before removing from the stove, add a pinch of pepper. Serve medium-hot, garnished with fresh cream or full fat milk.

Stir-fried Paneer and Vegetables

Ingredients:
Paneer (marinated with a pinch of salt, turmeric,
coriander-chilli powder) – 250 gm
Grated cabbage, carrot, spring onion and green garlic – 50 gm each
Soya sauce – 1 tsp
Green chilli sauce – 1 tsp
Ground Pepper
Olive oil – 1 tsp

Method:
In a pan, heat oil and saute the marinated paneer. Transfer into the serving bowl. In the same pan, add vegetables, stir fry for 1 minute and add the sauces and pepper. I do not add salt again as the sauces contain salt. Stir again. Add on top of the paneer, mix well and serve hot.