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.

Forming Food Friendships at Workplace

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Matar Paneer

Food can be great ice breakers!

I just completed three months of employment at my current workplace and when I look back at my last 10 years of being employed by different companies, I realize that food has been an integral part of how I connect with my colleagues.

Most of my wonderful friendships at work can be attributed to food. When it comes to forming new food friendships, my new workplace is no different.  I have bonded over my new friends at work over food. So much, that one of my senior colleagues keeps wondering aloud how my group of work buddies can talk about food all day! 😀

I firmly believe that colleagues who eat together, work better together. Harvard Business Review’s December 2015 issue focused on the aspect of team building in the cafeteria. It basically talks about how corporations plan expensive outings to encourage teamwork. But a better way to do that now, according to research by Cornell University is deceptively simple: Encourage teams to eat together.

For me, knowing that there is an interesting dish waiting in my tiffin (or of one of my colleagues’), brings an unexplainable excitement to work till lunch. That doesn’t mean I don’t feel like working post-lunch. Because then there is a delicious snack waiting for later! And I have managed to convert some of my colleagues into “Good Morning! What have you brought for lunch?” kind of conversationalists.

While we don’t need the weather to behave in a particular way so that we can talk about food, the rain somehow makes it an even better time to talk about food. This particular post is about my favourite combination during winter and monsoon: paneer (cottage cheese) and matar (peas).

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What’s in your lunch box?

Matar Paneer

Ingredients:

250 gm cubed paneer, fried till firm and light brown
1 cup green peas, boiled till a little mushy but retaining its bright colour
Paste of 2 onions
2 tomatoes boiled and pureed
1 tsp each of chopped ginger, garlic and green chillies
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 bay leaf
1 tsp powdered red chilli
1 tsp turmeric
2 tsp coriander seeds powder
1 tsp garam masala
2 tsp ghee (clarified butter), oil or butter
Salt to taste
A pinch of asafoetida (optional)
One cup of water

Method:

Heat ghee and add cumin seeds and bay leaf. Add the onion paste and saute till the raw smell fades. Add ginger, garlic and green chillies and saute. Add tomato puree and all the powdered masalas, except garam masala. Stir fry till the fat separates.

Add peas and paneer along with water and salt. Bring to a boil and simmer till the gravy thickens. Add garam masala and switch off the stove a minute later. Serve hot with roti or rice.

 

 

 

 

Sun-dried Green Chilly

The simplest of things can bring the most happiness. When it comes to food, it’s the simple recipes that are sometimes the most extraordinary!

Today’s post is about one such simple recipe that elevates the most bland food to greatness. Sun-dried curd chilly, which has different names in Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh but similar recipes, is a delicacy that is served as a substitute for pickles in these states.

I find it hard to describe the delight when I bite into one of these fried chillies, accompanied by curd rice!

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Green chillies marinated in curd, dried in the sun and then deep-fried

Sun-dried  Curd Chilly

Ingredients:

250 gms green chillies (you can choose if you want them spicy or mild, according to your taste)

500 gms sour curd or yogurt

Salt to taste

Method:

Wash the chillies and wipe them individually. Spread them on a large plate or a paper and leave them to dry for a day. Once they have dried completely, slit each chilly from the stem to end. Keep the stem intact.

In a large bowl, add curd and salt. Marinate the chillies with this mixture and then leave them in the bowl overnight. The next day, spread the chillies onto a plate and leave them out in the sun till evening but keep the curd mixture in the fridge. The next day, add some of the curd mixture and leave the chillies out in the sun. Repeat this procedure on the third day. The chillies may take up to five days to dry completely. The dried chillies will take on a beautiful beige colour. Once done, store them in airtight containers.

To use the chilly as an accompaniment with meals, deep fry the required quantity till they turn nice, golden brown in colour. Enjoy the crunch with a simple meal of saambar rice or curd rice.

 

 

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.

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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.

 

 

Spicy, sour, sweet Prawn curry!

I love cooking prawns. And last Sunday was about a delicious prawn curry from my most-frequented vacation destination: GOA!

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My bowl of bliss!

The recipe I used is of NDTV’s Chef Aditya Bal. I have made this before during summers but this time it was special because I had just spoken to him a couple of weeks ago for a food related event that my company was hosting. I admire this chef because his recipes are healthy (he is a model-turned-chef) and easy to follow.

This particular Goan prawn curry has a very strange mix of ingredients. It is a combination of ripe mangoes, jaggery, tamarind and spices, making it a very interesting, sweet-sour-spicy affair!

Goan Prawns Ambot Tik with Kerala Rice and Pappadam

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Ambot (sour) and Tik (spicy) in Portuguese, this dish is traditionally made with fish by Goans. As I did not measure my ingredients, I am going to the recipe straightaway.

I cooked about 500 gms prawns with salt and turmeric in water till they were half done. Drained them. You can keep the stock for later, in case your gravy is too thick.

I roasted the following and made a paste out of it:
Cumin, fennel seeds, red and green chillies, black pepper and coriander seeds in 2 tbsp oil.

I fried this paste in 2 tbsp oil and then added soaked tamarind water (I prefer fish tamarind), a small piece of jaggery, a few cubes of ripe mango, one cup of coconut milk and prawns.

Then, I added some salt and let the gravy thicken. You can temper it with the usual mustard-red chillies-curry leaves, which I skipped.

 

 

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! 🙂

 

See food, eat food!

colourfulA friend of mine is on a ‘see food’ diet. She sees food and eats it.

This friend is tall and definitely not overweight. But she loves to go on silly fad diets and then when they don’t work out, she gets frustrated and goes on her ‘see food’ diet.
So, when she called to say that she’ll be over for dinner, I knew most conversations would ultimately end with her complaining about her imaginary weight gain.  I dragged myself to the kitchen, checked my refrigerator for a quick recipe and found some frozen prawns. Yes! Sea food!
Made a quick prawn cocktail and some broccoli soup to go with it. The recipe can be made in a healthy and an unhealthy way, depending on the dressing. I chose the cheese sauce dressing instead of the vinaigrette. Serves my friend right for fussing over food so much! 😉
Prawn Cocktail
300 gm Prawns (fresh or frozen) de-veined
Lemon Juice from a small lemon
Salt
Olive Oil
Half Cup Water
Pepper
Fresh Spinach Leaves
Bell Peppers, one red & yellow each
Mushrooms halved
Cheese sauce, according to taste
To soften the frozen prawns, I added half a cup of water with salt and brought it to a boil. Once the water dried up, I removed it from heat and drizzled olive oil, pepper and lemon juice over it.
To make the prawn cocktail, I sauteed the vegetables in a teaspoon of olive oil. I did not add salt as the cheese sauce has enough salt. Added the prawns and the cheese sauce and done!

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

 

 

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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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.