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!

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

 

Processed with MOLDIV
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.

Khajoor ki Kheer (Dates Pudding)

Image-1
Khajoor ki Kheer or Dates Pudding

Recently, I hosted my grandmother-in-law along with my uncle-in-law and aunt-in-law for dinner. Like most elders in Indian families, they are all highly inspiring in the way they lead their lives. But it’s their discipline that i am most awed about.

While I have been truly blessed to have parents-in-law with a very modern outlook, it’s the grandma-in-law that’s the coolest with a mix of deep-rooted traditions and an open mind. She has been so generous in sharing her food wisdom when I was a novice! Grandma’s warm, inviting kitchen is the place where love and health are guaranteed.

Today’s recipe is not only dedicated to the grandma-in-law but also to the young-at-heart couple that accompanied her to my place for dinner. They have been married for close to three decades. After almost two decades of being a teacher at a school, the aunt suddenly decided to quit and study psychology. She went on to complete her doctorate in psychotherapy and is now a fairly successful hypnotherapist and psychotherapist. If this isn’t the epitome of companionship, I don’t know what is.

So, when they were at my place for dinner, I wanted to make something special yet healthy as all three of them are diabetics. My pantry is always stocked up with the highly nutritious khajoor (dates) so I came up with this quick and easy, diabetic-friendly khajoor kheer or dates pudding. I have not added sugar to this pudding as the natural sweetness of the dates suffices.

Khajoor ki Kheer (Dates Pudding)

Ingredients:

15 Dates, de-seeded
1 litre Milk
A handful of Tapioca pearls or sago pearls (optional), soaked for 4 hours in water and drained
Dried fruits like almonds, walnuts, raisins, cashew and pista for garnish
2 tbsp ghee

Method:

In a bowl, soak the dates in half a cup of warm milk and leave it aside for 15 minutes while you fry the dry fruits. In a pan, heat ghee and fry the sago pearls. Remove and fry the dry fruits. If you are using raisins, fry them in a separate batch as they tend to turn brown soon. In a blender, make a paste of the milk and dates mixture.  Boil the remaining milk and add the dates paste. Stir, mix and let it boil till it forms a thick, pudding like consistency.

Serve in pudding bowls and garnish with the dried fruits. You can serve it hot, cold or chilled.

 

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.

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shallot-red chilli chutney with Dosa

Processed with Moldiv
Processed with Moldiv

Dosa  is a staple food in southern India and a very popular dish across India. Each state of south India—Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka—have a different accompaniment that is eaten with dosa. Much like the accompaniment is different, the dish is pronounced differently in different regions of the country. While we Malayalis call it ‘dosha’, people in Tamil Nadu call it ‘dosai’, in Gujarat it’s called ‘dhonsa’ while in some north Indian states, it is called a ‘dosa’.

It’s basically a crepe made out of fermented batter from rice and black lentils (urad dal) and had as a breakfast in South India. Today’s post, however, is not on the dosa but on the accompaniments or the side dishes that dosas are usually eaten with in India. While Saambaar is an ideal accompaniment, there are various chutneys that are served along with the humble dosa. Among the most commonly served chutneys are coconut chutney (with green chillies or red chillies), onion chutney, onion-tomato chutney, tomato chutney, gunpowder (made with urad dal, chana dal, hing and curry leaves  with a generous pouring of coconut oil), red chilly-coconut oil chutney, etc.

The all-time favourite accompaniment that’s always served with dosa or idli is the simple and spicy raw shallot chutney, a recipe that I picked from my grandmother-in-law. A gem of a person, Ammumma—as we call her, is very inspiring in the way she lives her life. She has a solid determination, takes good care of her health, goes for regular walks, has no fear travelling alone to different cities and is strict when it comes to her diet. She is fond of traditional food and we can go on discussing food for hours together. Here, I am dedicating my post to our cool, modernly traditional, dear Ammumma.

Shallot-red chilli chutney with Dosa

Ingredients:

Shallots-8-10 nos

Red chilli powder-2 teaspoons

Coconut Oil-2 tablespoons

Water – 1 spoon

Salt to taste

Method: In a traditional mortar and pestle, crush the shallots. If you do not have a mortar and pestle, just use a stone or simply grate the shallots. DO NOT use a mixer to crush the shallots or it will take away the juices and the taste. Do not make a paste but crush enough to make it smooth. Add salt, red chilli and pour a spoonful of water