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

By Pratiksha Thanki (

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:


  • 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


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.



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.



Special Prawn Curry

It was my li’l brother Chin2’s birthday last Saturday 🙂

Cant believe how we have matured from tearing each other’s hair up to becoming the best of friends.  I can’t remember a single conversation we had as kids, may be ‘coz there were hardly any as we spent most of the time irritating the hell out of each other :-p well, one thing that is common then and now is that we share every secret with each other…there were times when he would threaten me with telling dad about  my latest crush if I didn’t do as he wished.  Lol! These days, it is more about who tells our parents first about what’s happening in our lives.

Well, as Chin2 is in Melbourne since 2007 but we are only geographically apart 🙂

Looking back at those days, I think I was somewhat of a Hitler, at least that’s what his friends thought about me…it was only 2 years ago during a dinner at my place with Chin2 and his friends that I realized what fun they were. I missed out on a lot of wonderful moments because I chose to be bossy to the poor kids.

So, this is my way of making up. Am dedicating my special recipe of prawn curry to the most amazing, fun, witty, charming brother in this world and his set of coolest friends 🙂

I made this curry during Chin2’s visit to India in 2010 and he just loved this dish. In fact, other friends of his who visited from Melbourne later kept asking me to make this for them. So, here goes the recipe, specially dedicated to Chin2 on his birthday! Have a super-duper, beautiful year ahead, bro! :-*


Special Prawn Curry

What can i say, it’s as special as my bro…sweet, tangy with that tinge of spice


250 gms prawns, deveined and cleaned

250 ml coconut milk

a small piece of jaggery

Salt to taste


A small ball of tamarind extracted

Mango, if it is available or just two spoons of sugar

Coriander leaves for garnish

To be dry roasted
1 onion

4 kashmiri red chillies

1 tbsp cumin seeds

1 tbsp coriander seeds

1 tbsp fennel seeds

10 black peppercorns

A piece of ginger

1 tbsp turmeric powder

For tempering:

1 tbsp oil

2 dry red chillies


Soak the tamarind in two teaspoons of water and keep aside. Put the roasted mixture in a blender along with the tamarind paste. Blend it into a thick paste consistency.

In a pan, heat a tablespoon of oil and add the ground paste. Cook on a low flame till it turns brown. At this stage, you can add two or three pieces of mango (or sugar), a ball of jaggery and cook for three minutes. Add salt, cover and cook till the gravy thickens.

Add the prawns, salt, coconut milk and simmer for a few minutes. Make sure you do not stir a lot or the prawns may break.

For the tempering, heat two teaspoons of oil and add the ingredients for tempering.  Add this to the prawn curry.

Garnish with coriander leaves and serve hot with steamed rice. Tastes delicious even without the mangoes and the tamarind 🙂