The word "khana" in Indian Khana Made Easy means food. So come on, let's explore and cook some easy Indian food together including Gluten Free dishes.

August 9, 2020

You're Never Too Old to Enjoy Murukku!

Pretzels, potato chips, and Chex Mix are some examples of crunchy and fun snacks we all enjoy!

However, have you ever tried Indian snacks? Most Indian snacks are also gluten-free. Some examples are Murukku or Chakralu, Pappuchekkalu, Corn Flakes Mixture, and nutty pakoda


Whenever my relatives from India visit, they always bring these tasty and spicy snacks for us. It feels like Christmas but instead of presents, we receive snacks! 
I'm a big fan of edible presents any day! 

Murukku is a pretzel-like Indian snack. I love murukku because they are light and crunchy. Besides using gluten-free flours, you can also add ajwain seeds, whole cumin, or sesame into the mix. Every ingredient adds more flavor and taste to these snacks. 

Aren't you curious how we make this snack? Let's take a look:

Ingredients for the Dough:
3-1/2 cups rice flour
- 1 cup Roasted chana dal, finely powdered
- 1 tbsp Ajwain or Carom seeds
- 2 to 3 tsp chili powder
- 3 tbsp sesame seeds (optional)
- 2 pinches of Hing (Asafoetida)
- 5 tsp salt
- 3 tbsp Vegetable oil, lukewarm (to mix into the dough)
- Water (as needed to mix flours into a tight dough, not sticky or wet)

Utensils needed:
Kitchen Press (use the single star disc in the press)
Large mixing bowl
Frying pan
Mesh strainer

Ingredients for Frying:
- 2 to 3 cups Vegetable oil 

Procedure

1) Sieve together rice flour and chana dal powder into a large mixing bowl, and then add the dry ingredients as listed above. Mix well and adjust the salt and chili powder at this time by tasting a pinch of the mixture. 

2) Next, add the warm vegetable oil into the mixture and coat it well. Slowly, add water to the flour until it forms into a soft and tight lump, but it's not sticky. Keep the dough covered. 

3) Insert the single star disc into the kitchen press. Take a handful of dough, and form a log and insert it into the press cylinder and then close the cylinder with the screw-on cap. Make murukku in spiral design starting from the center and then circling and towards outward circle to the desired size on a greased plate or on wax paper. Cover all the spirals with a towel until you have made 10 to 15 or so to fry.  



4) Heat the oil for frying until you feel the heat when you place your palm at a safe height above the frying pan. Test the heat by dropping a small ball of dough into the oil. If the ball sizzles and surfaces to the top, then it is ready. Slowly insert approximately 10 murukkus (reduce the number based on your frying pan size) into the oil and fry them until golden brown by turning them over in between for uniform frying. Remove them from oil using a slotted ladle and put them into a mesh strainer for the oil to drain further. Later transfer into a container. 



5) Cool them for 10 to 15 minutes to attain the proper crunchiness to serve. Store them in a tight lid container after it is cooled for 1 hour. Makes approximately 30 to 40 murukkus. It is best to store this snack in a tight lid container and can be enjoyed for 15 to 20 days. 


I like stacking my murukku or chakralu as high as I can before I pop them into my mouth. How do you enjoy murukku? 


May 28, 2020

Reflections on Our Travel to the Motherland - A Bat Cave, Mini Taj and more

Last November, my husband and I traveled to Aurangabad to see the Ajanta and Ellora Caves and ended up seeing more than we imagined. 

Our driver (booked through Rajjas Travels and Tours Ltd) is local to the area and made our trip to this city and surrounding towns memorable in more than one way. He drove us to all the sights and to the best places to eat. 

We ate this 4-foot Paper Masala Dosa with potato curry and chutneys for breakfast at a roadside dhaba on the way to the caves. It was wonderful and filling. 

There are many such dhabas (roadside canteens) on the way and we recommend that you definitely dine at one of them. 


We also enjoyed tropical fruits that were in season, such as these sitaphal or custard apples below. 

A basket of Hanuman custard apples
A basket full of delectable Hanuman phal (a variety of custard apples)


What the inside of a custard apple looks like
When you break open a ripened custard apple, eat the fleshy part and take out the black seeds.


Don't they look so mouth-watering? Our driver took us to his family's roadside stall where they were selling these fruits and we got a great deal. We also bought some fruit at the stalls outside of Daulatabad Fort. 


The Daulatabad Fort is about 9 miles northwest of Aurangabad in a town called Daulatabad. It was once known as the invincible fort because of its impressive defenses and strategic traps laid throughout the fort. 



Entrance gate to Daulatabad Fort
Look at the spikes on this gate!


Just look at him grinning, standing next to the massive entrance gate. Before gunpowder, intoxicated elephants were used as a battering ram to break open the gates. The presence of spikes ensured that the elephants died of the injury. 


Those poor elephants. Where was P.E.T.A.?


As we walked through the entrance gate, we saw canons like the one below lined up against one side of the fort wall. 




I wonder if that is the "curb" appeal for the adventure buffs like my husband. He couldn't wait to go inside and explore the fort.


Below is a picture of Chand Minar or the Tower of the Moon. Chand Minar was inspired by Qutub Minar in Delhi. A small mosque sits at the base of the tower. You can see the tower from every corner of the fort. 


Chand Minar in the distant

The tower was closed so we couldn't peek inside. :( We moved onwards into the fort. It was a long walk up the fort with twists and turns and many, many steps. You must wear good walking shoes or sneakers for this trek. 


Michael on top of the Daulatabad Fort


Michael climbed on top of the fort's wall to get a better look at the view. He didn't say anything but I knew he was thinking, "I'm on top of the world." 



The view of Chand Minar from the top of Daulatabad Fort
You can see Chand Minar from every corner and touch it as well! hehe



Hello, honey. How's the view from up there?


There is a narrow set of steps that lead visitors up to the tippy top of this fort. Of course, my husband had to check it out. I, on the other hand, wanted to live to see the next day, so I decided to let him go up and took a picture of his great feat from below. 

The best and only part my husband seems to remember from our trip to the fort is what happened after we came up the stairs in the picture below:


About midway in the fort, there is an entrance into the cave...the Bat Cave to be precise. This cave was meant to confuse enemies. I'm sure it did precisely that...it confused the hell out of me. It seemed to go on forever and reeked of bat guano. We were crawling through the cave because if you dared to look up, there were thousands of BATSSSS!!! 

I was hanging onto my husband for dear life and hoping nothing touched me. After what felt like an hour but it was really 5 to 10 minutes (depending on how slowly you are walking/crawling through the cave), we climbed up the stairs and into the open air. 

FREEDOM!!! I had never been so happy to breathe in my life. By the way, I'm sorry there aren't any pictures from inside the Bat cave. I really didn't want to die. 

If this is how I felt, can you imagine how the enemies felt back then? There must have been mass confusion. Not to mention that there was a massive moat around this fort. One wrong step and down you go into the moat filled with monstrous creatures. 


Another view of Chand Minar!


We had fun exploring this fort and learned more about its importance. Another gem in Aurangabad that is worth visiting is Bibi ka Maqbara:


Doesn't it remind you of the Taj Mahal? 

Although not as well known as the Taj Mahal, Bibi ka Maqbara ("Mini Taj") is important in its own right. It was commissioned in 1660 by the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb in memory of his first and chief wife, Dilras Banu Begum. 

As we walked along the path, it seemed like we were walking towards the Taj Mahal because of how it was constructed. The Taj Mahal is actually the "final resting place" or mausoleum of Aurangzeb's mother, Mumtaz Mahal. 

Michael and I enjoyed our 2.5 days stay in Aurangabad and explored as much as we could. We also indulged in the cuisine and seasonal fruits such as the many varieties of custard apples (regular, Hanuman phal, and chocolate), and pink guavas. We definitely recommend to all to visit Aurangabad and discover the historical gems in and around this city. 

Come back and visit our blog again as we will be sharing more stories from our trip to India last November, from Aurangabad we headed south to Hyderabad and Bangalore. 

May 24, 2020

Pappuchekkalu - Gluten Free Indian Crisps

Boo to all those who think of celebrating one's birthday all month long is wrong! It's not wrong at all. 

This year, I've been lucky enough to be with my parents for my birthday and boy am I enjoying myself. It was much needed TLC. We've bonded over cocktails, wine, and yummy Indian food. 

Every year, my mom asks me what I would like to eat for my birthday and she makes those dishes. So far, I've enjoyed Sarvapindi, Double Ka Meetha (also known as Shahi Tukra), Onion Rava Masala dosa with Chutney Powder, sweet roti, and Pappuchekkalu. 



Pappuchekkalu are gluten-free crisps that are made with rice flour, lentils, and spices. They are fun, crackling, and crunchy...once I crunch into one, I can't stop crunching away. So addictive. I don't feel so guilty about eating 4 or 5 at a time because they are made with healthy ingredients. 

Aren't you dying to find out how they are made? I'm munching on some while typing up this post. MMMM, Pappuchekkalu! Me wants more! 

Ingredients for making the dough
- 4 cups Rice Flour                        
- 1 cup Roasted Chana dal (putnalu), finely powdered                         
- ½ cup  Chana dal, soaked in water for 3 hours                                            
- ½ cup peanuts, soaked for 3-4 hours and de-skinned                                                     
- ¼ cup Sesame seeds                                   
- 3 tsp Chili powder (or as needed)
- 5 tsp Salt (or to taste)                                               
- 15-20 Curry leaves, finely chopped (optional)                                                       
- 4 Tbsp Vegetable oil,  heat oil to lukewarm temperature to mix into the dough
- approx. 450ml (or 2 cups) of water

Ingredients for frying the Pappuchekkalu (or crisps)
2 to 3 cups of Vegetable oil for frying in a wok


Procedure
  • Drain and de-skin the peanuts, coarse crush them in a food processor. If you do not have a food processor, you can finely chop them on a cutting board running the knife over them carefully. Drain the soaked Chana dal too.
  • Add rice flour into a wide mixing bowl and the dry ingredients for the crisps (from the pappuchekkalu ingredients list). Mix well and adjust the salt and chili powder, by tasting a pinch of the mixture.
Ingredients for Pappuchekkalu

  • Now add the remaining items, peanuts, chana dal, curry leaves, and mix well. 
Dough for Pappuchekkalu
Add the warm oil into the mixture and mix again. Slowly add water to the flour until it forms into a lump, soft and tight but not sticky.


 Take a handful of the dough and make a log and pinch off a lime size and make round balls.



  • Place 8" by 10" size wax paper on the counter and spread a few drops of oil on it (can also use unfolded cereal bag). Fold the wax paper in half and place a dough ball on one half of the wax paper and cover it with the other half and press the ball to make a thin, round disk.   
  •  Place these disks on a wide tray (as shown above) and cover it with a towel until you have made 20 or so to fry.


  •  Heat the oil for frying in the wok at medium to high heat. Place your palm over the wok at a safe height to feel the heat. Test the heat by dropping a small ball of dough into the oil. If the ball sizzles and surfaces to top, then the oil is ready for frying the flattened dough disks. Slowly, insert 10 – 12 dough disks into the oil and fry them until they are golden brown, turning them over in between for uniform frying. Remove them from oil using a slotted ladle into a mesh strainer for the oil to drain further. Later transfer into a container.
A bowl full of Pappuchekkalu
  •   Cool them for 10 – 15 minutes to attain the proper crunchiness to serve. Store them in a tight lid container after they have cooled for 1 hour. This recipe makes 65 crisps of 3” size. They can be stored and enjoyed for 15 -20 days. 
Have you tried this snack before? I love snacking on these pappuchekkalu or crisps because they are made with good wholesome ingredients. Happy Snacking! 

What snacks have you been enjoying during this current COVID-19 situation? We would love to hear from you. 

May 1, 2020

For the Love of Podis - Chutney Powder

It's been a month since my ammamma (maternal grandmother) passed away.  The last time I visited her in India, I could already tell her health had deteriorated. She was barely able to move around and was mostly in her wheelchair or in bed. Although I am sad that she is longer with us, I know she is at peace now.  

My ammamma was a storyteller, a grandmother, a mother, and a daughter.  Although she was a housewife, she was very knowledgeable about the world, very sociable, and a philanthropist.  

I will miss her stories, our conversations about cooking and recipes, and our Telugu/English lessons. 



I found the video above of my ammamma cooking while I was looking through all of my photos and videos. This is how I want to remember her. She enjoyed cooking and helped my mom in the kitchen whenever she had time. In the video above, my ammamma is roasting spices and lentils together to make chutney powder. 


Chutney powder is a mixture of various spices and dal (lentil) that are roasted and then coarsely powdered. We use chutney powder as a condiment for idli, uttapam and dosa. It is also one of the ingredients for making the stuffing for Gutti Vankaya (stuffed eggplant)




You can also add it as a seasoning when making vegetable curries. I sometimes add this spice mix when I'm making baked penne pasta with vegetables. It adds more flavor to the pasta dish.

So you see, chutney powder is one of the essential podis found in a South Indian kitchen. Below are the ingredients that we need to make this podi (or spice mix):

Left to Right: Urad dal (black lentil), Coriander seeds, Channa dal (Indian chickpea), black peppercorn, dry Tamarind, dried red chilies and in the center are cumin seeds

Ingredients
- 2 cups coriander seeds
- 1.5 cups urad dal (black lentil)
- 2 cups channa dal
- 1/4 cup Cumin seeds (Jeera)
- 12 dry red chilies
- 1 Tbsp black peppercorn
- small lime size of dry Tamarind
- a handful of curry leaves (optional)
- 2 Tbsp salt (or per your taste)
- 1.5 Tbsp brown sugar (optional)
- 2 Tbsp oil (or per your taste)


Procedure
  • The dal (lentils) and spices have to be roasted in a particular order. 



After you roast the channa dal (Indian chickpea) and then ural dal (black lentil), you have to roast the spices in the following order:

Now add coriander seeds, dried red chilies, tamarind (see the quick tip), cumin, and lastly black peppercorn. 
  • Roast the spices and lentils for about 15 to 20 minutes on low-medium heat.


  • When you start to smell the aroma of roasted lentils and spices, turn off the heat, and let the mixture cool down. After it cools down, grind it coarsely with salt and brown sugar. Adjust the salt and sugar accordingly to your taste. 
  • The chutney powder is now ready to be used any way you like. The ingredient quantities above are enough to make 940 grams or about 2 pounds. If this quantity seems like a lot, just reduce the measurements by half for your comfort level. We make it in large quantities and store it so we can use it whenever needed. 

Quick Tips:
Sometimes you will find fiber strings in the tamarind. It is best to remove these before using them.

Reflections on Our Travel to the Motherland - Sightseeing in Aurangabad, Part Two

I wish I could escape to another place and time with all that's going on with the current COVID-19 pandemic. I would travel back in time to when my husband and I were in India last November. We enjoyed traveling to various cities as well as the nice weather.

One of my favorite places was Aurangabad. We saw so many historical sites in two and a half days. In my previous post, I covered the Ajanta caves we visited. In this post, I will cover the Ellora caves.

Overall, I am so glad we picked the Lemon Tree hotel for our stay while we were in Aurangabad. The Lemon Tree Hotel had a warm ambiance, a huge pool, and a nice breakfast spread which included Indian and "American" dishes.

Lemon Tree Hotel, Aurangabad
Our second day in Aurangabad, we explored the Ellora Caves. Although our travel agent said one day would be sufficient for both caves, we decided to take a more relaxing tour and split the caves into 2 days. It was exhausting enough just exploring one set of caves each day. That's our advice to anyone thinking about exploring these caves. 

After an early breakfast on day 2, we headed out to the Ellora caves. We recommend booking a local driver with a car versus going out on your own. The drive to the Ellora caves was not as far as the drive to the Ajanta caves.

The most popular cave (Cave 16) at the Ellora caves is the monolithic Kailasha Temple. We were in awe of the sight and how well preserved it was. Below are some pictures:


Entrance to the monolithic Kailasha Temple






When you enter inside, you can walk around the temple structure




I hope you enjoyed the various views of the Kailasha Temple. We really enjoyed exploring these caves and learning more about the culture.

Before we departed from Aurangabad, we also visited Daulatabad Fort and Bibi ka Maqbara. Stayed tuned for more posts about our trip.

April 14, 2020

Yogurt - A Probiotics Boost For Your Health!



What do Red Mango, Pinkberry, Yoplait GoGurt, General Mills Natural Valley Yogurt Bars, Chobani, Oiko, Fage have in common? 

All of the above are YOGURT based products. 

Here are some reasons why eating yogurt is good for you:

  • It is a good source of probiotic cultures, which are good microorganisms that benefit our digestive system, boost immunity and help the absorption of certain minerals like calcium into our system.
  • Yogurt is a good source of protein, calcium, riboflavin, vitamin B6, zinc, and vitamin B12.
  • If eating plain yogurt doesn't sound pleasing, then give the following recipes a try. They are all healthy and gluten-free: 

Eggplant Raita (yogurt dip)
Other raitas or yogurt dips to try are EggplantBeetrootLongSquashSpinachTomatoesTomato and OnionBell Peppers, or Cabbage


One of my favorite rice dishes to eat as a child was daddojanam or seasoned yogurt rice. When I was 2 or 3 years old, I used to give her a hard time at mealtime. She used to make this dish, make yogurt and rice balls and feed me while I was playing. She used to sneak some veggies too. I was hooked since then...


My husband loves Dahi Vada. I like it too; it is vada soaked in seasoned yogurt. It tastes so good topped with tamarind chutney, coriander chutney and sev. 

Dahi Vada

Buttermilk is a more liquid version of yogurt. We use buttermilk to make Spinach and Potato Kadhi. It's nice to eat on its own or mixed with rice. 


 Do not be afraid to try new things. Try to incorporate yogurt into your diet. It is better for you in the long run.

Let us know how you enjoy eating yogurt. We would love to hear from you. 

April 4, 2020

Moong Dal Kattu - Green Gram Soup

Moong dal is also known as green gram or mung bean and is widely eaten in Asia.  It is used to make savory (soups and dosas) and sweet dishes (laddu, halwa, Lunar New Year cookies, and sweet soups). 

One of my favorite ways to eat this lentil is kattu or soup.  It is comforting and nutritious. Let's see how to make it...




Ingredients
- 1 cup whole moong dal (green gram)
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
- 2 to 3 green chilies, finely chopped
- 1 tsp salt (or to taste)
- 1/4 tsp turmeric powder
- 2 to 3 cherry tomatoes (optional)

For seasoning
- 1 Tbsp Vegetable oil
½ tsp mustard seeds
- ½ tsp whole cumin
- a pinch of Hing
- 4 to 6 fresh/dry curry leaves, chopped (optional)


Cooking Instructions
1) Place the moong dal into a pressure cooker/ pan and add 2 cups of water, pressure for 6 to 8 minutes or until you get 5 to 6 whistles. (You can also cook the moong dal on low/medium heat with 2-½ cups of water in a small Dutch oven until the dal is cooked to a soft texture.)

2) After the pressure is released, open the cooker and lightly mash the dal. Add more water to the required consistency. Then add salt, turmeric powder, and the seasoning (see instructions for seasoning).

Instructions for Seasoning
  • Heat oil in a small skillet on low heat. Hover your palm over the skillet to see if you can feel the heat. When you feel the heat, add mustard and cumin seeds. When the seeds splutter, add Hing and then the chopped onions and garlic. Stir for 1 to 2 minutes until onions are transparent and garlic gives out its flavor. Next, add the curry leaves, stir for another 20 seconds and then transfer the seasoning into the cooked dal to cook them together. 

3) Next, bring the mixture to a boil for 1 minute and turn off the heat. The kattu or soup is ready to be enjoyed.  



Quick Tips:
You can eat the moong dal kattu on its own like lentil soup or like I do with warm Basmati rice. I also munch on fryums while eating it. 

 
The fryums on the left are what they look like in the bag. The fryums on the right are what they look like puffing up in the microwave. We suggest 30 to 60 seconds depending on the number of fryums.

March 12, 2020

Reflections on Our Travel to the Motherland - Aurangabad Caves, Part One

Almost 770 miles southwest of New Delhi is a place called Aurangabad. Have you ever heard of this city? If you haven't, you should add it to your list of places to visit, next time you are planning a trip to India.

Besides visiting the Taj Mahal and the palaces in Rajasthan, my husband and I were curious about other gems in India. We came across the Ajanta / Ellora caves (UNESCO World Heritage Site) in Aurangabad.

The Ajanta caves are 30 rock-cut Buddhist caves which date from the 2nd century BCE to about 480 CE.

Below are some pictures from our recent visit:

Panoramic view of the Ajanta Caves from outside

A warm welcome from local residents (Langur monkeys) at the Ajanta caves



Close up view of the caves from outside as we are walking along the path

Take care when walking along the path to all the caves.
It is a steep fall to the ground. Be aware of your surroundings.


There are porters and palki (carrying structure)
for older tourists to be carried up to the caves (as shown above)


The caves are comprised of paintings of Buddhist legends and carvings.

Flash photography was not allowed in many of the caves with paintings on the walls. Also, limited number of tourists were allowed inside of the caves at a time to help preserve the condition. Humidifiers were placed in all the caves for continuous air circulation and to control humidity.


Can you make out the bull painting on the ceiling? Our guide told us that it seems as though the bull's eyes are looking at you regardless of where you are standing in the cave? It was remarkable. 

Below are the pictures from inside Cave 1. This was one of the last caves to have been excavated. You can see the Buddha statue through the hallway of the cave. It is truly amazing that even after all this time, most of the paintings are still intact and clearly visible. 

Cave 1, interior; Buddha statue visible from inside room
 The paintings inside this cave are in pretty good shape considering how old these caves are. The scenes depicted are mostly devotional and ornamental, with scenes from the Jataka stories of Buddha's former lives as a bodhisattva.

Cave 1 - Buddha statue


Cave 1 - Padmapani Bodhisattva Painting


Bull painting on the ceiling


At Cave 19, a 5th-century Chaitya Hall 
 This exterior of Cave 19 loosely resembled the caves in Petra, Jordan for me. My husband and I were both in awe of the intricacies of this site. We were happy that these caves were not vandalized and history was preserved.


Cave 26 - Interior of Chaitya Hall (house of the stupa)
The Ajanta caves follow the Cathedral -style architecture.

Some takeaways from our visit:

  • Tourists are shuttled by buses to these caves and you have to pay a small fee for the shuttle service; about 40 rupees per person. Make sure to have exact change. 
  • It may be better to hire a guide before you arrive at the caves. It was difficult to find an English speaking guide who we could understand. 
  • Wear comfortable and well-circulated clothing as well as sturdy shoes. 
  • Carry bottled water with you as it is a long walk because there are a lot of caves and we suggest one day for each set of caves (meaning one day for Ajanta caves, and one day for Ellora caves). 
  • Also, carry or wear a hat and sunglasses with you. It can get hot depending on which part of the year you are visiting these caves. 


***All the pictures in this post are my own and shot with my Samsung phone. Please send a request if you would like to use the pictures. More in-depth information about each of the caves is available on Wikipedia.

Stay tuned for more posts on our trip to India, coming up next - Ellora Caves...