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.

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.