boat ride in varanasi

5 Interesting Things to Do in Varanasi

Vibrant, Vigorous, Vivacious…. Varanasi!

Popularly  known  by its monikers “Kashi” and “Banaras”, Varanasi is one of the oldest inhabited cities of the world with a history that goes beyond 3000 years. It is situated on the western riverbank of the Ganges River in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh; believed to be an abode of Lord Shiva. It is popularly known as “The City of Lights” and “The Spiritual Capital of India”. It is considered a Holy City by the followers of religions like Hinduism and Jainism.

Being one of the shaktipeeth destinations out of the twelve in the country, Varanasi, the name itself speaks of a place that is sanctified, poignant, mystique and magnificent in culture and heritage. And to top it all, the city is home to eminent personalities and saints like Shankaracharaya, Mahavir, Gautama Buddha, Tulsi Das, Kabir, Patanjali and Ramanujan. 

1.    Take a Boat Ride and Bathe in The Sacred Ganges

Watching the Varanasi skyline from a boat-view is one of the most miraculous experiences one can witness. The warm sunrise over the peaceful river is not just a sight, but an experience altogether. Also, do not shy away from taking a bath in the sacrosanct river, which according to beliefs, cleanses the soul and purifies the person of all sins committed. It is considered an achievement of ultimate salvation and freedom from the cycles of birth and death.

boat ride in varanasi

Boat ride in the holy Ganges, photo by rusticus80, CC BY-SA 2.0

2.   Witness the splendid evening Aarti Ceremony

Every evening, the Dasawamedh Ghat of Varanasi elevates to a spectacular sight which becomes an experience of a lifetime for those who witness it. The huge brass lamps, the chanting of the saints, the beauty of the rituals, the faith of the crowds which gather – all of it makes for a grand and memorable evening.

Ganga arti at Banaras

Evening aarti being performed at ghats of Varanasi, photo by Jean-Pierre Dalbéra, CC BY 2.0

3. MUST-DO: Visit the Ghats and the Local Markets:

Every ghat in Varanasi has its own history, significance and heritage. There are some Ghats dedicated to praying, some to bathing and some to cremation. Few famous Ghats of the region are Assi Ghat, Manikarnika Ghat, Tulsi Ghat and the Munshi Ghat.

The city is also home to boisterous and busy “bazaars”. Indigenous to Varanasi is the world-renowned “Banarasi Saree” and typical jewelry designs. The most famous markets of Varanasi are Godowlia, Chowk, Thatheri Bazaar and Vishwanath Lane.

ghats of banaras

Ghats in Varanasi, photo by Dennis Jarvis, CC BY-SA 2.0

4. MUST-DO: Indulge in Local Delicacies: 

There is more to Varanasi than just what meets the eye. Varanasi is not only rich in spiritual traditions and beliefs, but has a rich heritage in terms of cuisine too. The food in Varanasi is influenced by the superior position it holds in Hindu Mythology as well as by the tastes and preferences of the thousands of visitors that pour into the city every day. Few of the must-haves are “Kachori-Subzi”, “Litti-Chokha”, “Malaiyo”, “Thandai” and the celebrated “Banarasi Paan”.

food of varanasi banaras

‘Malaiyo’ a local delicacy, photo by travelwayoflife, CC BY-SA 2.0

5. Temples, Forts and Other Sights in The Vicinity

While you are there, do not miss the opportunity to visit the local temples which are affiliated to Ancient Hindu mythology. The most famous of all temples is the Kashi Vishwanath Temple. And if you are a Hanuman Bhakt, then the Sankat Mochan Hanuman Temple is sure to give you the much needed peace and sanctity. The long-established customary yatra in Kashi is another do-not-miss which covers the main shrine, the Panchakoshi Temple alongside 107 other shrines in the fifty mile path.

ramnagar fort varanasi

Ramnagar fort in Varanasi, photo by Amit Rawat, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Varanasi is a merger of the Physical and Divine Worlds. “Colorful” and “Celestial” are the adjectives that best define the magic of this haven. The meandering country roads, the century-old nostalgia, the tryst with divinity… all make the heart implore – Let there be several Varanasi’s!

Author Bio:

With an igniting passion for travel, Rohit has always been on a travel spree. He is a lover of cultures, languages, food, oceans and the heritage of India. His travel stories, shared at transindiatravels.com, give a deeper insight to every traveler’s requisites before they embark on exploring a new destination.

paneer pulao recipe

Shahi paneer kofta pulao / saffron soaked pilaf with caramelized onions and cheese balls

While Autumn afternoons are inherently sweet, charming, calm and soothing, the joy doubles up when you received some surprised gifts and if that happens to be a cookbook from your favorite chef, life can not be more blissful than this. November is the month of festivities as each of the culture melds into another, Diwali followed by Bhai duj, Halloween and now Thanksgiving round the corner, the air is beautifully scented with flavours that speaks of festivals, holidays, family time.

On one such lazy winter afternoon I had chance upon this sweet, flavorful pulao recipe draft long buried under the nested folders of my memory, and as the sun shone brightly against the deep blue winter sky, it was time to give some life to this fragrant, ever loving pulao recipe that my family chose to relish only on special occasions.

kofta biryani pulao

The origin of pulao or any rice based dish for that matter is as old as the civilization itself, rice and wheat are the two primary grains that has sustained the human race for ages and as my six month old baby slowly transgressing into her first solids which is going to be her first rice eating ceremony or annaprasana, the significant of this most divine grain on earth cannot be ignored.

Though pulao has find its mention in ancient Indian text but the first recipe has come from Persia around 10th century, the city which is almost synonym with everything royal and regal. Persian kings were known for their finicky nature especially if it is about their celebrated bejeweled pulao, and as there were dearth of good rice crops through out Central Asia in older times, the rice was imported all the way from Agra, in India, and it was believed that the holy Gangetic soil made the rice grains little sweeter just perfect for the pulao that was suitable for the sultans. Perfectly fluffed, and white as white as snow flakes, rice become the main export commodity from India to Persia other than the trained war elephants.

festival india

Some tranquil and spiritual moments in the humdrum of life

There this long grain basmati rice meets with range of dried fruits and nuts that forms the core of any Pulao or Biryani dishes and succulent fresh meats of camel, goat or sheep, mixed and hidden under the heaps of zafran soaked rice, the beautiful aromas that has wafted from the Persian kitchens was believed to cross the miles and miles of dunes and mountains before it reached the plains of Gangetic and Indus valley.

However, here the pulao reborn again to its many vegetarian avatars.

Present here is highly fragrant, nutty, flavourful and protein packed shahi paneer kofta pulao or birayni and instead of the usual raita or yogurt dip that accompanies pulao and biryanis, I had chosen to pair it with most creamy and tangy makhni sauce I had ever made. Both of them complement each other so beautifully.

paneer pulao recipe

Pulaos are judged by the aromas that wafted from the delicate balance of spices. My version however uses range of aromatic spices like green cardamom, big cardamom, cinnamon, bay leaves, star anise, nutmeg, mace and kebab chini or long tail peppers.

Another key component of pulao is the onion. Beautifully caramelized onions or birista can make or break any dish if not fried properly. Since caramelizing onions takes time, so it can be made ahead thus saving some precious time that you can devote to prepare the rice. Next is shahi paneer kofta which I always prefer to make with homemade paneer. Paneer koftas should be soft, freshly fried (as they don’t reheat that well) and you can also stuff them with raisins or pistachios.

For makhni sauce use only fresh and ripe tomatoes and how to make a perfect makhni sauce or gravy will discuss later in the subsequent posts.

PS: Recipe for making paneer kofta is here.

Shahi paneer kofta pulao /pilaf
 
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Shahi paneer kofta pulao / saffron soaked pilaf with caramelized onions and stuffed cheese balls served with makhni sauce.
Recipe type: Main
Cuisine: Indian
Serves: 3
Ingredients
  • Pulao / pilaf
  • Basmati rice (good quality fragrant type) : 2 cups
  • Saffron (good quality): large pinch of few threads soaked in warm milk / water
  • Assorted nuts ( slivers of almonds and pistachios, raisins, sliced cashews etc) : half cup or more
  • Spices : small piece of cinnamon , 4-5 green cardamoms, 2-3 black cardamom, 3-4 cloves, 1 star anise, 1 mace
  • Bay leaves : 2-3
  • Kebab chini / long tail pepper : 5-6 (optional but lends very nice sweet aroma to the dish)
  • Keora water / rose water : few drops
  • Nutmeg powder : a small pinch
  • Sugar : 2-3 tsp or more as per taste
  • Salt to taste
  • Ghee : 3-4 tbsp
  • Crispy caramelized onion : 1 cup
  • Finely minced fresh ginger : 1 tbsp
  • Paneer kofta (deep fried): 6-8
  • Mint and cilantro finely chopped for garnish
  • Makhni sauce / creamy tomato based sauce to serve : 2 cups or more
Instructions
  1. Wash and soak the basmati rice for 15 minutes.
  2. Drain the rice in a net colander and spread it in a wide plate. Let the rice dry out completely.
  3. Once the rice is dried out, make sure no traces of moisture in it, add a teaspoon of ghee and sugar and mix it properly. Leave it aside for a while.
  4. In a pan, heat rest of the ghee. Add all the nuts listed and let them fry for couple of minutes till they turn golden hue.
  5. Add the ginger, bay leaves and all the spices mentioned except the nutmeg powder.
  6. Once the ginger starts leaving its beautiful aroma, add the rice with salt.
  7. Stir the rice well so that it incorporates the spices and nuts together.
  8. This will take around 5-6 minutes.
  9. I make pulao in a microwave.
  10. So use any deep bottom glass container with lid, and add half the rice into it.
  11. Sprinkle the nutmeg powder, saffron water/ milk, keora or rose water.
  12. Stir in half of the caramelized onions.
  13. Place the deep fried paneer koftas over the bed of rice.
  14. Cover it with rest of the rice.
  15. Add 4 cups of water. level it up.
  16. Set the microwave temperature to 900W.
  17. Micro high for 15 minute.
  18. After 15 minute do not open the lid immediately. Trap the steam to finish cooking.
  19. Once the rice is done, plate it in rice serving dish.
  20. Garnish with rest of the caramelized onions and finely chopped mint and cilantro leaves.
  21. Serve the kofta pulao with creamy and tangy makhni sauce / tomato based gravy.
Notes
The same recipe holds good for stove top method also. But I prefer microwave cooking as it is hassle free and foolproof method. If you are using stove top mehtod then use the lowest heat to cook the pulao.

 

Happy noshing

sabudana kheer recipe

Sago pudding or Thai style tapioca pearl pudding – Festival special

durga puja 2016

Happy Vijaydashami to all my lovely readers. Presenting here another simple but delicious festival special : Sabudana kheer or Sago pudding or Tapioca pearl pudding .

Solitude is the salt of person hood. It brings out the authentic flavour of every experience….”

…and as we were waiting impatiently for our boat to return, I let myself completely immersed in the eclectic aura of the beach life at Railay beach of Phuket. The air was fresh and crisp that day, the sun was bright and high and with every ebb of the tide, the tiny island was getting filled with people, from all walks of life. The sheltered cave carved out of the huge limestone massif was getting crowded as more and more people were trying to squeeze into the little space to escape from the scorching heat of the tropical sun.

 

sago pudding recipe

The laid back and idyllic moments in the limestone caves were truly blissful, and after snapping the perfect postcard shot of the lone limestone massif jutted out in the middle of the sea from all different angles, much to the satisfaction of an amateurish eyes, the shutterbug in me decided  to explore the surroundings, to go beyond the off beaten path, to follow the unfamiliar tracks dredged in the sand, to have a glimpse of local life. The island was inhabited by the gypsies, few immigrants from across the border who loves to wander in the small boats preferably in the night when the vigilance will be leanest, making this tiny island their source of livelihood and habitat. As we were drifting aimlessly through the narrow alleys of the island, a strong waft of chicken satay lured us into the so called market street of the island dotted with three four eateries and trinket sellers.

The strong flavour of the chili and garlic sauce and the burnt smell of the charcoal that kept the chicken satay sizzling hot was enough to stir the momentum that was missing in the laid back life of the island and our endless wait for the boat to return. Satay were so mouthwatering and unmatched in their taste when compared to some of the famous street food joints of the Bangkok that we ended up tasting the satay in all the flavours. A forgotten television in the corner was keep playing some local music that was creating more noise than anything else but then we were not music connoisseur. But more than the music itself what attracted me to that little shop was the radiant smile of the charming old lady who finally had convinced me to buy the cup dessert that was lying in forgetful manner in a shabbily looking dessert counter. She kept explaining me in broken English and perfect Thai that this dessert of hers was delicious and healthy. The plastic dessert cups was looking unattractive but the fresh mango topping was looking deceptively appealing and pleasing to the eyes. Without much thought we decided to try the dessert. Each measure of the white pearly pudding carefully paired with slices of mango pieces, filled our heart with the unspoken delight and the mouth was filled with deliciousness that the lady has promised it will do. As we were slowly finishing up the chilled dessert, relishing each and every bite of it, soaking into the the slow but interesting life of the island, it finally dawned upon us that what we had just eaten was nothing but sago pudding or sabudana kheer that is extremely common and popular in our own country and culture. Little did we know that it could taste so magical when paired with fresh tropical fruit.

Tapioca pudding recipe

In India sago or tapioca pearls are best eaten during fasting season or Navaratris and a bowl of sago kheer will be unmistakably filled with some flecks of dry fruits to add some embellishment to the otherwise dull and boring looking sago pudding or kheer. I wonder why we never thought of adding fresh fruit to the bowl of sago pudding but then that is the magic of every culture that brings unique flavour to the shared dish.
Sometimes life discover the small things in very unmindful way. On that fateful day, we had rediscovered the taste of  beautiful tapioca pearls or sago in very unusual way but then strange are the ways of life.

sabudana kheer recipe

Sago pudding
 
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South Asian style sago or tapioca pearl pudding paired with fresh tropical fruits to beat the summer heat. In India sago kheer is popular festival dish that is eaten specially during Navratris.
Author:
Recipe type: Dessert
Cuisine: South Asian
Serves: 3
Ingredients
  • Tapioca pearls : 1 cup (200g)
  • Coconut milk: 400g can
  • Water: 1 cup (250ml
  • Palm sugar / jaggery: ½ cup
  • Pandan leaves / bay leaves for flavour : 2 (optional)
  • Caramelized bananas: few slices (see note)
  • Jaggery / palm sugar: 2 tbsp
  • 1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds
  • 1 mango or any other tropical fruit like pineapple thinly sliced, to serve
Instructions
  1. Place the tapioca pearls in a large bowl and cover with cold water. Set aside for 2 hours or more to soak. Soaking time entirely depends upon the quality of sago or tapioca pearls.
  2. Strain through a fine sieve. Cook in a large saucepan of boiling water for 10 minutes or until opaque. Drain well.
  3. Meanwhile, combine the coconut milk, water, sugar and pandan leaves / bay leaves in a large saucepan over low heat. Cook, stirring, for 5 minutes or until sugar dissolves and mixture is heated through.
  4. Add the tapioca and gently stir to combine. Remove from heat and set aside to cool slightly.
  5. Spoon the sago kheer / tapioca pudding in serving bowl.
  6. In a separate non stick pan, melt the jaggery or palm sugar with little water in high heat. Cook and stirring for couple of minutes till the jaggery / sugar dissolves completely.
  7. Sprinkle the toasted sesame seeds over it and let it cook for few seconds more.
  8. To serve, add the caramelized banana over the sago pudding, drizzle the sesame and jaggery syrup over it.
  9. Serve with fresh cut mango or pineapple slices.
  10. Taste best when the pudding is served chilled.
Notes
To Caramelize Banana :
Cut the banana into thick slices. Roll the banana slices in granulated sugar or jaggery powder. Coat them evenly. Melt some butter in a pan. Add bananas and sugar. Cook till the bananas started showing golden brown color. Flip it over and cook the other side as well.

Happy Dusshera

Sukanya

 

gluten free spinach quiche

Gluten free spinach and mushroom quiche – a guest post by Supriya

After a long long while we are hosting a very promising food blogger who can weave magic with her words as well as with her baking skills. Please welcome Ms. Supriya Kutty of Quichentell. In the vast universe of food blogging, we often don’t come across with people who are good at writing as well as with culinary skills. So when she has approached me for doing a guest blogging, I happily agreed knowing that my readers will definitely love some new flavours.

Here what she has to say about herself and her one year old baby, I mean her blog. 🙂
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  1. Tell us something about you?   I’m Supriya Kutty, and the two things I like to do most are cooking and writing. When I’m not shopping for ingredients, cooking or eating, you can catch me daydreaming about what to cook next. I’m also mom to a teen and wife to a military man.
  2. What brings you to the food blogging world?  Born with wheels on my feet, I’ve followed life across many cities in India and a few abroad.  This rolling stone life shaped my thinking, my connections with people and of course, what I cook and eat. Sometimes I struggle to paint a clearer picture to find a definition for my tastes. But the truth is, that I’d rather not be pigeonholed. My smudgy watercolour of a palate where cultures, flavours and textures mingle and meld, is what makes the picture interesting. Finding the ingredients, preparing them and creating a meal that resonates with the people that eat it is such an organic process; one that engages all the senses. So, yes, my blog quichentell has recipes, but it is about much more.   It is an attempt at connecting the crazy wires of life through my lens with food at its soul. 100% natural, unadulterated self expression is what I’m going for.
  3. What / who are / is your inspirations and what motivates you to become a regular blogger? I cook like I write. Intuitively. It’s the same way I experience food. So I would say that I’m inspired by the power of food to give pleasure, make memories, connect cultures, bring people together people and even just the pure joy of preparing something to share with friends and family.
  4. The best dish you have ever prepared and the worst dish (if any) that headed straight to the bin? The worst dish is easy. It would have to be my very first attempt at making a pizza when I was 17 or 18. The yeast flopped but my parents sportingly ate the the hard crackly creation without a word of complaint. My best dish(es) would be my first, perfect mutton biryani and my recent attempt at making baguettes.
  5. How food blogging improves your cooking skill and what new things (cuisine /dish) you are looking forward to explore this year? Food has to look good on blogs, so I have to keep the ingredients and the finished product bright and fresh. This means a lot of attention to detail in the recipe and while executing it. This year I’m planning to try my hand at baking with sourdough. I expect it to be quite a challenge but I’m also very excited about it.

I make quiches all the time. This is my attempt at a quiche with a gluten-free crust. The recipe is as follows:

gluten free tart shellsglutenfree-quiche-2-1glutenfree-quiche-3-1
Image courtsey : Supriya Kutty

Gluten free spinach and mushroom quiche - a guest post by Supriya
 
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Gluten free spinach and mushroom quiche .
Author:
Recipe type: Appetizer
Cuisine: France
Serves: 4
Ingredients
For the shortcrust pastry:
  • 200g chickpea flour(besan)
  • 175g rice flour
  • 150g butter
  • 1 cold egg
  • 3-4 tbsps cold water
For the filling:
  • 1 large bunch spinach, blanched in hot water for 10 minutes, squeezed and finely chopped
  • 10 button mushrooms cleaned and sliced
  • 1 medium onion , finely chopped
  • 3-4 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
  • 1 egg
  • 150ml single cream
  • 1tbsp olive oil
  • Pinch of nutmeg
  • Salt
  • Black pepper
Instructions
Prepare the crust
  1. Dice the butter while it is still cold and mostly hard and rub into the flours with your fingertips till the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Do this quickly.
  2. Mix in 1 beaten egg with a fork. Then use 3-4 tbsps of water as needed(1tbsp at a time) to bind the flour into a dough that holds together. Wrap in cling film and chill in the fridge for 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, make the filling.
  1. Heat olive oil in a pan and fry the onions till transparent, add the blanched spinach, mushrooms and garlic. Gently saute till all the water has dried up. Season eith salt, pepper and nutmeg. Set aside to cool.
Method
  1. Preheat the oven to 180°C. Lightly butter a fluted quiche tin (with a removable bottom) and dust with rice flour(this will help the quiche slide out easily).
  2. Gently use a rolling pin to roll out the cold pastry in between sheets of cling film till about 1mm thick. Cut the pastry discs so that each disc is an inch larger than the diameter of the quiche tin.
  3. Use the rolling pin to very gently lift the pastry discs and place into the tins . Tuck in the edges, press the sides for the pastry to fit snugly leaving any overhanging pastry as it is and chill the tins for a further 30 minutes.
  4. Put sheets of baking parchment in the tins and fill with dried beans. Blind bake the crusts for 15 mins, then remove the beans and bake for a further 5 minute. Remove and cool.
  5. Beat 1 egg with the cream in a bowl and season with salt and pepper. Spread the spinach evenly into each quiche crust and gently spoon 3 tbsps of this mixture onto each quiche.
  6. Since the crust is gluten-free, take care not to overload the shells as they may crack. Place the tins on a baking sheet and bake for 15-20 minutes till the egg mixture has set. Serve hot or cold.

Thanks Supriya for the beautiful recipe. Gluten free quiche is really a welcome change from the usual ones and I personally love the spinach quiche.

Stay tuned for more,

Sukanya

 

carrot coconut barfi fudge

Carrot and Coconut barfi / fudge – easy festival recipe

Say hello to September with these simple and delicious carrot coconut barfi.

Have you noticed that you can now yum our recipe? Yes, we have recently joined Yummly the social sharing platform for food and recipes, and here is our publisher page

September is the month of transition as Monsoon begins its retreat from larger part of the subcontinent, sun shines brightly against a deep blue azure sky announcing the onset of Autumn, and for us Indians it is also the beginning of festival season. Though it is said that number of festivals in India outnumber the days in a year, but especially in September, the post-monsoon time the air is heavily scented with the fervor of festivity. Though it starts with Rakhi purnima in August , follows by Janmashtami and Ganesh chaturthi which is celebrated throughout India with much grandeur and then follows by Navratri and continue till Diwali in November. So to get ourselves tuned with the very season of festivals, we are going to blog about some sweet and delicious festive recipes that you can bring to table without much hassle.

carrot coconut barfi fudge

They say, festivals are a living, dancing museum of cultures and traditions and India is living example of that. Somehow I feel that more than religious reasons, these festivals have become a part of our rich cultural heritage.

This year we had celebrated Janmashtami at our home for the very first time. I love to do it in my own way without going much into the minute details of rituals. I think more than the rituals and customs I enjoy cleaning and decorating the house with flowers and garlands. The marigold and chrysanthemums painted the house with beautiful hues of yellow and orange, the rooms smells good and pure with sandal perfumed incense sticks. We have a small hand-painted wooden mandir which was beautifully adorned with flowers, garlands and lights. We had prepared an assortment of bhog or divine platter for Bal Gopal with his favourite food. There were luchi / poori, five types of vegetable fritters, five types of sweets and fruits, kheer or rabdi to which I had added few cashew fudge to make kaju barfi malai and malpoa. I am sure Lord will love my creative flavours.

Janmashtami indian festival

So when it comes to cook some festive dishes, we often ran short of ideas. Coconut fudge in all variations are the most common dish you will find, so to give it some different flavour and to improve its nutrition profile, I had clubbed it with grated carrots. Idea was to blend carrot halwa with coconut fudge. You can make it as separate layered fudge or barfi or you can mix them both. This barfi stays fresh for a week in refrigerator and is deliciously simple to make with handful of pantry staples.

coconut carrot barfi

Carrot and Coconut barfi / fudge - easy festival recipe
 
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Easy Indian festival recipe Carrot coconut barfi or fudge
Serves: 12
Ingredients
  • Grated carrot : 2 cups
  • Finely grated fresh coconut : 2 cups
  • Cardomom powder: ¼ tsp
  • Jaggery powder: 1 cup
  • Sugar: ½ cup or as required for the sweetness
  • Nutmeg powder : a large pinch
  • Milk / coconut milk : ¼ cup
  • Khova : ½ cup
  • Cashew and Raisins: a handful
  • Ghee : 3 tbsp or more
  • Chopped pistachios for garnishing
Instructions
  1. In a nonstick pan warm up the ghee, add the cashew and raisins. Fry them lightly. Add the grated carrot and fry them till the raw smell of carrot disappear. To this add the grated coconut along with milk. Give a nice stir and mix it well. Add further the jaggery powder, nutmeg powder, cardamom powder and khova. Mix them all together and keep stirring till everything incorporates well.
  2. Lower the heat and cook further till the mixture becomes lumpy and comes together and dont stick to the pan.
  3. Grease a tray, spread the mixture evenly, check for the thickness and let it set for an hour or more till it cools down. Cut it into desired shapes and enjoy.

Enjoy the festivities

Sukanya