RIDGEWOOD, N.J. -- Archana Mundhe finds ingredients for scrumptious Indian dishes at her regular grocery store. The Ridgewood woman, who started teaching classes earlier this year, does not require frequent trips to specialty stores for her cooking needs.
“I will go to an Indian specialty store in Edison once every six weeks,’’ Archana said. “I get everything through my weekly shopping at Stop ‘n’ Shop, Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods. You can find anything you need right there.”
That seems surprising given Mundhe’s delicacies are authentic Indian creations. She learns a lot from her mother, Vijaya, who still lives in India. She also learned a lot on her own when she moved to United States and found out one of life’s basic premises: if you want to eat, you have to cook.
“My mom is an amazing cook,’’ she said. “When I got married, I slowly started cooking and always had my mom help out with the little details. The memories come back to you. I was able to replicate most of her dishes without failure. I developed an interest in it, and eventually it became my passion.”
"I try to cook foods that are flavorful, healthy and good for you. The food you eat should also look good with a lot of different colors. I use a lot of different vegetables, rarely fry and use very little oil."
Archana cooks family dinners for her husband, Ravi, and two sons, ages 13 and 10. She strives to cook healthy meals with simple ingredients.
“You don’t need anything too complicated,’’ she said. “I try to cook foods that are flavorful, healthy and good for you. The food you eat should also look good with a lot of different colors. I use a lot of different vegetables, rarely fry and use very little oil.”
Mundhe uses cumin, a red chili powder and a homemade garam masala that she makes with just five basic spices and ghee (a clarified butter that is staple in traditional Indian cooking) in many of her recipes. She also offers recipes on her blog, Ministry of Curry, for some of the staples she uses in her cooking.
Mundhe also cooks Mexican, Thai, Chinese and Italian dishes for her family. Her sons are starting to become more involved as well, and helped her consider the idea of offering lessons.
“The kitchen is my place to relax,’’ she said. “I feel this is time for myself. The best part is my boys enjoy eating the food that I make. It’s satisfying to see them eating healthy every day, and that I don’t have to push them to eat their greens or lentils. Every day the question is ‘Mom, what’s for dinner?’ That’s the best feeling in the world. I’m glad they enjoy my homemade food.”
Mundhe combines her cooking with a full-time job at Oracle, where she has worked for 18 years. A self-describe techie, she finds cooking brings together two disparate worlds. It requires precision, focus and discipline, which are also skill sets of her day job. “There’s a lot of planning,’’ she said. “I don’t go in at 5 p.m. and say ‘What are we going to eat?’ When it’s time for dinner, it’s more assembling. I usually don't spend more than 45 minutes cooking.”
Cooking offers Archana a chance to show her creativity and flair, which are much different skill sets than in her corporate job. “That’s one of the things I like about it,’’ she said. “It’s nice to just go create something.”
She started classes this year. They have just 2-3 students in each class, and the dishes are relatively simple. “It’s very focused,’’ Archana said. “I hope the biggest thing they get out of it is that there are many healthy dishes outside of what they serve in restaurants. Many of them say ‘I didn’t realize this was so simple and I could recreate this.’ They get that it’s like cooking any cuisine. You don’t really need any special skills or equipment.”
Click here to visit Ministry of Curry and to find out more about Archana, her recipes and her cooking classes.
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