Rachana’s bright and open home is a peaceful respite from the intense bustle of Flushing’s Main Street a few blocks away. She loves to share her food and her Nepalese heritage through the League of Kitchens as well as through Eat Offbeat, a catering company where she works as a chef.
Rachana was born in Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal, a country that shares borders (and culinary traditions) with China and India. Rachana’s grandfather worked as an administrator for the king, and her husband, whom she married when she was sixteen years old and he was seventeen, had a grandfather who also worked for the king as a physician.
From a young age, Rachana loved to cook and spent many hours watching her mother in the kitchen. She especially enjoyed learning the recipes that her mother had learned from her own parents that had been passed down over many generations. League of Kitchens puts the spotlight on Rachana’s cooking and offers immersive culinary workshops taught by her in the intimate setting of her own home.
What are some of your favorite ingredients to use?
I use a lot of green capsicum. That is the primary pepper I use, and it is in a lot of dishes. I also love to use Sichuan peppercorn. And, without ginger, I can’t cook. Ginger is very important in Nepali food and one of my favorite ingredients. I also like to use jimbu (an herb that belongs to the onion family), cashew nuts, cardamom, and cinnamon.
What makes Nepalese cuisine special? / What are your favorite dishes?
Our food is influenced by China and India, so we have dumplings, biryani, pilau, manchurian, and other dishes that we take from other cultures, but make differently. We experiment with these dishes, mixing up what we like from Indian and Chinese food, and we add our own spices to everything. The normal Nepalese meal is rice, daal, and vegetables, and we eat 6 or 7 items at a time. For special occasions, we eat a lot of sweets and a lot of meat dishes.
It is very cold in the mountainous and hilly regions of Nepal, so people always want to eat hot dishes like gundruk, dried and fermented greens, and dhindo, which is made of cornmeal or millet (similar to polenta). Our food is very healthy because we don’t use much fat, and we use a lot of vegetables, especially leaves like mustard greens. Tama is another special Nepalese food—it’s a soup made from fermented bamboo shoots that’s a little bit sour and very spicy. Sour and hot makes your body feel very good. The dish is from China, but we add potato and different spices, so it becomes Nepalese.
What do you love most about cooking?
When people come over and they like my food, I am so happy. I love to feed people. I love to call people to come over and eat my food – that is my passion. I think that food is love. When people eat my food, they feel my love. And when they love my food, I feel their love. I connect with people through the love I put into my food. And I put a lot of love into my food.
For the full interview and more information on her cooking workshops in Flushing, please check out Rachana’s page on League of Kitchens.