Why I Cook: Ministry of Curry’s Archana Mundhe
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Engineer-turned-blogger Archana Mundhe takes her mother's traditional Indian recipes (and the culinary lessons she learned from her) stateside.
Courtesy Archana Mundhe (2)
Although Archana Mundhe left India and her mother’s cooking behind—geographically speaking—when she moved to the U.S. in 1997, she was determined to bring her cuisine and culture with her.
Every October, Archana prepares for Diwali, a five-day Indian festival and a personal celebration of her background, with curry, rice, fritters and so much more—recipes for all of which are available on Ministry of Curry.
Courtesy Archana Mundhe
Try these Indian and Indian-influenced recipes!
Taste of Home: Tell us a bit about your transition from software engineer to full-time blogger.
Archana Mundhe: I worked as a software engineer for 19 years. When I decided to become a full-time blogger, the transition was easy with the help and guidance of a dear friend, my family and, of course, my mom. Because I was used to a disciplined approach to work, I was able to transfer many of the skills from software engineering to the field of recipe development and blogging.
TOH: You talk a lot about your mother’s influence on your cooking. What are some of your favorite recipes of hers?
AM: I was born and raised in a small town near Mumbai in a Maharashtrian family. My mom is a talented chef and a food enthusiast. So many of her recipes come to mind! If I were to name a few, it would be her chicken biryani, stuffed tomatoes, besan ladoo or jalebi!
TOH: And what is the most valuable food- or cooking-related lesson you learned from her?
AM: My mom’s food not only tastes good but is also a feast for the eyes. She always uses colorful ingredients and is particular about preparing foods, especially vegetables, so they cook evenly, making the final dish visually appealing. I even keep a ruler in my kitchen to measure veggies as I chop them.
TOH: Have you passed this love of cooking on to your sons?
AM: Yes, my boys, Aum and Arav, are foodies. When we travel, they look forward to trying new cuisines. But I also love watching them eat and appreciate the same food that I did growing up in India. And when I travel for work, the boys step up and cook dinners using recipes from my blog.
(Try these global recipes when you feel like traveling with your taste buds!)
TOH: What are the essential ingredients to keep stocked for Indian cooking?
AM: I recommend stocking two ground spices: turmeric and red chili powder, and five whole spices: cumin seeds, coriander seeds, cinnamon sticks, cloves and black pepper.
(Here’s how long spices last.)
TOH: What is your favorite recipe you’ve ever developed for your blog or cookbook?
AM: While I was developing the recipes for my cookbook, a friend asked me to re-create a dish that her uncle made. But, like most Indian cooks, he didn’t use a recipe. We only had the ingredients, not the actual measurements. After some research and lots of trials, I was able to finally re-create the dish that we both loved: so-spicy-but-I-can’t-stop-eating-it chicken in a black pepper sauce!
TOH: What is your favorite thing about cooking—the “why” of why you cook?
AM: Cooking lets me connect with my roots. It brings back memories of the wonderful foods I grew up eating, the aromas that filled our kitchen and the lip-smacking tastes.
Archana’s Onion Pakoras
Courtesy Archana Mundhe
Try Archana’s deliciously crispy air-fryer onion fritters, which she serves during Diwali. (Try other air-fried Indian dishes, too!) You might have seen these little bundles called pakodas, another common spelling of the snack. The recipe serves nine.
- 1 large red onion
- 1/2 cup cilantro
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 cup gram flour
- 1 tablespoon rice flour
- 1 teaspoon minced garlic
- 1 teaspoon Kashmiri red chili powder
- 1 teaspoon carom seeds
- 1/2 teaspoon minced seeded green chile (e.g., serrano pepper)
- 1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
- 1-1/2 teaspoons canola oil
Step 1: Prepare batter
Start by thinly slicing the onion. Combine the onion with cilantro and salt and gently massage to release mositure—but do not drain!
In a small bowl, mix the gram flour, rice flour, garlic, chili powder, carom seeds, green chile and turmeric. Then combine with the onion medley and mix well. The batter will be thick.
Step 2: Air-fry in batches
In a small skillet, heat canola oil; stir into the onion mixture.
Preheat the air fryer to 400°F. In batches, drop mixture by tablespoonfuls into greased air fryer; spread into half-inch-thick patties—aim for a round that’s 2 to 3 inches across. Reduce the heat to 350°F and cook 10 minutes.
Spray patties with cooking spray to get a nice golden color. Cook until the edges are crispy, about 2-3 minutes more. Serve immediately.