• Rachana Rimal's Pantry •
Rachana Rimal is a Nepali cooking instructor for The League of Kitchens, a cooking school in NYC where immigrants teach intimate classes in their homes, and participants encounter a new culture, cuisine, and neighborhood with every experience. Rachana’s incredible depth of knowledge about her country’s cuisine paired with her warmth make her class an absolute delight. We were grateful to get an insider look into Rachana’s pantry, which is inspired by her past, her heritage and the strong women in her family.
“My kitchen is my life, and for that reason I keep it very organized. I like to keep the ingredients I often cook together near each other, for example: tama (bamboo shoots) sits with maseura (lentil nuggets) in my pantry, so if I cook tama I don’t need to look for my maseura. My food always starts with rice and dal. I’ll cook those two things every day. For the most part my food is very traditional Nepali, plus I’m a vegetarian. Sometimes I put a twist on my foods and add Nepali ingredients to American dishes, like mashed potatoes with black pepper, cardamom and cinnamon.
Looking to my past and my heritage is where I find inspiration. I am also constantly pulling on lessons I’ve learned from other women in my family, such as my mother and mother-in-law.
markets & shopping
There’s a Nepali market in Jackson Heights that I go to, and another in Woodside. It’s kind of difficult to find Nepali ingredients in Flushing so I have to travel! My daughter helps me do the grocery shopping once a week and we always have so many bags, they take over the apartment! I love shopping at Patel Brothers - Nepali ingredients fly off the shelves when they get them in, so I always stock up when I see that they’re available. For my classes, I order ingredients from Fretch--a South Asian grocery delivery service. It’s like the South Asian Freshdirect.
Milk - believe it or not, dairy is a very common ingredient in Nepali cuisine! I use whole milk to make puddings.
Yogur – buy the DESI brand yogurt, or Natural Dahi, which I use in desserts like my famous Sikarni, as well as savory dishes like raita.
Ginger - without ginger, I can’t cook. It’s very important in Nepali food and one of my favorite ingredients.
Jackfruit - Jackfruit is commonly used in Nepali food, and, as a vegetarian, I love it for its meat-like texture. I usually buy bags of Daily Delight brand “Fresh Frozen Tender Jack” and use it for salads as well as kebabs.
Dry Greens - On the shelf of Nepali specialty foods at Patel Brothers, you can find bagged dry greens, called Gundruk in Nepali, which are actually fermented. I rehydrate them in warm water and use them in soup all year round. This is a very traditional part of Nepali cooking, as it was a way to get vitamins and minerals during the off-season when mostly tubers were available.
Jimbu - Probably the most distinctive ingredient in my kitchen is jimbu, a dried herb belonging to the onion family that is widely used in dals, pickles, vegetables, and meat. I buy jimbu that comes straight from Nepal whenever it’s available. At Patel Brothers, the salespeople say that the Nepalis buy as much of it as they can carry out the door, so the shelf is often empty!
Bhujia - In Nepal, plain Bhujia (tepary bean flour noodles) is commonly mixed with beaten rice as an everyday snack food. I like the Haldiram’s brand.
Mortar and pestle
Karai (seasoned wok)
The hand wrought iron pot I use to fry my sel (Nepali doughnuts). I inherited this pot from my mother because she said I made the best sel of all of my sisters!
I never use cookbooks! I learned to cook from my mother and grandmother and mother-in-law. My mother was especially good at cooking sweets, and I’ve tried to carry on that legacy! I also learned secret recipes from the royal court because my grandfather and my husband’s grandfather both worked for the king."
To sum it up:
Pantry item she can't live without: Black pepper! I even use it in my lemonade!
One or two items that are always in her fridge: Whole milk and cilantro
Her go to inspiration cookbook: No cookbooks! All of my cooking is from memory.
Her most trusted kitchen tool: My mortar and pestle. This tool is really important in the Nepali kitchen because some staple dishes, like mustard greens, need ginger that is the perfect consistency. I can only get that perfect mashed consistency with a mortar and pestle.
5 adjectives that describe her pantry style: organized, clean, well-stocked, filled with love, delicious.
A woman she pines for: I admire Ina Garten.
Her favorite music to jam out to in the kitchen: I always like to listen to music while I’m cooking. I love Narayan Gopal and Tara Devi, both popular Nepali musicians, but I usually listen to spiritual music because cooking is very spiritual for me. My mother taught me to always feel God through my food and to nourish the people I feed so that God will nourish me and my family.