She also teaches Indian cooking technique. For instance, there’s more to veggies than simply steaming them, she says. Her young children love spinach because of the way she prepares it.
“In Indian cuisine there is so much to offer with flavors and the ways it can be cooked,” she says.
She also emphasizes the importance of spices in Indian cooking, but is eager to dispel the myth that Indian food is overly hot.
“I have had people who say ‘I can’t eat Indian food because it’s very spicy,’” she says, insisting that you don’t have to “sweat it out” to enjoy Indian food.
Instead, she teaches students about traditional spices and spice blends that cooks can create to suit their own tastes. Ranjan always has cumin, coriander powder, chili powder or cayenne pepper on hand.
“And the most essential is garam masala,” she says. “Masala means a blend of spices and garam in Hindi means hot.”
Ranjan makes her own garam masala, adjusting the blend of spices to achieve the heat level that she desires.
“You can actually play around with spices. … It’s playing around with the food to get the taste that you like,” she says. “Cooking is like making art. You have a blank piece of canvas and you want to make it colorful.”
Lai-Matzker teaches her students about traditional Asian cuisine’s essential ingredients, such as soy, fish and hoisin sauces, rice, and noodles. She also emphasizes cooking techniques, including chopping food and using a wok.
Lai-Matzker says students often are intimidated by a wok. She simplifies it down for them, teaching students how hot it should be for different dishes. For example, the wok should be at a low temperature for making soups and at a medium-high heat for stir fries.