It all started with a blog. More than a decade ago, Chitra Agrawal began documenting her family’s recipes from India on “ABCD’s of Cooking,” which quickly achieved a loyal following. Agrawal began taking the recipes and making them her own, using local produce and foods she found in Brooklyn, and an idea started to develop. “I was slowly carving out a style of cooking that reflected both my Indian heritage and American identity,” she says.
The blog led Agrawal to connect with other passionate home chefs and participate in the spirited local food scene: She organized cooking classes, competed in cook-offs, and collaborated with local growers. All of this eventually led to the publication of “Vibrant India: Fresh Vegetarian Recipes from Bangalore to Brooklyn,” and the launch of Brooklyn Delhi, which sells a variety of plant-based simmer sauces, achaars and condiments. The mission, she says, was to become “the first high quality mainstream Indian-American food brand.”
How has cooking in general changed for you over the last year?
We’re definitely cooking more at home. With two small children, I find myself meal planning a lot more than I used to because there are just so many more meals to prepare during the week. I definitely am doing more multitasking throughout the day like roasting veggies in the oven and getting beans going in the Instant Pot while I’m on a call for work. I also have a freezer full of food for those times when I have not prepped enough.
Do you find yourself more or less creative in the kitchen since the pandemic?
I go through phases of cooking comfort food staples and diving into new cooking projects. This added time in the kitchen has definitely inspired a lot of recipe development for me at Brooklyn Delhi, much of which has translated into new products I will be launching later this year and next.
What kind of food have you been making at home?
We eat a lot of simple Indian home cooking like rice and dal and lately I’ve been digging pretty deep into salads and bowls. I feel like I went through a period of some pretty intense comfort food indulgence of the mac and cheese and deep dish pizza variety and am now wanting to lighten things up.
In your eyes, how has Brooklyn Delhi changed since its inception?
Brooklyn Delhi has always been a way for me to express my identity as an Indian-American through food but the arc of the products we have released also reflects the stage of life I’m in at the time. In the beginning, we released achaars, a spicy Indian condiment and moved into more condiments—Curry Mustard and Curry Ketchup. When I had kids, I became more focused on creating meals we could all enjoy together but that me and my husband could customize with our condiments, so that is where our simmer sauces came in and why I launched all of them to be mild. I figured that if I was feeling strapped for time and wanting to just make one meal for everyone, I was sure that other parents were looking for a similar solution. Since the pandemic, there have been a lot more people trying out our products and different types of food in general and that has led me to create more educational recipe content around how to use our products, especially our achaars, which are not as well known to consumers.
During the pandemic, you also helped create Khaana Collective, a recipe zine with proceeds going to an organization fighting food insecurity. Can you talk about the origins of that project and how it came together?
During quarantine, I really missed seeing and collaborating with my food community so Khaana Collective was a way for me to do that. Khaana means food in Hindi and with Khaana Collective I wanted to create a community cookbook. The zine features recipes from friends in food including food writers Yewande Komolafe, Nik Sharma and Hetty McKinnon with profits from the sale of the print zine going to St. John’s Bread & Life, a soup pantry in Bed Stuy that feeds thousands of New Yorkers a day and where I packed my achaars at Brooklyn Delhi for the first four years.
This story first appeared on Brownstoner.com