It’s well documented that Brooklyn is full of artisanal makers of everything from harissa to beef jerky, with plenty of pickles and jam in between. If your fridge looks anything like mine, then you have half-used jars of marmalade, tubs of kimchi and about a dozen other condiments and carefully crafted foodstuffs that you’re not always sure what to do with. I’m asking the makers of these products what they do with their own creations, for fresh inspiration in my own kitchen, and for yours, too.
The first cook and entrepreneur I reached out to was Chitra Agrawal, a writer and accomplished South Asian cook who just launched a line of condiments called Brooklyn Delhi. I tried her tomato achaar, a kind of savory, spicy, sour Indian pickle–you can use it on anything you’d add sriracha or harissa to, but it’s got a more complex flavor profile, with the sour notes and all. I’ve been eating it with eggs, on sandwiches and mixing it with yogurt to make dips. I asked Chitra how she uses it in her own cooking.
Where in India is achaar from and how is it used there?
Achaar is the Hindi word for pickled vegetable or fruit and how it’s referred to in North India where my father is from. It’s actually found all over India and called by different names. For instance, where my mother is from in South India, it’s called uppinakayi and many times you may hear it referred to as “Indian pickle.” Depending on the region, different items are pickled with spices, salt, lemon juice, vinegars or oils. Some examples of pickles are green mango, carrot, lemon, tomato, gooseberry, red chili pepper and garlic. Preparations vary as well from achaars cooked on the stove to ones that are salt-pickled and cured in the sun. Even the oils used are different from mustard in the north to sesame oil in the south. Achaars also come in a variety of consistencies as well as ones that are more chutney-like to whole chunks of vegetables, resembling kimchi or Middle Eastern preserved lemons.
You will find achaar in every household in India and on the kitchen table at most every meal. It’s called pickle because it’s preserved, but it really functions similar to sriracha or harissa where you just add a little to give whatever you’re eating a spicy kick that is also sour, savory and sweet.
How you use it when cooking at home?
I grew up eating achaar mixed into rice and dal or with roti and curries. We would also eat it with rice and yogurt, which is still a personal favorite of mine. My mother would also make me cheese and veggie sandwiches using it. When I was younger, my cousin and I would take a piece of lemon pickle and just suck on it before we waited for the meal to be prepared–I guess you could say I was taught to like intense flavors from an early age! Since it has such complex and bold flavor, there have been many a lazy occasion when I just mix some with plain rice and call it a meal.
Since I make my variety of achaar a bit less salty and hot, I tend to eat it with a lot of things now–eggs, soups, tacos, cheese and crackers. I also cook with it and love using it in shakshuka eggs [the recipe is on Chitra’s blog, The ABCD’s of Cooking].
Why this for a business?
Well, I couldn’t find any store-bought varieties that I really liked–many are super salty, too spicy, use not the most healthful oils or have preservatives. I usually bring homemade achaar back from relatives in India, but when I run out, I’m kind of out of luck so that’s when I decided to make my own from vegetables and fruits I got in my farmshare. I started experimenting with rhubarb, American gooseberries, heirloom tomatoes and garlic and serving them to friends, cooking-class students and diners at my pop-up dinner events. After seeing people’s reactions and loving it for himself, my fiance Ben, who also is a food packaging designer, encouraged me to move forward and package my recipes. Six months later we were on store shelves!
What’s the weirdest way you or a customer has used it?
Just last week, I was demoing at Market in Ditmas Park and one of the customers put some on a brownie….
What’s your favorite Brooklyn product made by another small producer?
Oh man there’s so many, but I have to say it’s Anita’s Coconut Yogurt, which I often mix with my tomato achaar.