Homemade Podcast Episode 60: Poppy O'Toole and Chitra Agrawal on Potatoes, Pickles, and Everything in Between

This week's guests have mastered the art of making comfort food at home — and simplified it for the rest of us.

We independently research, test, review, and recommend the best products—learn more about our process. If you buy something through our links, we may earn a commission.

Chitra Agrawal in the kitchen with citrus squeezer and Poppy O’Toole headshot

What good does comfort food do if it's a hassle to prepare? On this week's episode of Homemade, host Sabrina Medora chats with two women who are blazing trails for home cooks everywhere. And if you crave the carbs and creaminess of potato dishes or the warming spices of butter chicken, you're in for a treat.

First, U.K. TikTok sensation and Michelin-trained chef Poppy O'Toole recounts how losing a job led to her fast rise to fame as the self-proclaimed potato queen, including the roles her younger siblings and Internet-famous take on McDonald's hashbrowns had. She also dishes the potato recipe she wants to make ASAP and her advice for decadent fondant potatoes.

Then, chef and cookbook author Chitra Agrawal tells us about Brooklyn Dehli, her popular line of premium Indian-American products, which includes simmer sauces like Vegan Tikka Masala and condiments like Curry Ketchup, Curry Mustard, and pickled garlic and tomatoes. She gives us the scoop on how to make one of her favorite pickled foods (achaars) and how she uses it. Chitra and Sabrina also discuss curry.

Listen to this episode of Homemade on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, PlayerFM, Amazon Music, and everywhere podcasts are available beginning Nov. 10.

About Chitra Agrawal

Born and raised in New Jersey, Chitra Agrawal studied psychology at the University of California, Berkeley before earning her MBA in marketing from New York University. With more than a decade of digital marketing work behind her, she shifted her focus to running her food brand, Brooklyn Delhi, and writing. Chitra is the author of Vibrant India: Fresh Vegetarian Recipes from Bangalore to Brooklyn. Her writing has also appeared in Bon Appetit, Saveur, Serious Eats, and more.

Vibrant India: Fresh Vegetarian Recipes from Bangalore to Brooklyn

book cover of Vibrant India Fresh Vegetarian Recipes from Bangalore to Brooklyn

About Poppy O'Toole

Hailing from London, Poppy O'Toole began working in kitchens at 18 years old. At the Michelin-starred Purnell's Restaurant in Birmingham, England, she trained as a line cook. She further built her fine-dining resume with jobs including junior sous chef at London's J. P. Morgan and a members' club. Losing her job during the summer of 2020 led to a new, unexpected career as an influencer with more than 2 million followers across her social media accounts. The 27-year-old chef recently became an author with Poppy Cooks: The Food You Need.

Poppy Cooks: The Food You Need

book cover of Poppy Cooks The Food You Need

Episode Transcript

SABRINA MEDORA: Hey, food fans! I'm food writer and culinary entrepreneur, Sabrina Medora, and you're listening to Homemade by Allrecipes. Each week, we bring you talented home cooks, authors, chefs, and celebrities to discuss the memories and traditions behind their favorite foods along with discussions on what's happening in food culture today.

I don't know about you folks, but I've had many a moment over the years where I'm craving something that feels distinctly like comfort food but seems way too complicated to actually cook. Well, this week's guests may come from different backgrounds but they're both passionate about making comfort food even simpler to make at home. You'll be hearing from cookbook author and founder of the wildly popular Brooklyn Delhi brand, Chitra Agrawal, on curries, pickles, and how Indian cooking can actually be a breeze whether you're a newcomer or very familiar. But first, we'll be hearing from a Michelin-trained chef turned TikTok superstar whose putting a spotlight on the ingredient everyone can agree on: the humble potato.

She's the self-proclaimed 'potato queen' and her first book is officially out now. Homemade listeners, please welcome, all the way from London, Poppy O' Toole!

Hey, Poppy.

POPPY O'TOOLE: Hello, hello. Thank you for having me. I'm excited.

SABRINA: I'm so excited to talk to you. You're like a TikTok superstar. You have a fabulous connection with potatoes, and I feel like I've found my soulmate a little bit.

POPPY: Oh, good. OK, well, at least we're kindred spirits then.

SABRINA: Exactly. I mean, how can you not love a potato?

POPPY: I don't know. I don't trust anybody now, who doesn't love potatoes. It's like, you know, when people don't trust 'not-dog' people. And I'm like...

SABRINA: Oh, yeah.

POPPY: ...No, if you're not a potato person, I don't know if we can be friends.

SABRINA: Well, I am a dog person and a potato person.

POPPY: Yes, perfect.

SABRINA: So I feel like really that's the best combo. And to all the cat people out there listening, I respect you and to all the potato on-the-fencers, clearly, you just need to watch some of Poppy's videos and get in the kitchen and perhaps make her famous hash browns from McDonald's, which actually Poppy, that's what made you famous.

POPPY: It started the ball rolling. I've got to say. It was only about my 10th video, so we weren't really far into doing social media, and, yeah, I just recreated the McDonald's hash brown and newspapers for some reason decided that they thought that was interesting. I thought that was going to be it. I thought that's the peak. This is it. I've made it. But yet for some reason, it carried on from there.

SABRINA: So you lost your job during the pandemic last year. I actually was — you know, I followed you on Instagram. And you had written about how heart-wrenching it was. And I feel you on a personal level because I too was working in restaurants just on the sort of admin side of everything.


SABRINA: And so I remember the day of the shutdown. I was sitting on my couch and like, alright, I'm ready for it. And one by one, the phone calls started happening and I lost all my clients in the span of about two days.

POPPY: Yeah it was a really bizarre moment for anybody working in hospitality, like, front of house, back of house, doing any admin stuff. We were all taken into the room all together, and it was just like, 'We're closing. You've all lost your jobs.' And then on the Tube home, I was just like, oh, that's 10 years of my life just gone. So part of me was like, 'Oh, we'll be closed for like three weeks. Hopefully, I'll be able to get another job when we come out of lockdown in three weeks' time.' How naive to think it would be three weeks. And I just thought you know what? I'm going to go back home. So I live in London. But my hometown is in Birmingham, in the Midlands, in the UK. So I went back home to my family home with my little brother and sister. I thought 'you know what, I'll have a nice little break,' and I'll get to be with my family because they've never even eaten my food before. I've never cooked for them. So I thought, yeah, nice little holiday. But it turned into something amazing and also quite scary at the same time.

SABRINA: It's amazing how many chefs I've interviewed over the past several years that tell me my family's never eaten my food.

POPPY: Yeah. You don't get a chance to do it. Like, you get like, what? A Sunday or Monday off? Or whatever your days off. Like the last thing you want to do is get everybody over and cook for anyone because all you want to do is catch up on sleep, catch up on any TV shows that you've missed because you don't actually want to physically do anything. You just want to sit in front of a TV and do whatever. And actually talking to people is one of the last things you want to do.

SABRINA: Right. Yeah, I totally get that. And also, you don't even want to cook for yourself. It's so funny how many people think that chefs eat these like fabulous meals at home when really it's like ramen.

POPPY: Yeah, it's literally microwave or hot water on top of noodles, anything but actually cooking. I mean, you can occasionally put something out if you're really desperate, but most of the time you are just like, putting something in the microwave.

SABRINA: So what got you thinking like, OK, I'm going to start making TikTok videos? How did that even come about?

POPPY: So because I went home, I've got a younger little sister about 14 years younger than me. So it's a big age gap, so they're really little. And they were just ignoring me on their phones. And I was like, let's play a game. And they're, like, just scrolling. And I was like, right, well, I'm going to take over that platform then so you can see me. And they helped me get onto TikTok and kind of showed me the ropes a little bit. And we just started creating some food together. So I think one of my first videos was just making some churros with my little sister. I really started to enjoy it. And I felt so helpless in that time. You know, all I've ever done is cook. That's the only thing that I can do and I can do it all right, I think. I like to think that I'm quite all right at it.


POPPY: And I just thought, if this can help somebody maybe have an easier evening after work or, they can produce some nice food that they want to or they have any questions. That's the only way that I'm going to help. So I tried my best to do that. And then I think one of my videos got a comment from a key worker at the time, saying, like, after a 13-hour shift, this was absolutely perfect for the family. And I was just like, OK, I need to keep going with this and help people in any way that I can. And just teach people new techniques, I suppose, and it hasn't stopped since.

SABRINA: I mean, there's such a draw because getting trained from a Michelin-trained chef. Who would think that that was possible? You know, maybe on MasterClass, like when Gordon Ramsay put out a video for MasterClass. But to have it readily available just as you're scrolling through, you know, on a random weekday night on the couch.

POPPY: I like to think that I've kind of done the training so that people don't have to, and then they get some delicious food at the end of it, hopefully. I keep saying hopefully. The food is good. I promise you, I make nice food.

SABRINA: Oh, it's good. It's good. Now you have a book out. It's called, Poppy Cooks: The Food You Need. And it released in September of this year. Right?

POPPY: Yes, in the UK, it came out in September. But in North America and Canada, it's coming out 9th of November.

SABRINA: Excellent. OK. So I want to talk about this a little bit because my background is actually in publishing. I went to a publishing school, believe it or not, after college. And then I worked for Penguin Books for quite some time.

POPPY: Oh, lovely.

SABRINA: I know how long it takes for a book to come out. You lost your job in March.

POPPY: Yeah.

SABRINA: Got a book deal, wrote a book, recipe tested, shot the book, and published it in under two years. Tell me your secrets. Go.

POPPY: So it's just absolute mania. That's what happens. So the publishers in the UK — so Bloomsbury got in contact with me in, I think, it's about September of 2020. And I saw this email and I nearly wet myself. I was like, 'Oh my God, what the hell is going on?' and I think I had about between 50 to 100,000 followers at that point, you know, massive still on TikTok for me, I thought that was, you know, the pinnacle. So, I put a proposal forward the week later and they enjoyed it and it got pushed on. And then my followers were going up as well. And they were like, 'while the ball's rolling, let's try and get this done.' So initially they said, September 2022. And then I think because overnight on one of my videos, I went from like 200,000 followers to like a million. And they were like, 'right September 2021.' And I was like, 'what? How? How is this going to happen?' So, all the recipes were written and tested by January.

SABRINA: Oh my God.

POPPY: Which was really, really fun, a lot of washing up. But really good fun.

SABRINA: You didn't sleep. You didn't sleep for three months. I got you.

POPPY: It was just constant. Yeah. So that was really interesting to do because a lot of the recipes within the book are things I just love to eat anyway. And stuff that I cook on the regular. But then I have to stop and weigh everything out and test it. And make sure it was still the right thing.

As a chef, you kind of do cook with your eyes and heart. Sometimes you don't always weigh everything out, you're just making things that taste nice. So to go back and have to weigh everything was like a struggle for me. And then we had the photoshoot, I was cooking, like, about eight dishes a day. More than eight dishes a day, but you can only take photos of eight dishes a day because it was a lot of work for the photographer, for the props person it was stressful, but it wasn't as bad as it should have been for the time frame, I think.

SABRINA: This reminds me of the Harry Potter words where they're in divination, and Ron is reading Harry's tea leaves. And he goes, so you're going to suffer but you're going to be happy about it.

POPPY: Yes, that's exactly what it was like. I was suffering, but I was so happy that I was doing it for my own cookbook. So I was like, yeah, we'll just be fine. We'll do it.

SABRINA: Well, I mean, truly, congratulations on that because I know what that process is like, and for your editors and the publishing house to have such faith in you and you proved them right. I mean, you really delivered. And the book is spectacular. And I just know...

POPPY: Thank you.

SABRINA: I mean, it's just the beginning for you. I can just feel it.

POPPY: I like to think so. Every day I'm like, if it all ends now, I've had the best — like, I'm so grateful that all this has happened, and it's just — I would never have thought this could have ever actually happened. So I think that's one thing that helps me is that I'm just — I'm very, very happy that this — I was even given an opportunity to do any of this. So that's what I — you know, I take it one day at a time because you never know.


POPPY: It's set out in, kind of, a different way to a normal cookbook. It's got these 12 core recipes which make the chapters. And those core recipes are like the skills almost. So you have, like, tomato sauce and then you build it from that core recipe to make, like, a staple dish, which is well-good meatballs and spaghetti. You know, something like everyone knows, but this is the way that I like to do it. And then you kind of got a brunch dish as well, using that tomato sauce. And then you've got a potato dish using the tomato sauce. And then you've got a fancy AF dishes using the tomato sauce. And that goes on throughout the whole book. And I just wanted to make it really accessible for everybody, whether it's the first time you've ever been in the kitchen or whether you make things for your whole family every single day. It's just — you know, you can take something away from it each time, I like to think. Like a new skill or a new idea.

SABRINA: I mean, to me, it kind of sounds like you're translating your chef training into this book because so often, you know, it's kind of like you learn the mother sauces and you learn the techniques to do something so basic and then you build up. So really, it is like lessons from a Michelin star chef.

POPPY: I'll put that on the tagline next time actually. That sounds better than what I've written in there.

SABRINA: You're going to send me a signed copy and you can — yeah. Write that right on the cover and I'll take a picture and make sure everyone sees it. I do feel like this is just the beginning for you, which means there's lots more recipes to cook, but I'm dying to know what is the one potato recipe or maybe several, that you haven't tried yet, but are dying to, like, put up on TikTok?

POPPY: Oh, OK. In America, there's a lot of whipped potatoes. And you do it with, like, the hand whisk sort of thing and actually whip them. I want to develop that, but with also like a cheese within. So it's, like, a cheesy, whipped like mash baked something else underneath it. That's something that is calling my name constantly. And now we're into autumn or fall. I'm like, 'Yes, this is when this time needs to happen.' So I've seen a lot of videos like that, and I'm like, I need to recreate and make this my own. I keep trying to do — you know, have you seen the fans of potato? And you, like, do a little crisscross?


POPPY: They're the most difficult things I've ever tried, attempted to make in my life. Whenever I do it, I try — you know, I cut it nice and neat and I think I've done is perfectly. And then I put it onto the skewer and it doesn't move. It just stays in the chunk that's just got some crisscrosses in it. And I'm like, 'How do they do this?' So I really want to get better at that, but I don't think I'm going to be able to. I don't think I've got the skillset for that. Maybe. I need to work it out. It's one of those things that really, really frustrates me because I'm like, it looks so simple. And I should be able to do that, in essence. But I can't. But yeah, so that's what I want to be able to do.

SABRINA: I'm going to keep an eye out. I think I remember you saying at some point that your favorite potato might be the potato fondant?

POPPY: Yes, I love potato fondant. I just love that you can just cook potato and pure butter, and it becomes crispy and then really soft and buttery on the inside. It's just one of my favorite things in the world. In the world. My top five spuds always, always change. It's with the seasons. It's whatever I'm fancying, whether I've had it recently. But it's usually a fondant's up there just because of how decadent it is.

SABRINA: OK, I need you to tell our listeners how to do this fondant if they haven't watched the video yet. Go. Make it really simple.

POPPY: OK, so, peel your potato. Cut into a round as best you can. Similar heights, if you do more than one. Then in a pan, you want to get a little bit of oil, a little bit of garlic, and thyme. Heat that up. Put your potatoes in on a flat side. Then, once they got cooked on one side, turn them over onto the opposite side, and then you're going to cover with clarified butter. And then you're going to put a little bit of baking paper on top, so none of the steam can kind of go away. So they can cook through. And then you're going to leave it on a low medium heat. You kind of have to keep an eye on it until all the butter has gone, disappeared, and you're left with these potatoes that are stuck to the bottom of the pan. And you just need to leave them to cool down completely. Give them a little bit of a wiggle, and eventually, they'll come off the bottom and they are golden brown, crispy, like, unbelievably delicious. But then they are soft and cooked just with full whipped butter the whole way through. And they are, they are deathly, but they are absolutely delicious.

SABRINA: I think we need to use the word magnificent.

POPPY: Mag — oh yes. They are magnificent. You will look at them and go, how did I just make that? Oh, how is that even a thing that you can eat because it is so perfect?

SABRINA: Now you said cover with butter. Does that mean the whole potato needs to be sort of covered with — you just slather butter?

POPPY: Submerge. Submerge with melted, clarified butter.


POPPY: So it's just liquid. It's so bad.

SABRINA: So your arteries will clog.

POPPY: Yeah.

SABRINA: But you will die so happy, basically.

POPPY: Yeah. And I mean, you're going to do about five, six potatoes in one pan. And you want to make sure that all the crevices are filled. So any kind of trimmings of the potato, shove that down every orifice of the pan. Then you get these little extra bits to eat as well that aren't particularly perfect, but they're delicious.

SABRINA: Oh, that sounds so good. OK, I know what I'm making for lunch today. There goes my 'healthy eating' for the day. Poppy, I love hearing about kitchen disasters. It's like a thing of mine.

POPPY: Yeah.

SABRINA: Because I have so many on the regular and I just want to hear that everyone that's doing amazing things in the kitchen also has these disaster moments?

POPPY: All the time. All the time. The amount of things I have to start again. So professionally, I've done a few massive ones. Caramel just haunts me. I'd made some caramel. I poured it over — you know, used it. And then I put the pan, the dirty pan filled with water back onto the stove because it gets the stuck caramel off.


POPPY: So it's a brownie color. So I go back over a few minutes later, I pick up the pan and I throw it down the sink.

SABRINA: Oh my God.

POPPY: And I smelled it. And I stopped and I thought, 'what is this?' And it was the pork choux which the head chef had been making for two days. And I just poured it down the sink.

SABRINA: OK, that's, that's a faux pas.

POPPY: I was stood there and I was, like, shaking. So I just realized what I'd done. Everyone looked at me and I was like, I'm so sorry, I am so sorry. And I started laughing because when I get nervous, I start laughing. And they were like, what are you laughing at? And I was like, I don't know! And then eventually I end up crying because I was like, I don't know how to deal with this. And I just kept apologizing. Eventually, we laughed about it after about three weeks.

SABRINA: Three weeks, right? That's actually a relatively short amount of time. I think if I had done that with one of my old chefs — yeah, I don't even want to think about that, actually.

POPPY: It was quite — it was a nice restaurant. There's only about four of us in there, so we all had to get along. There was no option for anyone to be nasty so the rest of the service I didn't get spoken to by anybody, which was like, fair enough, I'll take that. I don't want to speak to anybody right now. But then, yeah, about two to three weeks later, we were all back on good terms and laughing about the pork sauce.

SABRINA: Oh my God. But yes, in this story is a good lesson for our listeners. It's something I do every night, especially when I use my Dutch ovens. When you have crusty stuff. Don't try scrubbing it off. Just put some water in it, put it back on the stove, and boil it off. And a trick that one of my chef friends taught me, Joanna Hellgrill from D.C., she told me to add a little bit of baking soda and make, like, a paste and then put it on the stove. Works like a charm every time.

POPPY: Oh, so you put the paste on and then water. And then...

SABRINA: Yes, so actually not even that much water. So what I'll do is, I'll dump out, you know, whatever I can in the sink.

POPPY: Yeah.

SABRINA: And then I'll grab my baking soda and I'll just sort of put a thin layer on the bottom of the pan and I'll just take my sponge or whatever and just sort of like, mix it in with just maybe a droplet or two of water. So a paste forms. And I put it right where all the sticky, stubborn bits are. And then I add a little more water after that. Maybe like five minutes later, throw it on the stove. It all boils off and your pan will look brand new every time.

POPPY: Oh, that's perfect. That's a good tip, that is. I haven't heard that one.

SABRINA: Yeah. OK. Alright. We're going to do a special segment. It's called fire five.


SABRINA: And I'm going to ask you five questions real fast.

POPPY: Yeah.

SABRINA: You can't think you just have to answer.

POPPY: OK, there could be some very weird answers coming out. Let's go.

SABRINA: I should have thought of more weird questions, but oh well. We have what we have. OK? Who is the one celebrity chef you're dying to cook with?

POPPY: Gordon Ramsay.

SABRINA: I knew you were going to say that.

POPPY: I think everybody just wants to, don't they? Just wants — just cause, I mean, he's doing everything as well now. It'd be great.

SABRINA: He's coming to the United States, I believe, too.

POPPY: Oh, is he?


POPPY: Well — maybe you need to get him on.

SABRINA: OK, well, Gordon Ramsay, if you're listening. OK, here we go. Favorite type of salt?

POPPY: Maldon.

SABRINA: OK. Favorite kitchen tool?

POPPY: Maryse. Spatula, sorry.

SABRINA: Worst potato type ever?

POPPY: Oh, oh, that's a horrible question. Why would you say that?

SABRINA: I know.

POPPY: They're all my babies. I think my least favorite, although I do love them, is a new potato.

SABRINA: I have to say I love cooking new potatoes in stock and bacon fat and just like putting it on a pan together, it really is good.

POPPY: Oh, you've made me regret all of my life choices. Yes. That sounds delicious. Damn.

SABRINA: OK. When you come over to the States, you're going to come visit me in San Diego.


SABRINA: And I will make you bacon fat new potatoes.

POPPY: Oh, you're going to see a video come out soon. You can be like that's mine. I'll be like, I'm sorry.

SABRINA: You better put my name on it.

POPPY: No. Yeah, I will.

SABRINA: OK. Would you rather have your own TV show or just keep doing social?

POPPY: Oh, social. TV! Both. Both, yeah I'd go on there.

SABRINA: You're allowed to say both.

POPPY: Both, why not?

SABRINA: Trick question. I'm helping you manifest. OK? We're going to say it. We're going to speak it into existence. TV and social. Gordon Ramsay's special guest star. TV and social.

POPPY: That's gonna be the best 2022 ever.

SABRINA: Well, you know what, I have to say that post that you shared on Instagram where you said, I've lost my job. I'm so lost. I don't know what to do now. You ended that post — and I have the quote. You ended it saying, '2021, I'm coming for ya.' And you did.

POPPY: Did I? Wow. I manifested it. I didn't even realize.

SABRINA: So now we're going to manifest 2022. And for everybody listening, this is your chance. Shoot your shot.


SABRINA: Just speak out loud what you want and just go for it. I bet you things will be a good day.

POPPY: Yes, you just got to keep saying it. You've got to keep saying in your head, I'm coming for you and then you'll do it.

SABRINA: And when all else fails, just go cook some potatoes.

POPPY: And that will make you feel happy.

SABRINA: Well, thank you so much for joining us. I can't wait to keep seeing what you do and developing our friendship and hopefully having you on here again soon and all our love across the pond.

POPPY: Oh, thank you so much. I thoroughly enjoyed it. I am going to go and cook myself some potatoes as well because, why not?

SABRINA: Why not? OK, thank you everyone for listening.

POPPY: Thank you.

SABRINA: Poppy's new book is called Poppy Cooks: The Food You Need. And of course, you can find her all over TikTok, Instagram, and Twitter by searching 'Poppy Cooks.' Stay tuned after the break, as we'll chat with Chitra Agrawal, the founder of Brooklyn Delhi. She and I will be discussing the differences between Northern and Southern Indian cuisine and she'll also tell us how we really can't go wrong by adding a jar of achar, or pickles, to our next foray in the kitchen. That and more are coming up here on Homemade.

Hey everyone! Welcome back to Homemade. I'm Sabrina Medora and my next guest is Chitra Agrawal, co-founder of Brooklyn Delhi. Brooklyn Delhi is an Indian-American food brand inspired by Chitra's family recipes and her love for plant-based ingredients. She's specialized in developing flavors inspired by her heritage, as well as Indian culinary traditions for over a decade.

Chitra is the author of Vibrant India: Fresh Vegetarian Recipes from Bangalore to Brooklyn. Her work has been featured in the New York Times, Food & Wine, Vogue Magazine, and many many more. Please welcome Chitra Agrawal.

Hi, Chitra, and welcome to Homemade.

CHITRA AGRAWAL: Hi, thanks for having me.

SABRINA: Thank you so much for being here. I am thrilled to be talking with you because my whole pantry is just Brooklyn Delhi and has been for many, many years.

CHITRA: Aw. Amazing. Thank you.

SABRINA: I love, love, love, love all of your products because it reminds me of home. And in a way, it actually reminds me of more than home because my mom didn't always make the most Indian food growing up. Like, she'd make Parsi food a lot, but not necessarily like achars and things like that. So it's kind of like having that taste of India when I'm no longer in India.

CHITRA: Amazing. I love to hear that.

SABRINA: Let's start off with were you born and raised in India? Or were you born and raised in the United States? Tell me about your background.

CHITRA: I was born and raised in Jersey.

SABRINA: Where in Jersey?

CHITRA: In New Providence. It's a really small town in Union County.


CHITRA: OK. You know?

SABRINA: I lived in Jersey. That's where my family settled.

CHITRA: Oh! Oh, that's right. I remember reading that. OK?


CHITRA: Where were you in Jersey?

SABRINA: We were in Bergen County.

CHITRA: Oh, that's the next county over. OK. My parents, though, would go back to India every year. And so that's kind of how my brother, who's older than me, and I would really have a connection to India and our relatives there and then my parents, they both love to cook. So that's another way that we were exposed to Indian culture. But, yeah, I'm a Jersey girl.

SABRINA: That is fantastic. I, too, am a Jersey girl. Although I've lived in so many different places, I feel like I can call so many places my home and yet nowhere my home. So that gets weird. But...


SABRINA: Jersey I...

CHITRA: No, I get you. I went to school in California and lived in California for about eight years and then moved back to the East Coast about, I guess, now 16 years ago.

SABRINA: OK. And are you in Brooklyn now?

CHITRA: Right now I'm in upstate New York, in Kingston, New York.

SABRINA: OK. But you were in Brooklyn when you started this venture, I'm guessing?

CHITRA: Yes. Yes. I was. And just with the two kids and like pandemic, we ended up kind of moving to many different places in the last year. We were near my husband's family in Wisconsin. We were living in another place in upstate. We went back to Brooklyn and then finally just came back up here.

SABRINA: OK, a very important question. Is your husband a Packers fan?

CHITRA: He is. He is.

SABRINA: OK, good.

CHITRA: He's not like a super sports guy. But if you were to ask him who his team is, it would definitely be the Packers.

SABRINA: Well, go Pack go, because my husband's family is also from Wisconsin and Arizona, but...


SABRINA: A big, big presence in Wisconsin. And when I first moved to the United States you know, being in Jersey, I kind of automatically gravitated towards the Yankees and the Giants and things like that. But as I started to understand sports more and then I went to school in Indiana, I actually just, like, fell in love with the Packers. And then lo and behold, like seven years later, I met my husband, who is a huge Packers fan. So we're a big Packers household here.

CHITRA: That's cool. Yeah, that's what I was foreshadowing of meeting your husband.

SABRINA: Yeah, yeah.

CHITRA: You first became a Packers fan.

SABRINA: That's so great. So Brooklyn and then Delhi. So I'm guessing that your family is from Delhi.

CHITRA: My father is from Delhi and my mom is actually from Bangalore. So two different cultures and foods that I grew up eating, too.

SABRINA: Yeah, it would be great for the listeners to understand a bit about why those two are so different.

CHITRA: Gosh, they're — they're worlds apart. A lot of North Indian food, I think most people are a little bit more familiar with because a lot of the Indian restaurants serve more North Indian food. So my dad would make chole or chana masala, rajma, which I feel like needs to get a little bit more play here, which I love.


CHITRA: Which is kidney bean curry. And then Matar paneer. And then he loves to make bread. So he'll make paratha or puri or chapati. And then my mom, who's from South India, I feel like it's more rice-centric. So, a lot of, kind of like, lemon rice and then Saru, which is lentil and tomato. Some people call it — I guess, it's also referred to as rasam.

SABRINA: OK, yeah.

CHITRA: And sambar. I guess in — she grew up in Karnataka, in Bangalore, so it's called kuli.


CHITRA: I know that's the whole thing about, I feel like, Indian cuisine. It's just kind of like — I mean, not only is it so vast and different from region to region, but it's like within South India, it's like similar dishes are called by different names.

SABRINA: Yeah, it does get very confusing, even for someone that — I mean, I have spent 13, 14 years of my life in India, and I still couldn't identify half of those foods that I saw.

CHITRA: Right. Yeah, totally. So, yeah. So I feel like that's kind of the difference. A very simplistic difference is that my father's food would be, kind of, more kind of breads and curries. And then my mother's would be kind of more soupy like lentils and rice dishes. A lot of coconut, curry leaves, mustard seeds. And then my father is more kind of like garam masala, coriander powder, cumin seed. So, those are kind of the differences just from, like, a very high level.

SABRINA: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. And so you have been a chef and a cooking instructor. You have a book called, Vibrant India: Fresh Vegetarian Recipes from Bangalore to Brooklyn, which came out a couple of years ago now. And tell me how Brooklyn Delhi came to be.

CHITRA: Sometimes I think, I'm like, I can't believe I'm doing this because I was doing something totally different before and I started just writing on a blog. It started in 2009, called the ABCD's of Cooking. A blog that I think just, you know, my mother read.

SABRINA: And for those who don't know ABCD stands for American Born Confused Desi, so it's hilarious that your blog was actually named that.

CHITRA: Yeah, I mean, because it's this term that a lot of kids that grew up in America, their parents just are like, 'Oh, you're being such an ABCD.' And I felt like I wanted to take that term and just throw it on its head and just also celebrate this perspective, which is the Indian-American perspective. And so a lot of the food that I was making, I really started to just document my family's recipes. But then over time, I was starting to play with the techniques and make different recipes based off of maybe seasonal produce or working with different chefs that came from different points of view.

So I had an Indian-Mexican supper club at one point and an Indian-Chinese supper club with a Chinese cookbook author, Diana Quan. So, I was able to kind of explore my own kind of interest in cooking, using a lot of these techniques and recipes that I had learned through my family. And I think that when you think about ABCD, the Indian-American perspective in food, a lot of that work that I was doing before really just rolled into what became Brooklyn Delhi, which was, I can argue is a better name than ABCD.

So, yeah. So that's basically, I mean, how Brooklyn Delhi came to be. And I had actually developed a lot of the achar recipes when I was writing the ABCD's of Cooking, where I was taking produce that I was getting in my weekly farm share and then making achar out of them. So I'd get rhubarb, I'd get green gooseberries, heirloom tomatoes, all of these different things and I grew up loving achar, so trying to figure out, like, how can I make my own using these vegetables and fruits. Because I feel like achar, a lot of what it is is it's preservation of vegetables and fruits that are in season. And so I wanted to apply that same kind of thinking to the vegetables and fruits that I was getting in my weekly farm share.

SABRINA: Yeah. And a lot of people, especially these days, are familiar with fermentation.

CHITRA: Right.

SABRINA: And I actually had a couple of people because I will often post about the different achars that I like to eat with my food or even just put on popcorn. And, someone reached out to me yesterday saying, what is that? And I said — the one I was eating was actually not Brooklyn Delhi, but it was gor Keri, which is — it's like the mango achar.


SABRINA: And I tried to explain it's — because she thought it was something along the lines of like the spicy chili crunch. Like, a Lao gan ma, I was like, well, actually, it's very sweet with notes of spices that come from the east. Like lots of cumin, fenugreek, asafoetida, and turmeric, but a beautiful way to preserve any vegetable or fruit.

CHITRA: Oh, yeah. Definitely. You know, the one thing that I find so interesting is that achar or just pickling, in general, is practiced all over India. And it's really made in so many different ways. So when we're kind of trying to figure out how do we want to launch achar with Brooklyn Delhi, we had thought about, should we call it Indian pickle. Right? Or should we do achar, which is in Hindi, that's what Indian pickle is referred to as. But where my mom in her language, Kannada, it's called avakaai. So I mean, it's also referred to in all of these different ways. And it's so cool to kind of just understand what gets pickled and how things get pickled. So I would learn in North India for my relatives that they would take root vegetables and then pickle them and use mustard oil and different spices, I'd say, than my South Indian relatives. They'd use fennel seed, and kalonji, and coriander seed. And then in the South, where my mom is from some of the pickles will use sesame oil, and instead of like a root vegetable, well, primarily, my grandmother would make lemon or lime pickle, or green mango, and she would use fenugreek seed powder, black mustard seeds, asafoetida, and chili. So, she would just like have achar sitting in these ceramic, kind of, jugs and it would just be the lemons or limes fermenting in the salt and turmeric and chili.

And then she would take, kind of, a portion of that and then season it with oil and the asafoetida, black mustard seeds. And that's what they would kind of eat maybe that day or that week. but then the rest of the pickle, it would continue to ferment. So it's so interesting cause, like, the flavor changes as well, right?

SABRINA: That's so interesting. I'd never heard of that.


SABRINA: I mean, I'll be the first to admit I've never made achar in my life. Why would I when I have Brooklyn Delhi?

CHITRA: Right, right. I know.

SABRINA: But yeah, it's so interesting to hear how versatile it can be. And another thing that I always like to tell my friends and family that aren't as familiar with achar is it's less like a crunchy pickle, like a kimchi or something like that. And it's more like a jammy pickle, which is really just like a treat and my favorite way of eating a pickle because it's got that — I don't even really know how to describe it.

CHITRA: Is it umami?

SABRINA: It's got that viscosity.

CHITRA: Oh yes.

SABRINA: It's got the — the texture of it.

CHITRA: Right.

SABRINA: It's not just pieces of mango that you pick up and put on your mouth, and it's like a crunch with some fermentation. I mean, you can literally spread it on bread and use it as a jam.

CHITRA: Totally. I know. And that's why we kind of struggled with should we come out with it as Indian pickle. But it was just that if we were selling it in grocery stores here in the U.S., a lot of people — the first thing they think about when they think about a pickle is a dill pickle. And I think that, as you said, like an Indian pickle is so different. And there's a lot of education as far as kind of explaining to people what it's all about and how to use it too.

SABRINA: So tell us, how do you use your achars?

CHITRA: Well, I use it in many different ways. Traditionally I love it with rice and daal. I mean, that's like, that's it. But in South India, also, this is one thing that I love that my mom's family does often which is serve just rice, yogurt, and then mix in the achar, and a lemon pickle. I mean, that is such a nostalgic flavor for me. And then I also grew up having it in like cheese sandwiches, so spread on a sandwich. I love my tomato achar with eggs, and, like the garlic pickle. We make a roasted garlic, like, a bread with it. It's like garlic bread, but with the roasted garlic achar. It is so good.

SABRINA I've done that myself and I have to vouch it's so easy. Just like go to the supermarket, get some baguettes or any kind of crusty bread and then just swoop just like lashings of the garlic. I mean, I've literally used an entire jar in one sitting. And it is the best, the absolute best. And then for your tomato achar, I actually use it as a substitute for other ingredients and spices. So I know it has cumin. I know it's got tomato. I know it has been fenugreek. So I will just dollop that in if I'm making a daal or a curry or even keema, which is our version of minced meat.

CHITRA: Oh, yeah. Yeah.

SABRINA: I'll just use that.

CHITRA: Amazing.

SABRINA: And honestly, I'll just put ground beef in the pan. A little bit of salt. I'll put it in like half a jar of the tomato achar, and I'll just let that cook. And it's delicious.

CHITRA: I love that. See, I was just talking to my brother and he was saying — because he knows that I put a lot of different recipes on our blog. He was just like, you've got to put my bean recipe on your blog. And I was just like, well, send it to me. But he does a similar thing where he just cooks beans and he just puts like the tomato jar and he's like, that's the recipe.

SABRINA: Honestly, your products make cooking Indian food at home so easy. Truly it does.

CHITRA: I love that.

SABRINA: You had a very interesting social media post about curry.

CHITRA: Oh, yes.

SABRINA: And how to use the word. And I know that your line now includes curry mustard, coconut curry, tomato curry. And so I'm very curious. I'd love for you to share with our listeners your take on the word curry and what role it plays in the genre of Indian food.

CHITRA: I think that a lot of people are really split on the word curry because it was a word that was coined by the British and also came about by a misunderstanding of probably what they were eating in South India, in particular. I grew up where my parents would actually use the word curry to describe something that they were making that had a mix of Indian spices, but didn't have a formal name. But I think the problem with curry is that when people start to use the word curry instead of the actual name that the dish was given, at that point, you're starting to kind of erase those regional dishes.

And I think that's where we have a problem. But there's a lot of different places around the world that use the word curry, and it's actually, like, a very nostalgic word for some people. I mean, because it reminds them of the food that they grew up eating. I mean, in Japan, there's curry. In the Caribbean, there's curry. In South Africa, there's curry. And a lot of people when they talk about it they have great love for that word.

And so I don't like to say that you shouldn't use the word curry, but I don't think that it should be synonymous with all Indian food, which is what I think happens. I mean, I can't tell you the number of times — you know, even when I've been demoing where people tell me that, 'oh, well, I don't like Indian food because I don't like curry.' And I think that was really the motivation for me to kind of put that post together because it's such a complex issue because some people don't want to use the word, but some people grew up with the word. And so I just wanted to educate people about where the word came from and how to navigate Indian dishes and encourage people to learn the words or learn the names of the dishes before they go to the C-word.

SABRINA: Right, right. That's funny. I mean, I honestly, I completely understand where people are coming from when they use the word curry because, just as you said, it is such a broad term and you know, there's Japanese curries and Caribbean curries and Indian curries. And in a way, I think that the word has come to represent a gravy-like dish that has spice, that has heat. That has heat and spice. Some people will try a curry and then just assume that all curries are similar. But the fact is that you know, the family of spices that we use is so vastly different to what you would find in a Japanese curry. And then with India, it does add a layer of complication because I want to say — what? Sixty-five percent of all of our food is gravy-based?

CHITRA: Yeah. I mean, saucy in nature.

SABRINA: Yeah. So I can definitely see where people sort of find it easy to be like, 'oh, curry.' But I also think it's important for people like yourself and brands like Brooklyn Delhi to help broaden the knowledge of Indian food, and to advance the understanding of it in Western society, for sure. So I love that you're doing that. And I also love how accessible you're making all of these flavors.

CHITRA: Yeah, I do a lot of work around the education piece, and I think that also comes from just being a recipe blogger before. It really is one of the parts of running the business that I enjoy most is coming up with the recipes for using the products and I really enjoy that part.

SABRINA: Earlier in this episode, we spoke with Poppy O'Toole, who is a big TikTok superstar now because she has made cooking so accessible to so many people. Especially her love for potatoes, and she's really blown up. And I feel that there's a great similarity between you two because Brooklyn Delhi has — I mean, you name it. Vogue, Food Network, Food & Wine, Bon Appetit, Eater, New York Times. I mean, the list goes on and on — Epicurious. You guys have been featured everywhere. What does that feel like?

CHITRA: It definitely feels good because there is so many times where I've had doubts about if this business is viable if it was going to work. And I think that to get validation from food critics, I mean it is important for us. It also helps to spread the word to people that have not heard about the types of products that we sell. The main thing is trying to get as many people to try what we put out. That has been the largest hurdle. It's just, kind of, awareness in general.

SABRINA: Can you share some fun like achar tips if people want to try their hand at making some at home for this winter season?

CHITRA: Yes, definitely. I think winter season is great because that's actually citrus season. So, one of the most fun pickles that I love to make is a Meyer Lemon pickle. I actually have that recipe in my cookbook. It's pretty simple, but it just takes time. You start just with salt, turmeric, and then chopped lemons. Or you can also use limes. I like using thin-skinned citrus because it takes less time, basically. Because you're waiting for the skins to kind of break down so that they get kind of like that nice consistency and a Meyer lemon has a thinner skin and it has a bit of sweetness. And so that's one of my favorites to pickle. I kind of layer of the salt and turmeric with layers of the cut fruit. And then you basically just cap it and let it sit and do its thing. Maybe, every couple of days you come back and you may stir it around. You shake it. You have, like, a little relationship with your fermenting citrus. And then when it gets to the point where the lemons have kind of just broken down enough, then you can start adding the masala or the different spices. And what I love to do is take fenugreek seeds and roast them till they get kind of nutty and then grind it and then mix that with the chili powder and then have that mix together with the citrus. And then I usually have that sit for a little bit. And then at the very end, I will temper or heat oil with asafoetida and mustard seeds. And that's kind of like the final way to season the pickle. And it's basically ready to eat at that point. It's just so much fun to make a pickle because you've spent all this time that you, kind of, invest with it and then to enjoy it and to share it with other people, I think it's really special.

SABRINA: Absolutely. You mentioned letting the pickle with the salt and everything just do its thing. How long would you recommend you leave that for?

CHITRA: So it could be like two weeks or so. It really depends on, like, the skin of the pickle. If you can, leave it for a month. That's great. I feel like the flavor really develops nicely. So you could probably get somewhere good in two weeks though if you were kind of wanting to get going with it.

SABRINA: Right. And do you pack it all in as tightly as possible or do you leave some room to breathe in the Mason jar?

CHITRA: Oh, so this is a very important tip. Now you should try to get the juiciest, citrus that you can get.


CHITRA: Which should be available during the winter so what I do is, I layer it, but I gently kind of press it. And when you want to start the fermentation process, there should be enough lemon juice that covers till the very topmost lemon. So if your lemons are not juicy enough, then you have to add more juice, though. So that's an important part. They should be submerged.

SABRINA: OK, understood. So they're not packed dry, they should be packed wet.

CHITRA: Right.

SABRINA: And then leave it anywhere from two weeks to a month and then start adding and layering in those spices.

CHITRA: Right. Yeah.

SABRINA: And what would you do with this lemon achar? How would you serve it and eat it at home?

CHITRA: Oh gosh. The first thing I put it on rice and yogurt. I love putting it in salad dressings. Literally, you can just mix it with, like, some olive oil and it has so much flavor in it. You are pretty much good to go by cutting up the lime or lemon pickle and then mixing it with some olive oil and then putting it on some greens. It's so delicious, just, even like that.

SABRINA: Wow. That's a game-changer.

CHITRA: Yeah, I mean, I love making dressings, too. I use, like, all of our products, like our mango chutney our curry mustard, the achars. Like, we make salad dressings with them.

SABRINA: Well, this has been such a good experience chatting with you. And people should know that I also just put it on popcorn. I will take the garlic and dip chips into it. Everybody who listens knows that I love dipping chips into things. It's such a versatile line of product and I can't wait to see what else you're coming out with. And for our listeners, if you are curious about some more recipes, you can always check out Chitra's book, which is called Vibrant India: Fresh Vegetarian Recipes from Bangalore to Brooklyn. And if you just want to take it from me and be kind of lazy, basically select a protein and either marinade it or cook it in pretty much any Brooklyn Delhi sauce and you won't be sorry. Thank you, Chitra.

CHITRA: Yes. Thanks for having me, Sabrina.

SABRINA: There you have it, folks. Get your simmer sauces and achars from BrooklynDelhi.com or go to BrooklynDelhi.com to find a store near you that carries the product. You can also learn more about Indian Cooking from Chitra via Instagram at @Chitra or buy her book, Vibrant India: Fresh Vegetarian Recipes from Bangalore to Brooklyn.

And then get excited for next week's episode because we are talking to someone truly iconic. She made the switch from politics to PBS hosting an award-winning show Pati's Mexican Table, and that's barely scraping the surface of everything she's accomplished. We'll be welcoming the one and only Pati Jinich.

PATI JINICH: Food helps us understand ourselves, and food helps us connect and communicate. And many times, when people can't understand each other, it is only by way of food that you can open a little door and say, OK, you don't get me, but you like my food, you know? And it's a way for Mexicans to understand ourselves and to help other people understand us and show how we can enrich, you know, not one country, but two.

SABRINA: You won't wanna miss it so be sure to follow Homemade on your favorite podcast app. We're always looking for feedback on the show so if you love us and have a second, please rate us on Apple Podcasts and leave us a review.

Don't forget, you can find thousands of recipes, meal ideas, and cooking how-to's from the world's largest community of cooks at Allrecipes.com. And you can find me on Instagram at @SabrinaMedora or at sabrinamedora.com.

This podcast was produced by AllRecipes with Digital Content Director Jason Burnett. Thanks to our production team of Rachael King, Matt Sav, Danielle Roth, Jim Hanke, Maya Kroth, and Andy Bosnak at Pod People.

This is Homemade, I'm Sabrina Medora, and remember: Cook with love, eat with joy.

Was this page helpful?
You’ll Also Love