As food lovers, we regularly go to great lengths to seek out something new, sometimes spending hours in pursuit of little-known flavors, exotic ingredients and one-of-a-kind dining experiences. And once in a while, a new food product comes along that totally steals our hearts. The latest find: A tiny operation called Brooklyn Delhi whose achaars we just can't get enough of. Otherwise known as Indian pickles, achaars are something like a relish that accompany all kinds of food. They consist of chopped up vegetables or fruits mixed with oils and spices and can come in a variety of flavors and tastes, from sweet to sour to spicy. Achaars are used alongside rice, dal, curry or yogurt all over India, and the ones from Brooklyn Delhi are absolutely addictive.
While achaar is a common condiment throughout India, it isn't always easy to find in the U.S. The achaars that are available tend to be very oily and they rarely use fresh ingredients. Enter Chitra Agrawal, founder and owner of Brooklyn Delhi, and her fiancￃﾩ Ben Garthus. After bringing home some achaar from a trip to India, Agrawal introduced the stuff to her then-boyfriend, Garthus, who became instantly hooked. Agrawal and Garthus realized that achaar in the U.S. was not only difficult to find but lacking in comparison to the kind from India. So the pair decided to take matters into their own hands -- literally.
Agrawal started making her own achaar with ingredients found locally in Brooklyn, and Garthus, a designer and sculptor, designed the packaging. Agrawal makes her achaar at St. John's Bread and Life, a soup kitchen, food pantry and social services non-profit in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn. She works closely with Christy Robb, the organization's food services director, making the relishes and employing some of the St. John's workers to do so. It's a win-win for both parties, and a great example of community synergy.
In addition to operating her own business and working with St. John's Bread and Life, Agrawal also teaches Indian cooking classes, hosts supper club dinners and blogs at The ABCDs of Cooking. It was actually at one of her cooking classes years ago that Agrawal made her first batch of achaar. (She has been working on and perfecting a variety of flavors ever since.) And if that weren't enough, her cookbook, South Indian Home Cooking Using Local Ingredients, is slated for release by Ten Speed Press in March of 2016.
When she launched Brooklyn Delhi in December 2013, Agrawal was committed to using local ingredients, like the ones in her newest flavor, Rhubarb Ginger, which she gets from New York-based Samascott Orchards and Wilcklow Orchards, and Pennsylvania-based Willow Wisp Organic Farm. Like all of the relishes, the Rhubarb Ginger flavor was developed according to what was available locally, and inspired by flavors Agrawal grew up eating. This particular achaar -- a spicy one -- was based on the mango pickles common in Southern India, where Agrawal's mother is from. (Her dad is from Northern India, so she has both influences, combined with her American background.)
In addition to being small-batch, fresh and local, Brooklyn Delhi's relishes are extremely versatile -- the achaars goes just as well with quesadillas as they do dosas -- bridging Indian cuisine with many others. Fort Greene-based market The Greene Grape serves a sandwich with the Rhubarb Ginger achaar mixed with mayonnaise, for example.