Open Sesame: Meet Chitra Agrawal
Q. What are some of your favorite tunes in your kitchen playlist?
It's always changing, and kind of all over the place. I just found an old iPod (yes, I'm dating myself) and have been listening to a lot of Digable Planets, B52s, Galt MacDermot, and Toots and the Maytals tracks. I also really love my friend Zain’s band Humeysha.
Q. What’s the last thing you ate that brought you joy?
When my parents come to visit, they always bring a suitcase full of my favorite foods, frozen in Ziploc bags and meticulously labeled with the name of the dish and date it was prepared. Just thinking about it now is enough to make me teary. They came to the city before the pandemic, and I just recently happened upon the last bag of my mother's spicy pumpkin gojju, which was a pleasant surprise. It knocked me right out of my quarantine malaise!
Q. What’s an ingredient that you think people underestimate?
Even though I just use a pinch of asafetida in recipes, it brings loads of umami-rich flavor. I find that a lot of people definitely underestimate this spice and often leave it out when they’re making Indian dishes, which boggles my mind.
Q. Who are your culinary heroes?
I was very close to my paternal grandmother, and I try to channel her when I'm in the kitchen. She put a lot of care and effort into the food she prepared. I can picture her painstakingly filling her famous kachodi with spiced dal and deep frying them to perfection.
Q. Favorite Sunday night dinner?
I grew up in Jersey and I love me some baked ziti!
Q. Fave food travel destination?
My parents’ house!
Q. Your go-to recipe?
Rajma, I make it weekly and never tire of it.
Q. What fruit or vegetable feels like art to you?
Okra, it’s so elegant on the outside, and who doesn’t love the geometric pattern on the inside?
Q. What seasonal fruit or vegetable do you count down the days for?
Oh geez, do I have to choose between tomatoes and mangoes?!
Q. What are you reading or listening to right now?
I adore Peddler Journal and am glued right now to the latest issue of Whetstone Magazine. Both have companion podcasts too!
Q. Which restaurant are you missing the most during this pandemic?
We have been ordering takeout from our favorite places nearby to support them, but I have not been able to visit Amma NYC in a while, and I’m really missing their jackfruit biryani and crispy okra.