I have rarely shied away from shortcuts when it comes to cooking. I love a jarred pasta sauce, a frozen dumpling, a rotisserie chicken dressed up with some quickly roasted potatoes. At this point those things barely register as shortcuts; they’re just ingredients.
By this logic, I should have had no problem embracing Brooklyn Delhi’s simmer sauces, which turn making Indian curries and stews into a minutes-long process. But I did. While I loved the brand’s achaars and chutneys — things I rarely make — the simmer sauces seemed, I told myself, unnecessary. I knew how to make korma on my own, homemade, the way it should be — a burden I would have never placed on weeknight ravioli. I felt deeply that the sauces, and the curry powder mixes and jars of ginger-garlic paste that my Didu tells me to buy, were not for me. I had more to prove.
It’s not like it’s hard to make Indian food. I will maintain this to anyone who insists there are too many spices, too many unknowns, and yet has no problem using six different flavorings to make a chili. “Indian food” is already too big of a category to deem “easy” or “hard,” a dosa requiring different skills than a biryani or a macher jhol. But if it is hard, it is because cooking is hard. Browning onions, measuring spices, and braising meat takes time and energy, which sometimes you don’t have and sometimes you do have but would rather spend on something else.
Brooklyn Delhi’s sauces, made by chef and author Chitra Agrawal, are as close as you can get to homemade in a jar. They’re vegan concentrates of spices, onions, nut butters, and coconut milk. And while you can use them as-is — dump one jar into a pound of sauteed protein or veggies, let simmer, et voila — Agrawal explicitly encourages you to cook. The sauces are mild, so you can adjust your own spice levels, and on her website Agrawal features recipes like saag paneer using her coconut cashew korma sauce, or butter masala mac and cheese with her tikka masala sauce. They’re just another ingredient.
And yet, I remained reticent. Before I could love the simmer sauces, which I do now, I first had to undo a lifetime of expectations and anxieties I had absorbed about Indian food, and accept where I stood in my own culture.
Every time I write about my mixed-race identity, I stumble into narratives and tropes that don’t quite fit, in an effort to relate. It’s because I worry my truth is not relatable. Having a white mom descended from colonizers who’ve been here for 400 years, and a dad who came here while there were still racist laws that kept most Asians out, at an age when most of his growing up would be done in America, means that the stories of the “second-generation kid” never really applied to me.