A Chef’s Back-Pocket Pantry Meal for Busy Weeknights

The creamy coconut dal Chitra Agrawal makes for herself—and her two-year-old.

August 21, 2019

Welcome to More Ketchup, Please, our newest series that’s spilling the beans on all the different ways we cook for, and with, our kids. We've got some great guests stopping by, to get schooled by their little ones on how to perfect family favorites. The more (cooks) the merrier? We think so.

Chitra Agrawal knows the power of replicating good food memories. After all, the chef, blogger and cookbook author has built a business around melding food and nostalgia, churning out huge batches of Indian achar in an industrial kitchen in Brooklyn. (The bright, tangy rhubarb ginger, for instance, riffs off her grandmother’s lime pickle.)

Food is one of her strongest early childhood memories. “Both my parents worked till 6 p.m. every day, but they always made it a point to make dinner every evening,” she says. So it’s no surprise that she makes cooking a priority in her home, too, often spinning new versions of old favorites for her two-year-old son, Alok.

This coconut dal, for example, is a recipe on heavy rotation. It’s layered with spices that come out in a trained sequence from her masala box, an Indian pantry staple that contains small jars of ground spices and whole seeds.

If you want to follow Agrawal’s lead, don’t be afraid to give your kids some spice, “as long as it’s tempered by other ingredients”—in this case, coconut milk and tamarind.

“I’m still figuring it out, but cooking for a young kid, you can't really get your hopes up high. They just want to eat what they want to eat. So I try to steer him, but don’t get offended if he skips the dal and rice, and only eats yogurt.”

Lentils and beans work well for kids’ meals, because they can be prepped ahead of time, but with a young kid and a young business, Agrawal feels like she’s “flying by the seat of her pants.”

“I can’t wait to have Alok help in the kitchen, because growing up, we were always involved,” she says, “But also, because I don't want to do everything.”

What do you love to cook with your kids? Tell us in the comments below!
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A New Way to Dinner, co-authored by Food52's founders Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs, is an indispensable playbook for stress-free meal-planning (hint: cook foundational dishes on the weekend and mix and match ‘em through the week).

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Arati Menon

Written by: Arati Menon

Arati grew up hanging off the petticoat-tails of three generations of Indian matriarchs who used food to speak their language of love—and she finds herself instinctually following suit. Life has taken her all across the world, but she carries with her a menagerie of inherited home and kitchen objects that serve as her anchor. Formerly at GQ and Architectural Digest, she's now based in Brooklyn.


AJ October 4, 2019
Agreed. Perhaps commonly stocked in the pantry's of the more erudite set, but not in mine. Maybe I'm not in your target audience...
Sarah J. October 3, 2019
Sorry, Food52, I love you, and I may be a lowly backwater cook, but this is not a recipe I could pull out of my back pocket and has ingredients I can't buy in my town, let alone pull out of my pantry. That said, it looks delicious and I wish I could have some, but for "back pocket pantry for a busy weeknight" I expected something different.
Nessa J. October 3, 2019
I agree this is probably the case for many people. But, I didn’t spend much time or money to stock Indian staple spices in my pantry, and it does make a world of difference in flavor and adding to your weeknight repertoire!
Sarah J. October 3, 2019
True! And this is an inspirational recipe.