Aarti Sequeira hosts the Food Network series "Aarti Party." (Food Network )
Aarti Sequeira is the hostess behind the entertaining blog and Food Network cooking series “Aarti Party,” in which she relays her knowledge of Indian cuisine and puts an approachable spin on American classics. Sequeira, who was born in Mumbai, grew up in Dubai and went to journalism school in Chicago, also was the winner of Season 6 of Food Network’s “The Next Food Network Star.” She lives in Los Angeles and, along with chefs such as Susan Feniger and Rick Moonen, will be a headliner at Savor the Central Coast, a culinary fest that takes place Sept. 27 to 30 in San Luis Obispo County.
What’s coming up next on your menu? I just got back from being in India for three weeks, so I just can't get enough flavors from the southwest coast of India, where I'm from (Mangalore).... So at the moment, I've been making a lot of upma, a south Indian breakfast staple, made of toasted rava (semolina), small cubes of whatever vegetables you have on hand, a little coconut if you're feeling it and my favorite, a sprinkling of cashews. Can you imagine starting your day with that? Instead of rava, I've been using quinoa because my husband and I both have issues with gluten. Of course, my favorite part of the dish is the quintessential south Indian trio that announces that something wonderful is about to happen: garlic, black mustard seeds and curry leaves (plus a little urad and chana dal for nuttiness), all sizzling and crackling in warm oil.
Latest ingredient obsession? Rice! We ate so much rice back home, quite literally for breakfast, lunch and dinner. And not just basmati. My dad's side of the family were rice farmers, and so they're rice purists. I was reunited with a kind of rice that I haven't had since I was in my teens. They called it boiled rice ... short, stubby grains that look like they've been tattooed with fine reddish brown lines (which I was told was the leftover husk). It's nutty with a very pleasant pop in the mouth, perfect to sop up the traditional fiery Mangalorean fish curry. I'm trying to find that rice here in L.A. There's a kind called rosematta that I think might come close. I've also been making pancakes out of soaked rice and coconut, again traditional to Mangalore.
The one piece of kitchen equipment you can’t live without, other than your knives? The old coffee grinder that I use to grind my spices. And my mortar and pestle. I go back and forth between the two depending on how much time I have and my mood. I'll let you guess what kind of mood I'm in when I reach for the mortar and pestle!
Favorite kitchen soundtrack? I can't cook when it's quiet; I need to listen to something. At the moment, I toggle between listening to “This American Life” archives, an album called “Mercyland: Hymns for the Rest of Us” and Josh Garrels’ and my husband's mixes (soundcloud.com/fireball-mcnamara).
The last cookbook you read — and what inspired you to pick it up? “Cooking in the Moment” by Andrea Reusing. I love her restaurant, Lantern, in Raleigh, N.C. But I also love reading her stories about churning butter from fresh, raw cream that she left out on the counter overnight to give it a bit of tang. I want that life!
Savor the Central Coast, $20 to $150 for events; www.savorcentralcoast.com.