“Aarti Paarti: An American Kitchen with an Indian Soul” lets you know early on that you are in for a rollicking good time. Right there next to the title page is a photo of the heavily pregnant author and Food Network star, Aarti Sequeria, in a flower-bedecked shirt and a bright purple sweater. She is laughing, not a stiff smile-for-the-camera laugh but an honest-to-goodness belly laugh, her nose and eyes scrunched up, her grin broad. Six pages later, we meet her again, this time holding a dried chile pepper under her nose like a fake mustache and striking a Chaplin-esque pose.

Accept an invitation to the paarty, and you’ll find that the recipe titles skew cute – Huggy Buggy Bread Pudding, Sheesh! Kebabs, The Converter’s Brussels Sprouts. The exclamation points are many. The recipes themselves take crazy chances – French onion soup with paneer, cinnamon, star anise and cardamom. Or Pretzel-Fried Steak with Mango-Onion Gravy. The content is an exuberant mashup of Sequeria’s Indian homeland, international childhood and American adulthood.

Yet it’s a cookbook worth taking seriously. The recipes are imaginative and carefully written: you’ll know a paste mixture is ready because it will “glisten as the oil rises to the surface” and that onions are done when they are “comprehensively brown and smell sweet.” And based on the four I tested, by and large the recipes work.

Though I found that bread pudding (with coconut, figs and cashews) flavorful but soggy, co-workers emailed with reactions of “Outstanding!!!” and “It’s fantastic!” The Beetroot Thoran (sautéed beets with coconut and cashews) was rich, surprising and satisfying. Meatball Curry (with mustard seeds, ginger, cumin and coconut milk) gave ho-hum meatballs a kick in the pants. My favorite was the sambar (south Indian vegetable stew). I was fighting a cold when I made it and relished bowl after zippy bowl of wholesome comfort.

I’ve my eye on many more recipes in “Aarti Paarti,” among them Indian-Style Fried Rice with Chorizo, Peanuts & Mustard Seeds; Tri-Colored Coleslaw with Mustard Seed Sizzled Dressing; and a garam masala–flavored chocolate sauce that forms a hard shell when you pour it on ice cream.

Ready to give the slew of recently published, painfully earnest save-the-world cookbooks a rest? Paarti on!




(South Indian

vegetable stew)

Look for fenugreek, curry leaves and other unfamiliar ingredients at an Indian grocers. Despite all the spices, the flavor is quite mild, and despite the lengthy list of ingredients and instructions, it’s a relatively simple dish to make. “Sambar is ubiquitous in South Indian cuisine,” Sequeira says.



1/2 cup toor dal (split pigeon peas), rinsed in several changes of water

1 tablespoon coriander seeds

1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds

1/4 teaspoon (rounded) fenugreek seeds

2 tablespoons sunflower oil

1 medium yellow onion, sliced thinly, about 2 cups


Kosher salt

1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon dried chile flakes

1 large tomato diced (about 11/2 cups)

1/2 teaspoon tamarind concentrate

3 cups assorted vegetables, cut into 1-inch pieces (suggested: 2 small red potatoes, 1 large carrot, small handful green beans, 4 to 5 cocktail onions)



2 tablespoons sunflower oil

1 teaspoon black or brown mustard seeds

12 fresh curry leaves, stems discarded

1/4 teaspoon asafoedtida, optional

Small handful minced cilantro, leaves and soft stems (about 1/4 cup), to finish

To make the stew, cover the rinsed toor dal with plenty of water and soak while you make the sambar spice mix.


Place a small, heavy-bottomed pan (such as cast-iron skillet) over a medium flame. Add the coriander, cumin and fenugreek seeds. Toast, shaking pan and tossing with a spoon frequently, until they darken slightly and give off a lovely aroma. Don’t let them go black, though – that means they have burned! Pour onto a plate and allow to cool slightly.

Now, place a large Dutch oven over medium heat. Add oil. Add onion and sprinkle with a couple pinches of salt. Stir and cover, 2 minutes. Remove lid and stir. Continue in this fashion until onion begins to turn golden brown around the edges and smells sweet, about 8 minutes. As the onion cooks, grind the spice mix you’ve just toasted. (If the onion sticks or you see too much brown forming on the bottom of the pan, add a tablespoon or so of water, and scrape the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon.)

Sprinkle spice powder and red chile flakes over onion. Sauté for 1 minute, stirring constantly.

Now add tomato and cook another minute, until the pieces have softened.

Strain dal, and add to the pot, along with 5 cups water. Turn the heat up to high, cover and bring to a boil. Then turn the heat down until the soup is at a gentle simmer. Cover and cook for 20 minutes, until the dal is halfway done.

Using a ladle, remove a little of the “stock” from the pot into a little bowl. Dissolve tamarind concentrate in the stock, and add back to the pot. Add chopped vegetables (except for tender ones, such as green beans), and season with a little salt.

Bring back up to a boil, then partially cover, turn heat down to a simmer and cook until tender, 15 to 20 minutes. If you’re using green beans, cook the root vegetables for 10 minutes, then add the green beans, and simmer with the lid off; this will help to keep the green beans, um green. Make sure you taste the vegetables at the end of this cooking time to ensure that they’re cooked all the way through. If they’re still tough, then cook for another 5 minutes.

To make the bagaar/tadka, warm the sunflower oil in a small pan over medium-high heat until nearly smoking. Arm yourself with a lid. Add mustard seeds and immediately cover (they should start to sputter). When popping dies down after a couple of seconds, add curry leaves and asafoetida if you’re using it. Cover again and wait for the popping to die down. Pour into the soup, stir.

Taste for seasoning, garnish with cilantro and serve.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.