Aarti Sequeira on ‘the Sacred Seven’ Must-Have Indian Spices

Food Network star Aarti Sequeira kicked her culinary career off on The Next Food Network Star and since then, has shown viewers how to infuse an ordinary meal with exquisite flavor and aroma.

The chef revealed seven of the “essential” spices every kitchen should have on hand to add dimension to just about any dish.

Food Network star Aarti Sequeira wears a yellow sweater in this photograph.
Aarti Sequeira | Paul Archuleta/FilmMagic

Sequeira on one of her favorite ‘food memories’

In her cookbook Aarti Parti: An American Kitchen with an Indian Soul, the chef recalled one of her fondest memories in her childhood kitchen.

“I’m prancing around the garden of our house in Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates, a villa in a sprawling complex of villas, each of which looks the same as the other,” Sequeira writes. “… Generous marigold-hued pieces of tandoori chicken sizzle on the grate, and the whole neighborhood smells like garlic, ginger, fenugreek and cardamom.

“In the kitchen, Mum and the ‘aunties’ are clucking away while sipping shandies. They compare notes on life in this new land so far from home … To this day, whenever I make tandoori chicken, I’m right back in that garden. It soothes me when my heart pines for my family, who now lives in India.”

The first two of Sequeira’s ‘sacred seven’ seasonings may already be in your spice rack

“If you’ve procured yourself a masala dabba, that round, stainless-steel spice box that practically every Indian mother owns, you’ll probably find that it has seven cups,” Sequeira notes in her cookbook.

Here are the seven condiments she keeps in her masala tin:

-Turmeric, which Sequeira says is pronounced “TERM-a-rick. Too-ma-rick just sounds weird to me,” is at the top of her list. The chef calls it “the quintessential Indian spice, and if you don’t think you’ve ever had it before, take a close look at the ingredients on that bottle of yellow mustard. … At first sniff, turmeric may crinkle your nose. But introduce it to some warm oil, and watch it sing.”

-Cumin, which the chef suggests buying in its whole seed form instead of ground. “That way,” she suggests, “you can use the cumin in two ways: freshly ground (much more potent flavor), or whole, sizzled in oil with some onions. Mmmm. I pronounce it KEW-min.”

These other spices round out the chef’s kitchen pantry essentials

-The spice Sequeira calls “the refined lady of the spice box” is Coriander. “Each tiny, round, tan-colored seed contains a captivating fragrance, a mild mélange of lemon verbena, grass and caraway. … Its “thickening qualities,” she adds, give “curries and gravies a lovely texture.”

-Paprika, the “bright red spice that’s quite hot.”

-Red chile flakes or cayenne pepper: “choose whichever one you like.”

-Brown or black mustard seeds remind the chef of “South Indian cooking, the food of my childhood.”

-Lastly, Sequeira depends greatly on Garam Masala, “an indispensable spice in Indian cooking.” While she highly recommends making your own version of this “warm spice mix,” she says that “if you’re in a hurry or if you’re just starting on your Indian cooking odyssey, then the store-bought version is fine.”

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