Aarti Sequeira Talks About Spices, Fame, and Post-Partum Depression

Food Network star and cookbook author, Aarti Sequeira, talk to David and Renee about being The Spice Queen, her belief that food is medicine, and being on both sides of motherhood.

An image of Aarti sitting outside with a drink in her hand. : Courtesy of Aarti Sequeira

David and I reached out to the inspiring and talented Aarti Sequeira, whose prowess with Indian spices has garnered her a place on the Food Network as well as in the hearts of millions of home cooks, several months ago to interview her. We’d originally scheduled for the day prior to Mother’s Day given Aarti’s openness about her struggle with post-partum depression. In light of the recent news of the resurgence of Covid-19 and the tragedy experienced by so many, we considered postponing the release of this interview out of respect to the current situation in India. However, we’re sharing this with you at the current moment out of respect and appreciation for Indian cuisine in all its complexity and to offer you an opportunity, if you choose, to donate through any of Aarti’s preferred charities that deliver help to those in India. Because those of us who love to cook usually also love to give in other ways as well. It’s never just about the food.—Renee Schettler

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The spices of our childhoods

David Leite: Renee, you grew up in the great Midwest, right?

Renee Schettler: Laughs. The great Midwest, yes.

David: The great Midwest. And some people say—this is not coming from me, I’m only reporting—that mayonnaise is the most exotic food out there in the Midwest.

Random Voice: Didn’t you know mayonnaise is the new caviar?

Renee: Okay, I’m not going to champion Midwest cooking or baking, but I am going to say maybe that had just as much to do with the fact that it was the ’70s…

David: Good point.

Renee: …as that it was the Midwest. I mean, back then, if I’m not mistaken, was when Gourmet Magazine was still telling people to use ketchup in place of tamarind when they made pad Thai.

David: Really?

Renee: Mmhmm.

David: Wow. Okay. Well, that’s fair. So let me ask you, did your family use a lot of spices in their cooking?

Renee: Paprika. We’ve talked about this before.

David: We have. Yes.

Renee: Paprika was the catchall spice, a way for my mom to fancy up anything. She would take out this little tin that was rusted on the top. It was a ginormous tin and there were little mounds of rust-colored dust around the ridges and she would tap it on everything. There was this gentle thud each time. And I would cringe inside because I hate paprika. Baked potatoes, tap, tap, tap. Casseroles, tap, tap, tap. I would be clenching my jaw, like, “Nooooo.”

An old tin of McCormick paprika. : acappella

Renee: That was my understanding of spice until my 20s and I started grinding star anise for cooking or putting ground ginger in my apple pie along with cinnamon.

David: Mmhmm. That’s one of your funniest ever.

Renee: What about you? Your mom is Portuguese so you grew up with spice.

David: Yeah. And not just Mama Leite’s own personal spice, being Mama Leite, but also spices themselves. Paprika played a huge role. My mom had a very big container, very much like yours, most likely, but my mom would go through it in a week or a month because it was used in everything. Marinades, rubs, anything you could imagine. It was never sprinkled on something as a garnish. It was always used as an ingredient. And there were other spices and herbs that she would use. So there was always a little bit of a kick or heat or something going on. But what’s interesting now, I cook with so many more spices and other Portuguese dishes, spices she has never heard of, because you do realize the Portuguese were the great kings of the spice trade. We brought it all back. We were the very first and then we were sidelined by the Dutch who were then sidelined by the British. But we were the ones who started it all.

Renee: Yes, I know, you’ll never let me forget that fact, David.

David: That’s right, I won’t.

Renee: So tell me, do you then use those Portuguese spices to inflect other types of cooking? Things that aren’t traditional Portuguese with that type of flare, oh great spice queen?

David: Oh great spice queen? Who you calling a spice queen? You calling me a spice queen?!

Renee: You heard me!

David: Well, Aarti Sequeira could probably answer this question far better than I can because she, I think, is really the spice queen. I’m David Leite, the founder of the website Leite’s Culinaria.

Renee: And I’m Renee Schettler, the site’s editor in chief.

David: And this is Talking With My Mouth Full, a podcast devoted to all things food, the people who make it, and the stories that make the people. And today we’re talking to Food Network host, cookbook author, and documentary producer Aarti Sequeira. Welcome to the show, Aarti.

Renee: Welcome, Aarti.

Aarti Sequeira: Thanks, guys.

An obsession with spices

David: I have a question for you. You’ve kind of become synonymous with spices, if you will, it’s like your domain. Now, why is that? How have you become that spice person?

Renee: Spice Girl.

David: One of the Spice Girls.

A Rolling Stones cover featuring The Spice Girls. : RollingStone

Aarti: Spice Girls, I know. I always say, I can’t remember which one I was, I think it was hungry spice.

Renee: That makes sense.

Aarti: Yeah. I think it’s because I’m a mix. So there’s this Indian dish called khichdi, which has become very, it became incredibly viral, I think, during COVID, at the beginning of COVID, because there were just so many Indians making it.

David: Yeah.

Aarti: So khichdi is a mix of rice and lentils and a bunch of spices. And to me, that’s who I am. I’m just this mishmash of things because I was born in India. I grew up in Dubai. I went to a British-run school. I had friends from all over the world. And then I came to the States. I lived in California, which is a food mecca in and of itself. So I’m just a whole big mix of things. So the one thing that connects, I think, all of those things for me is spices, and I’m obsessed with them.

I mean, if I find out about a new one, like I remember when I heard about Aleppo pepper and I was like, “Oh, what is that? And how is that different from cayenne?” And I’m trying to source it and make sure it’s the right kind. And of course, poor old Yemen is in a civil war, so it’s hard to get it out. All those things, they just fascinate me, especially because once upon a time they would trade spices as money.

David: It’s currency. Yep.

Aarti: I just think that it is such a fascinating window into history and to culture and to human nature. I just love it. And it helps me jump from culture to culture in my own kitchen. And all I want to do is travel the world. And I get to do it from my kitchen.

What’s it like being a Spice Queen?

David: Now, Guy Fieri has a special name for you. What is that name?

Aarti: Guy must’ve come up with this idea at 3:00 in the morning or something. I think that’s when he does his best work. But yeah, one day he came in and he just started calling me “Spice Queen.”

A photograph of Aarti Sequeira and Guy Fieri. : Courtesy of Aarti Sequeira

David: I love it.

Aarti: I know. At first a little part of me was like, “No, no. I’m not the expert. Please don’t do that because someone’s going to ask me something and be “You don’t know…”

David: Yes, absolutely.

Renee: Right.

Aarti: And then after a while, I mean, to Guy’s credit, he’s always telling me to own it. You know what I mean? He’s like, “You need to “eye of the tiger” everything that you do.” So I was like, “Okay, well, I can educate myself more.”

And frankly, I do know a lot about spices and it really took some really good friends of mine. Chef Antonia Lofaso is one of my best friends. And she has helped me so much to just be like, “No, no. I know you don’t think you’re a chef. And I know you’re always second-guessing yourself.” She’s like, “But you have a way with spices that I don’t get.”

Renee: Beautiful.

Aarti: And that helped so much. Yeah. It helps so much, it helps so much to be surrounded by people that literally lift you up. So yeah, it was a hard mantle. It’s a hard crown.

David: But you’ll wear it.

Aarti: Yes. Heavy is the crown. Yeah. Heavy the crown.

Renee: A little practice.

Aarti: Yeah. A lot of practice. But also I think an openness to saying, “I’m still learning and that’s okay.”

David: It is.

Aarti: Yeah. And if you ever think that you’ve stopped, then you’re in trouble. So for me, the idea of being the spice queen is that I know a lot and I’m obsessed with it and I will evangelize about the goodness of spices till the day I die.

Renee: Well, your personality, too, is very approachable. But you’ve got a boldness about your personality, just like Indian spices have a boldness about them.

Aarti: Yeah. I hope so.

How to not be intimidated when cooking with spices

Renee: I think you’ve brought a lot of people to the understanding that spices can be part of everyday cooking. I think a lot of us who didn’t grow up with them tend to be intimidated when it comes to cooking with them.

Aarti: Absolutely. And the big secret is that I think a lot of people assume that I grew up cooking next to the crook of my mom’s elbow. And that’s not how it was. My mom’s an incredible cook and not just an incredible cook of Indian food. She makes Persian food, European food. I mean, my curiosity about food comes through her. It comes through my father, too, because he has wanderlust and he has a big appetite, so we were always exploring cookbooks and cooking shows and trying new recipes and things like that. But I didn’t make a lot of food when I was young. I baked because I was a chubby little child and there were no goodies in my house. And so when my mom and dad would take a nap on the weekend, I would go and bake. So by the time they came down, my nan would make a big thing of tea and I would have scones and cookies and cakes and stuff, just all ready to go, probably with a very self-satisfied grin.

But it wasn’t until I was in my 20s and I was on my own in a whole different country that I started to cook because I thought, “Well, I have to fend for myself some way.” And the secret is that if you’re intimidated by spices, the headline here is that so was I. I had to start from scratch as well. Fortunately, I knew how everything was supposed to taste. So I had that to compare it to. But I was just as intimidated. And the thing is that when you grow up in it, there’s not someone saying, “Well, a great rule of thumb is twice as much coriander as cumin. That’s a great place to start.” There was no one giving me those tips because it was just so in my mother’s blood to figure those things out, that she didn’t even vocalize them.

So that’s my message to people over and over again is if you are intimidated by spices, so was I, and now look where I am.

Renee: Beautiful.

The healing power of Indian spices

David: When I think of India, I think of big, bold colors and big flavors, big sounds, big smells. It’s a very sensuous place. Now why does Indian cuisine rely so much on spices? Of course, many cultures do, but I think with Indian cuisine, it’s really the star of the dish.

An array of spices in metal bowls. : Agnieszka Kowalczyk

Aarti: Yeah. I think that some of that is whatever natural personality God blessed us with. Because I think the landscape of India begs for you to live a bigger, bolder version of yourself. It’s loud, it’s smelly, it’s vibrant, it’s beautiful. Whenever someone says that they’re about to go to India, I’m always like, give yourself four to five days just to acclimate. There are very few places like it that I’ve been to in my life where the second you step off the plane—and it used to be, when I was little, you would literally step off the plane, you know what I mean? You go downstairs…

David: Yeah, I do.

Renee: Yeah.

David: Onto the tarmac.

Aarti: Yes. Right. Onto the tarmac. So the second I would step on the stairs, I mean the air smells different. I could smell people cooking. I could smell poop. I could hear the rickshaws outside. And there are people completely all up on you at all times. And I was like, listen, I think people think of India as this sort of spiritual, Zen, third-eye-on-fire kind of place. And it may be those things, but it’s also an assault on every one of your senses. And after a while, you get so used to it that like, when I would come back to America, I was like, “It’s so quiet here. Where is everybody?”

Renee: Excellent awareness.

Aarti: Yeah. So I think because of all that, maybe India begs for all those spices. I think the other reason that we cook with so many spices is that they’re available. I mean, they grow there, especially close to where I’m from in the South of India, but also because so much of our cooking and our life revolves around Ayurvedic medicine, which is Indian medicine. And so much of Indian medicine is about what you eat, how you cook it, when you eat it, whether it’s hot, whether it’s cold, those sorts of things. And the spices play a huge role in your health. I mean, even to this day, when something’s wrong with me and I asked my mom, she reaches for her spice cabinet before she reaches for her medicine cabinet. Because that’s where all the healing lies to begin with.

Renee: Traditional healing.

Aarti: Yeah. I’ll never forget one day I had been bitten by a dog and I was bleeding. And so my mom immediately rushed for the jar of organic turmeric that she’d brought from India. She made me sit down and she covered the wound with turmeric. And then she put her hands over it and she prayed over me because I was freaked out. It was a really deep wound and you know how it is in your foot. I mean, there are a lot of capillaries and veins and stuff so it was really bleeding. And the turmeric instantly clotted it. It’s antibacterial as well so it cleaned it. And it’s also great for scarring so I have no scars.

A spoon laying in a pile of turmeric. : Deposit Photos

David: Really?

Aarti: Also, the good Lord Jesus probably had something to do with it too. But I’ll never forget that was what she did. She didn’t get Neosporin and a Band-Aid.

Renee: You’ve literally got turmeric in your blood now.

Aarti: Literally.

David: I take turmeric every single day, actually, as part of my regimen of trying to eat better and take care of myself.

The role of food in depression

David: But connecting the idea of medicine with food, and illness with spices and food, you’ve been very vocal about your postpartum depression and you even became involved with Postpartum Support International.

Aarti: I did.

David: I have bipolar disorder, so I’m right there with you, sister. I know what it can be like. Talk a bit about how food and cooking and maybe spices mitigated it a bit for you.

Aarti: I think one of the things that was so hard about depression is that it stole so much of my joy. And so much of my joy comes from food, from eating it, from cooking it, from reading about it. And when I was depressed, I mean, I really didn’t want to cook. It was the last thing that I wanted to do.

However, Melissa d’Arabian is one of my friends. And I remember that she had said that she always tried to eat a good oily fish one or two times a week because it feeds your brain. So I really started looking into these things like, what can I do to sort of not heal it completely, right? But at least put myself in position, in the right posture, in order for whatever medication I was taking to work, as well as it could.

So I did start to eat in a different way. And it’s something that I’m still working on. Because I know that when I’m eating well, I feel well, and if I’m feeling well, then everything else is just churning and burning. As far as spices go, there wasn’t anything specifically spice-oriented, but I will say this. I got postpartum depression after the birth of my first girl, my first child, Eliyah.

David: Eliyah. Yeah.

Aarti: And I just white-knuckled my way through it. I just thought, “Well, I know something’s not right, but I think I can just get through.” And honestly, it was such a haze and so overwhelming that I didn’t feel like I had time to take care of myself. And my mom flew out all the way from India because she was like, “I just can’t take it. I don’t know what’s going on with you. I need to see with my own eyes what’s up.” And when she got here, I remember her starting to cook. And there’s no Indian food that tastes like my mom’s. There’s none. I mean, it’s just, she has a very particular wrist.

Renee: And that’s medicine itself, right? Mom’s cooking.

Aarti: Yeah. Soon as I could smell that…and even my daughter was eating the pulao that she would make and stuff. And there’s a real gentleness to the way that she cooks. It’s bold but it’s very ladylike. And that is absolutely my mom to a T. There was something very comforting about that. And when she said, “You’re not okay. Don’t let this thing rob you of any more joy, because it’s robbed you of your daughter for eight months, go to the doctor.” That’s when I was like, “Oh gosh.” Because my mom is little Miss like, be strong. She got through the war in India, her mother dying when she was very young, taking care of all her siblings on her own. I was like, when she says go to the doctor because you’re not okay. I’m like, “All right. Yeah.”

David: We were blown away because we saw a video on your YouTube channel. When you say, “I need to say right now, I’m depressed, but I need to cook through this. I need to work through this.” And I was so impressed because first of all, I don’t think I’d have the energy to do that. And the joy that you were exuding, even though your light may have been a bit dimmed, that’s medicine for so many people who watch that.

Renee: Knowing they’re not alone.

David: And never forgetting that.

Aarti: Yeah.

David: Never forget that.

Aarti: Thank you, honey. Yeah. That was my husband’s idea. I was flat out just not interested in doing this at all. Really didn’t think I had anything to offer. I don’t even fully remember what that recipe was that I made, because that was not the point.

David: Right. It was a mango lassi, I think, but a dairy-free one.

Aarti: Yeah, yeah. It was mango lassi. Which, I mean, how much cooking is involved in that? Really none.

Renee: But still. I think that goes back to your earlier point about how you couldn’t quite see what you had to offer in terms of being a cook and your knowledge, and here again, just by being you and sharing what you were going through, that in and of itself is so powerful.

Aarti: Yeah, I think so too. I think so too. And it’s something that I’m slowly starting to understand that…because when I started on Food Network a decade ago, they were like, “You are the first Indian chef to have their own cooking show.”

An illustration with block letters that spell out 'Aarti Party'. : Food Network

Aarti: And I’m sure Padma would have some issues with that. So I didn’t say it, they said it. And I thought, “Well, okay.” The big thing at that time was point of view, your cooking, your culinary point of view. So my point of view became simplifying Indian cooking, taking the intimidation of Indian cooking out by either simplifying the recipes or working those flavors into American dishes that people recognized. So a roast chicken had cardamom and orange and turmeric in it. It’s a sort of, okay, some of these things you know. But the thing that I realized is that now, because things are opening up minutes on the network too, there are so many Indian American chefs who are coming up and sharing all of the different recipes from that particular part of India. I feel a lot less pressure to be the only Indian.

David: Yes. It’s interesting.

Renee: That’s true.

Aarti: I can cook the way that I cook, which is I don’t cook Indian food every day. I didn’t grow up with Indian food every day. I grew up with a cacophony of food. And I love that now I can sort of push that narrative because I think we need to hear that too. That just because I’m this…

David: Just because you’re brown.

Renee: Right.

Aarti: Yeah. Just because I’m brown and just because I’m Indian, it doesn’t mean I just cook the one thing.

David: Exactly.

What’s it like cooking and growing up multicultural?

Renee: It’s part of the fabric of your being, that diversity. And in fact, you describe yourself as a third culture kid living in her fourth culture. What exactly does that mean?

Aarti: So third culture kids…So in my case, I’m Indian, that’s one, grew up in Dubai, that’s two, went to a British school, that’s three, and now I’m living in my fourth culture, which is the States. So it’s actually really interesting when we bought our house, which we just bought a couple of months ago. It’s our very first house. We’re in our 40s so this is a big deal.

Renee: Congrats.

Aarti: Yeah. Thank you.

David: And you’re in North Carolina.

Aarti: We’re in Raleigh. Yeah, North Carolina. So my friend who I went to primary school and secondary school with said, “As a third culture kid, I just sobbed for you.” And she said, “Because we never had a home.” Everything felt very transitional. Because at that time you couldn’t retire in Dubai. So there was always the sense of, stay here as long as you can, make as much money as you can. And then when it’s time, you go home. But I never…Even though India is home and there’s sort of an unspoken understanding between my heart and India’s soil, I didn’t grow up there. So there are practical, logistical things that I still have to learn every time that I go back. And Dubai, I did grow up there, but I don’t have a passport. So I’ve always felt not quite in the place that I was in. And so to be here in the States and now to be a citizen and to own a house that for a third culture kid has meaning that I don’t think I fully predicted until it happened. And she pointed it out.

Renee: That explains a lot.

David: That’s wonderful.

Aarti: Yeah. Yeah.

David: I understand that. I’m a first and a half-generation American. My father was born in Portugal. My mom met him there and came over. My mom’s from here. So I kind of understand that between two cultures and I can’t imagine three or four. But I think people like us feel these things very deeply. Home and place and roots, I think we feel very deeply. And so that’s interesting.

Aarti’s favorite must-have spices

David: So taking a slight shift or pivot here, Aarti, our listeners love news they can use. So about spices, how about a few tips. So first of all, what are your go-to spices?

Aarti: Well, even before I get there, if I could just say one thing, because I do think that there are some cooks that hear the word spices and then they walk away. So if that is you, do not walk away because spices are important for two huge reasons. One, the medicinal. Right? So if you’re not cooking with spices, the good Lord has put medicine around you and it tastes good and you should be eating it. It is good and healing and preventative for your body. So don’t walk away yet. Number two, if you can explore a spice, then that gives you a gateway to a cuisine. And then a cuisine gives you a gateway to a culture. And a culture gives you a gateway to other people.

David: Yes.

Aarti: So simply buying a package of cumin seeds has a much deeper and profound impact on your life than you can even imagine.

A bowl of cumin seeds. : Deposit Photos

David: I agree.

Aarti: I want to cry about the way that we can have a really huge impact on ourselves, on our family, on our neighbors, just by understanding food. There are some guys right now in my kitchen who are helping install some of the appliances because I don’t understand wiring. While they were working, I was talking to one of them and I was like, “Well, tell me where you’re from.” And he said he was from Mexico. And I said, “Do you cook?” And he said, “No, but my wife does.” And then he started talking about the way that she makes nopales. And he’s like, “You would never believe that you could not stop eating nopales.” I was like, “Yeah, you better bring some over because I can’t imagine that I either.” But that was a way for us, two people from completely different worlds, to have a conversation and understand each other and touch hearts. That’s huge, dude.

David: It is.

Aarti: And especially in this day and age, when everything is conspiring to divide us and make us feel like there’s no common ground. Food in general, it’s almost like our last hope.

Renee: That’s what food does.

Aarti: Yeah. I don’t want to overinflate the importance of spices, but I really think it’s like if there was a banner of my house, there would be two. Jesus would be at the top. And the second one would be a spice tin. I just think it’s so important.

So as far as go-to spices, I mentioned the number one spice I go to is cumin. And I go to cumin seeds because you can use them in their whole form and you can use them ground. And when they’re in that whole form, if you did something so simple, like warmed up a little oil in a pot or a skillet, maybe add a couple cloves of crushed garlic, and then add a teaspoon of cumin seeds, and smell that, that is the beginning of many dishes that I’ve eaten over the last 40 years. That’s just a really beautiful and simple way to start a dish. And then after that, you can add some vegetables to that. And then that’s a very quick vegetable side dish.

David: Right.

Aarti: So I love cumin seeds whole, and I love them ground. I buy them whole because by the time you get them ground, unless you’re getting them from really committed spice purveyors, they’re usually stale. So you’re not really getting the full perfume of what cumin has to offer.

Where to buy spices

Renee: Are there any particular sources you trust for your spices?

Aarti: Yeah. I mean, I love going to my local Indian store because I love supporting the homies. But I have found that the freshest spices come from purveyors that are doing a constant turnover. The Spice House in Chicago. I love them to pieces. I love that you can buy spices in quantities so you can get it just maybe an ounce, if that’s all that you want or you can get a huge bag, which guilty, that’s what I do.

Renee: Love that.

David: Yes. They’re terrific.

Aarti: They’re terrific. And whenever that box of spices arrives on my doorstep, I can smell, I can smell things.

Renee: Wow.

Aarti: So I love that about them. And they’ve gone through this whole rebrand so the jars are actually adorable. They have little hand-drawn dodos on them and stuff. It’s just so cute. And then the other people I love are World Spice Merchants out of Seattle. I discovered them a few years ago when I was there doing a cooking event. And there’s this spice in Indian cooking called hing, H-I-N-G. Hing is the Hindi word. The English word is asafoetida, which is so difficult.

David: Yes.

Aarti: But it is indispensable in Indian cooking when it comes to lentils and beans, because it’s said to help you digest them.

David: Oh, interesting.

Aarti: Yeah. So if you have trouble digesting lentils and beans, asafoetida will help. And make sure that you soak the heck out of them.

David: Great.

Aarti: And second of all, use hing as you cook it and it has sort of, when you smell it raw, it is so pungent and you’re going to be like, “Aarti, why did you tell me to buy it?” But once you sizzle it in some oil, it smells like onions and garlic and it has medicinal qualities too. So when I smelled theirs, it was unlike any hing I had smelled in my life. So I always order my hing from them and a couple of other spices too.

How to grind spices

David: How do you grind your spices?

Aarti: I’d love to say that I pull out my granite mortar and pestle and grind away but…

Renee: Keep it real.

Aarti: I’m keeping it real. I have an old coffee grinder that my friend, Laura, gave me back in 2006 and that sucker will not die. And it just does such a good job that is just what I use. When I’m doing just a small amount, like today, I was experimenting with this pineapple recipe and I added some grains of paradise. And I just wanted a little bit so that I did grind by hand so that I could just get a pinch. But let’s say I’m refreshing my spice tin as I did last night. And I need to grind a quarter cup to a half cup of coriander seeds. Mama doesn’t have time to be sitting there with a mortar and pestle. You know what I mean?

Aarti: I do have muscles, you can see them.

David: Yes, we can.

Aarti: But, yeah, I’ll just use a grinder. It was good enough for my mother. It’s good enough for me.

Renee: Absolutely. Well, and I think that’s what people love about you in part, right? Is that you do get real all the time.

David: Yeah. Mama keeps it real.

Aarti: Mama does keep it real.

Renee: Speaking of keeping it real, are there some instances where you don’t take the time to toast spices before you use them where it’s not essential?

Aarti: So there are some spices that I will toast before I do something like a rub. Right?

David: Mmhmm.

Aarti: But a lot of times, at least the way that I grew up…unless my mom specifically says in a recipe…like there’s this beef sukka recipe. My mouth is salivating thinking about it. Because it’s a recipe right from my hometown, and it’s kind of a drier curry. So it doesn’t take that long to cook. So those spices, we always toast. Just dry toast them in a pan. But a lot of other spices, we didn’t toast. Because the idea is you are going to get the most flavor out of those spices when you sizzle them, you bloom them in oil because a lot of those flavors are fat-soluble. So in a lot of Indian cooking, when you’re making curries, that’s part of the process, right? You do your whole spices first, that’s one layer of flavor.

Aarti: Then you do your aromatics, your onions, garlic, ginger. Then usually you add your ground spices. And so they’re sitting in that oil and they’re getting a lot of love and a lot of attention. And that’s when they sort of bloom and open up like a peony. So there’s not really a need to toast them at that point.

How to store spices

David: So then how do you store your spices?

Aarti: I store my spices like I’ve kidnapped them. I put them in the pantry in the darkest, coolest area I can find. So I’ve just moved into this house. We got to help design it and so my husband made sure that we had a huge walk-in pantry. I’m still starting to organize it now. But I picked out the corner because it’s where there’s the least light in there, and it’s nice and cool. I have seen some people store their spices in little magnetic tins, either on the side of their fridge or right above their stove. And I just want to cry out on behalf of the innocence that’s being destroyed. Because-

David: All that heat.

Aarti: All that heat, it’s just too much for them. You’ve spent all your money on your organic Aleppo pepper from Yemen, and you’re just killing it. Because that much-prolonged heat is just going to steal all of the oil and aroma out of it. So I do try to keep it somewhere nice and cool out of the way of sunlight. I have huge mason jars and I store them in those, in the dark. And then what I do is, until recently, I mean, now I’m in my new house. But in my old house, I had a chalkboard that was also painted with magnet paint and then I had small containers. And so I’d keep small amounts out just so visually I could look at them and say, “Well, now what do I want to play with today?” And that…

David: That’s nice. Yeah.

Aarti: I’m a very visual, yeah, I’m a very visual person, so that was really helpful to me. Now I’ve got this beautiful, perfect kitchen. I don’t know where I’m going to do it. That’s the next conundrum.

Renee: Well, you get to figure that out. That’s the fun part. But I’ve had those magnetic tins, you’re absolutely right. It’s like a canvas.

Aarti: Yeah. Yeah. And if anybody is going to do those, I would urge you, you can find spice tins or little tins that screw on as opposed to just pull off. And I would get the screw-ons. Because the pull-off ones, you’ll pull too hard because you’re so strong and then you’ll bend them out of shape and it’s so hard to put the lid back on so get the screw-ons.

Renee: Or cumin seeds all over the floor all of a sudden.

Aarti: Well, that is true. Yes. Again, because you’re so strong.

David: Exactly. So Aarti, before you go, what’s on the horizon for you? Has there been any new shows you’ve done? What’s up?

Aarti: Yeah. Well, I keep talking about wanting to do another cookbook because it’s high time.

David: Yes.

Renee: We would love that.

Aarti: I was pregnant with Eliyah when I wrote my first cookbook and she’s now six. So it’s about time. So I am contemplating what the next one will be, but I just got to be a judge on a new show for Food Network. And it’s really cool and really exciting.

David: Great.

Aarti: I don’t know if I can say anything yet, but you guys will see it and everybody in your family will want to tune in because it’s playing on nostalgia in a really beautiful way.

David: Wonderful.

Aarti: Yeah. It’ll be fun.

David: We’ll keep an eye out for it.

Aarti: Yeah.

David: Well Aarti, thank you so much for stopping by and giving us your take on spices and food and life. We love what you have to say.

Aarti: Thank you for having me and letting me prattle on.

Renee: Our pleasure. Thank you.

David: Aarti Sequeira is a Food Network star, cooking show host, cookbook author, journalist, television producer, and food personality. Her book is the bestselling Aarti Paarti: An American Kitchen with an Indian Soul. You can find out more about Aarti at aartisequeira.com and on Instagram at @AartiPaartiPics.

Aarti Sequeira's book, "Aarti Paarti."

David: Renee, that was an amazing interview, wasn’t it?

She’s incredible in every way.

David: Her knowledge is wonderful and her cooking skills, we’ve seen them on television, are great. But what I love most about what she had to say was her take on people, her take on connections between cultures, and how spices and foods can become ambassadors to other cultures.

Renee: I completely agree. She’s just exquisite. I read a quote from Aarti a while ago online, and I’m going to butcher it, but she essentially said that when you open yourself to other cuisines, you open your heart to so much more.

David: I think there’s such truth to that. And what I think is interesting, and you’ve said this many times to me, that these spices, what we always once considered exotic, are now becoming more everyday, at least in American cooking. And I’m thinking of a Sam Sifton recipe that uses a lot of turmeric and cumin in it. It’s a sheet pan recipe that we have on the site and it’s becoming more commonplace. And what I think is lovely about that is worlds are being opened to people, and boundaries and borders are collapsing, at least in the kitchen.

Renee: Well, at least in their minds, and that’s where it matters.

David: Exactly. Yes.

Renee: Because once you get in through the heart, it goes up to the mind and that changes everything.

David: It does.

Renee: I think those recipes that you’ve been making, they’re like gateway drugs in a way.

David: Yep, that’s a great way. I love that, she used that word gateway. It’s very true. They are. It’s a gateway. She used that word gateway and it’s very true. It is a gateway to other cultures, other people, and maybe even a gateway to tolerance.

Renee: One can hope.

David: This podcast is produced by Overt Studios. And our producer today is the spicy Dave Barton. You can reach Dave and Overt Studios at overtstudios.com. As always remember to subscribe to Talking With My Mouth Full wherever you download your favorite podcasts. And if you like what you hear and want to support us, consider leaving a review and rating on Apple podcasts. And everyone, we have a new feature. If you’d like to leave either Renee or me or both of us a recorded question or compliment go to leit.es/chat. And who knows, maybe you’ll be featured on the show in the future. Ciao.

Renee: Ciao.


Renee: I like how you added oh great spice queen. It’s not enough that you’re just spice queen. It’s oh great.

David: I’m the oh great spice queen.


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