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Spice Up Your Kitchen in the New Year With Aarti Sequeira

Aarti Sequeira's Huggy Buggy Bread Pudding.

Television host and author Aarti Sequeira says she had one goal in mind while she was writing her new cookbook of Indian and fusion recipes. “I wanted it to be a gateway drug to Indian food." Courtesy Aarti Sequeira

Television host and author Aarti Sequeira says she had one goal in mind while writing her new cookbook of Indian and fusion recipes.

“I wanted it to be a gateway drug to Indian food,” Sequeira said with a laugh. “I wanted to include things that they were familiar with from Indian restaurants - things like chicken tikka masala or lassi, and show them simplified versions of those things.”

In that way, the book is the next step on a path Sequeira has been following for years. A former journalist who worked in cable news and documentary films, Sequeira discovered her passion for cooking a few years ago during a spell of unemployment. “I was looking for work and couldn’t really find and I realized that it was because my heart wasn’t in it anymore,” she recalled.

It was a gift from a relative that helped her change direction.

“My cousin gave me a gift certificate for a class at a cooking school. It was a semi-professional class for 12 weeks,” she says. “I was also taking an improv comedy class and that gave me the courage to start making up recipes and posting them to YouTube because in a way it was ‘OK, I have nothing else to do.’”

While she may not have known it at the time, the debut of her online show “Aarti Paarti” was the start of the next phase of her career. Directed by her husband, actor Brendan "Bren" McNamara, the popularity of the videos - which displayed both Sequeira’s sense of humor and passion for spices - inspired her to try out for (and eventually win) the Food Network’s “The Next Food Network Star” competition in 2010. Her show “Aarti Party” began soon afterwards and ran for one season.

“It was really gratifying to hear from viewers. I’d get letters that said ‘I would never, ever have bought garam masala, but because of you I use it all of the time now,'” said Sequeira. “They felt so empowered and that is really gratifying.”

Sequeira says she sees the book - titled “Aarti Paarti: An American Kitchen with an Indian Soul” - as an extension of both the show and the cookbooks the women in her family created over generations.

“My mum has this big old book that her mum had written her old recipes in,” Sequeira said. “So this is a way for me to write my own book of recipes.”

HUGGY BUGGY BREAD PUDDING

(Coconut-Cashew Bread Pudding)

Bren hugs everyone he meets. Every. One. He risks the eye-rolls of the skeptics, the side-hugs of the uncomfortable and embraces each person in such an extraordinary (yet appropriate!) manner that no matter what, everyone says, “Man, that was a great hug!” I love watching icy people melt in his arms. It’s such an extension of his genuine love for people, and it’s not something that he’s putting on. He’s been doing it since he was a child. Upon meeting one of his granddads in the hospital, a notoriously ascerbic fellow (known as “grumpy Grandpa”), Bren gave him a hug. His granddad, I assume a little taken aback, asked him why he’d done that. “Because I’m a huggy buggy!” Bren exclaimed. I like to think that even grumpy Grandpa couldn’t resist his charm. It is for that innocent, openhearted moment that this dessert is named.

SERVES 6 TO 8

ACTIVE TIME: 15 minutes

INACTIVE TIME: 1 hour

TOTAL TIME: 1 hour 15 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 (14-ounce) can coconut milk
  • 3 cups whole milk
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cardamom
  • ¼ teaspoon ground ginger
  • Pinch of kosher salt
  • 1 baguette, cut into 1-inch chunks (about 7 cups)
  • 6 dried figs, soaked in hot water for at least 15 minutes, thinly sliced
  • Handful of roasted unsalted cashew nuts, whole or chopped
  • Vanilla ice cream, for serving

Instructions:

  • Preheat the oven to 350ºF.
  • Melt 3 tablespoons of the butter and pour it into a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Use a pastry brush to make sure the dish is well coated.
  • In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs and sugar, then add the coconut milk, whole milk, cinnamon, cardamom, ginger and salt. Add the bread and eggs and toss. Let soak for 15 minutes.
  • Pour the mixture into the prepared baking dish and sprinkle with the cashews. Dice the remaining 3 tablespoons butter and dot the top of the pudding with the cubes. Bake until the pudding is a little jiggly and pulls away from the sides of the dish, about 35 minutes.
  • Remove the pudding from the oven and let cool for 15 to 20 minutes. Serve with ice cream, and a hug if you wish.
The cover for Aarti Sequeira's new cookbook, featuring Indian fusion recipes.
The cover for Aarti Sequeira's new cookbook, featuring Indian fusion recipes. Courtesy Aarti Sequeira

Excerpted from AARTI PAARTI by Aarti Sequeira.

Copyright © 2014 by Aarti Sequeira. Used with permission of Grand Central Publishing.