Born and raised in Mumbai, India, and Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Aarti Sequeira ’00 has relied on cooking as a way to feel more connected with family while living abroad. After graduating from Northwestern, she started her own cooking show on YouTube and has since become a Food Network mainstay, winning the sixth season of Food Network Star in 2010 and beating out the competition on Chopped All-Stars, Cutthroat Kitchen: Superstar Sabotage and Guy’s Grocery Games. But sharing her love of food with others remains top of mind for Sequeira. Inspired by her mother’s own recipe journal, Sequeira in 2021 published My Family Recipe Journal: With Prayers and Scriptures, a DIY journal with blank recipe templates to encourage others to preserve their family’s treasured food history. Here are two dishes close to Sequeira’s heart:
Tandoori Chicken Recipe
A yogurt-based marinade with plenty of garlic, ginger and cloves, as well as spices such as cinnamon and cardamom, makes this a bold dish with a tapestry of flavors.
Yields 4 to 6 Servings
Active cooking time: 20 minutes
Prep time: 60 minutes to overnight
“When I was packing my suitcase for Northwestern, my mum tucked a jar of her homemade tandoori masala [marinade spice mix] into a corner — ‘in case you ever have a craving,’ she said. It was her way of sending a piece of her with me. That year, I managed to cook up a batch for my boyfriend, Brendan McNamara ’00, who is now my husband, and then another batch for my best friends on Dillo Day. She was right. I can’t live without it!
“First, DON’T FREAK OUT. There are a LOT of ingredients here, yes I know. That’s why this qualifies as something of a special occasion dish, something we’d make for big cookouts with lots of family coming over. And it’s worth it: This makes the most flavorful tandoori chicken I’ve ever had. And I don’t boast too often. The name of this dish derives from the Hindi name for the oven used to cook the chicken: the tandoor. These days, a broiler does fine, although it’s wonderful on the grill, too!”
2 dried guajillo chiles (or 2 chiles d’arbol, and more paprika for color)
5 whole cloves
2 green cardamom, green husks discarded, black seeds retained
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
½ teaspoon fennel seeds
½ teaspoon fenugreek seeds
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon paprika
¼ teaspoon ground turmeric
Pinch cayenne pepper
2 tablespoons malt vinegar or lime juice
1 teaspoon kosher salt
¼ cup canola oil or peanut oil
1 cup whole fat plain yogurt
8 cloves garlic, minced
2-inch thumb ginger, peeled and minced
½ cup water
1 teaspoon honey
3 pounds boneless skinless chicken thighs, about 12 thighs
Couple of extra limes for garnish
- Toast the whole chiles, fenugreek seeds, coriander seeds, fennel seeds, cloves and cardamom seeds in a cast iron skillet over medium heat, shaking the pan until fragrant (3 minutes or so). Throw into a spice grinder, and grind them until you get a fine powder.
- In a large bowl, whisk together the spice mixture, ground cinnamon, paprika, turmeric, cayenne pepper, malt vinegar/lime juice, salt, yogurt, garlic and ginger. It should smell amazing! Taste and adjust with more salt if it needs it.
- Reserve 1/3 cup of the marinade and set aside; you’re going to make a sauce out of this reserved marinade.
- Poke some holes in the chicken thighs with a fork. Add the thighs to the rest of the marinade, and toss to coat. Marinate at least one hour and, at most, overnight in the fridge.
- When you’re ready to cook, line a baking sheet with foil, and turn your broiler on. Place each chicken thigh on the baking sheet, making sure each one is coated with the marinade, but isn’t swimming in it. Cook chicken thighs 4-5 inches under the broiler until mottled and starting to blacken (about 7 minutes). Then turn oven down to 350, and cook another 10 minutes until a meat thermometer inserted in the meatiest part of the thigh registers 160 degrees Fahrenheit. Remove from the oven.
- While the chicken is cooking, pour reserved marinade into a small saucepan, along with 1/2 cup of water and 1 teaspoon of honey. Bring to a gentle boil over medium-low heat, whisking all the time, 5-6 minutes until thickened. Taste and season with salt and pepper. Remove from heat and pour into a small bowl or gravy boat for serving.
- Serve the chicken thighs on a platter with a fresh squeeze of lime, and a drizzle of the sauce.
This simple, delicious salad of yogurt, cucumber, garlic, mint and pomegranate seeds makes a cool and comforting companion dish.
Yields 4 to 6 servings
Active cooking time: about 5 minutes
“I always serve my tandoori chicken with raita. The contrast of the cool, fresh flavors with the warm, feisty flavors of the chicken makes for a dynamic bite! In my mind, no Indian meal is complete without a cool, creamy bowl of raita on the table. Not only does this simple yogurt-dressed cucumber salad offer a welcome respite from the sassy fire of a curry, but it also helps you digest! Sometimes, when my soul is crying out for some Subcontinental soothing, I’ll make myself a stack of chapatis and a bowl of raita for dinner. This simple meal, eaten with my hands (but of course!), sweeps away the complexities of life and reminds me that, sometimes, you don’t need a whole lot to be content in this world.”
2 cups plain whole milk or low-fat yogurt
2 cup grated English or Persian cucumber (unpeeled)
1 clove garlic, minced finely
4 sprigs mint, leaves only, finely minced
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons pomegranate seeds or golden raisins
- In a large bowl, whisk the yogurt until smooth.
- Stir in cucumber, garlic, mint, salt and pepper. Taste for seasoning, garnish with pomegranate seeds. Chill until you’re ready to serve!