Aarti Sequeira is a TV personality, cookbook author and Compassion sponsor! Read on to find a favorite recipe she’s created while staying at home and what she thinks God might want to teach us during this time.
I’ve always had a deep interest in and love for the world because I’m what you call a third-culture kid: I was born in India, brought up in Dubai and educated at a British-run school, and now I live in the United States. So I’m just a big mishmash of cultures, and I love it! And it’s one of the many reasons that I love what Compassion does.
I heard about Compassion from my friend Candace Cameron Bure, and the ministry resonates deeply with me because it heeds the call to treat all the children around the world as our own, regardless of race, creed or economic status.
You may know me as a TV personality and a cookbook author. I won a show a few years ago called “Food Network Star.” I hosted my own cooking show called “Aarti Paarti,” and now I judge on several cooking competitions, including “Guy’s Grocery Games.”
I have also been besotted with Jesus since my mid-20s. Now I’m in my 40s, and when I look over my life, I can really see how God has worked. He has led me on this wild journey. I had the job of my dreams working at CNN right out of college. My college boyfriend proposed, and we got married. Everything was going great! And then … it suddenly wasn’t. I moved from New York to LA to be with my husband, and I found myself unemployed, for a long time, and feeling like a failure. I didn’t know what I was doing with my life.
Many mornings, I’d wake up and say, “Lord, why did you wake me up again? What is my purpose? Can’t you just take me home? Because I don’t know what I’m doing here.”
But I knew that if I woke up there was something for me to do. So, I took to the kitchen. I’d always loved baking as a child, but now I decided to tackle savory cooking. I would cook and cook and cook. I had an insatiable appetite. If you’d looked in on me, you would have found me reading cookbooks, watching cooking shows or sautéing things in the kitchen. I interned at an incredible restaurant under a legendary chef. And eventually, that led to making my own cooking show on YouTube called “Aarti Paarti.”
My Time on Food Network Star
I sent my YouTube videos to my friends and a few people at church, and as their popularity grew, a few of them encouraged me to try out for a show called “Food Network Star.” I thought they were crazy! In the couple of episodes I’d watched, I’d seen much more qualified people than me falling flat on their faces on national television. But something (some One?) told me to do it. So I auditioned, they picked me, and away to set I went. And when I got there, I realized that I was thoroughly, wholly outmatched.
All of my fellow competitors were trained chefs — educated at the best culinary schools and restaurant kitchens. And I just cooked in my kitchen! “There’s NO WAY I’m winning,” I thought.
But somehow, I won. And now I have this platform that I’m trying so hard to use for God’s purposes. That’s why I am so grateful to sponsor with Compassion and help find other sponsors.
It’s funny to use this word now, but when we competed on “Food Network Star,” we were “quarantined.” We had no access to phones, email, internet, radio, TV, newspapers — nothing. For us, the outside world ceased to exist. We had no idea what we were doing from one day to the next. And I didn’t even know what time we were supposed to wake up! Sometimes the producers would come walking into the house yelling, “Get up; you have 45 minutes and then we’re out of here!”
It was incredibly stressful, emotionally, because I constantly felt like I was not meant to be there. I was so out of my depth. But here’s how I managed: I brought my Bible.
See, the show became our lives. Every challenge became fraught with so much meaning; you either survived or you were cut. We’d do a challenge and then stand in front of judges like we were standing in front of a firing line. It may have been only four or five minutes on TV, but in real life? We stood in front of those judges for four hours taking in their critique. We’d feel so beaten up by the end of it.
But having my Bible, even if I didn’t get to read it every day, reminded me that my steps were ordered by the Lord. He had a plan for my life, and my identity was in him. The judges, the producers, the show, the network — none of them had any influence on what was going to happen in my life. That was up to God. That helped me keep my head on straight — even though I cried a lot on national television!
What the Lord Is Teaching Me During This Time at Home
The last few weeks, I have had this idea of clearing things away that I haven’t been able to get out of my head.
I just moved to North Carolina. In the middle of the woods right by our house, there’s a sweet, babbling creek. The water is crystal clear; in fact, you can actually find crystals in its banks! My family loves walking down to the creek and hunting for crystals.
One night there was a strong rainstorm, and the next day, we walked down to see if the creek was full. It certainly was. But it wasn’t the creek we remembered. The water wasn’t crystal clear. It was green and murky. The water was stagnant, and there were tiny bugs hovering over its surface. As I scanned the creek, I spotted a bottleneck, a tiny mouth that had clogged up and was keeping the water trapped and unmoving.
And so my daughter and I got a shovel. We started dragging the rocks and the sludge and the fallen tree branches out of the way. The bottleneck opened a little. And as soon as it did, the water bounded forth giddily, happily pouring out of that stagnant part of the creek.
That image wouldn’t leave me. It makes me think of the spiritual sludge that can keep us from fully flowing in God’s power and grace. I think God is asking us to use this time to look inward. I think he wants us to do a maintenance check to see if there is anything that’s getting in the way.
I believe God is asking me, and maybe you too, to use this time to consecrate ourselves to him. What does it mean to consecrate? It means to dedicate ourselves to a divine purpose. It means to separate ourselves from worldly things. When we consecrate ourselves, we are recognizing God’s sacredness within us. We are distinguishing ourselves from the world so that his sacredness can be revealed in us so the world can see it.
This is a time of separation – yes, physical separation. But maybe God is inviting us into a deeper separation. Are there areas of our lives where we are holding on to things that are stopping our ability to flow? What are the things in your life that are causing you to become stagnant? What is keeping that fresh flow of living water from flowing through you — from rushing through you?
I want to invite you to be quiet. Take a few moments and ask God to shine his holy flashlight on your insides and show you what’s going on in there. Ask God to show you what has caused the water to be stagnant. Pray through Psalm 139 and ask God, like the psalmist does, to search your heart and to lead you in the way everlasting.
What I’m Cooking Right Now
Thank you so much for letting me share with you what God is speaking to me in this time! I don’t know about you, but I turn to food when I need comfort. And I cannot tell you how much comfort food I’ve been craving these days! Rice is one of my go-to culinary consolers — I come from a long line of rice farmers in India, so whenever I cook up that fluffy little grain, I feel connected to my family, my ancestors and my homeland.
One of the recipes I’ve created during this sabbatical using pantry ingredients is a pea and peanut pilau, or pilaf. Follow these techniques and your basmati rice will turn out perfectly EVERY TIME!
1 cup basmati rice
1 tablespoon ghee (Indian clarified butter)
1 teaspoon whole cumin seeds
3 green cardamom pods
1 bay leaf
1/2 yellow onion, diced
1 3/4 cup hot water
1 cup frozen peas
Handful of minced cilantro
Wedge of lemon
1. Rinse rice 3 to 4 times until the water runs clear. Soak in water, in a strainer, for about 20 minutes. Strain rice and allow to drain well.
2. Warm ghee in 3-quart saucepan over medium heat. Add whole spices and cook until they sizzle and become aromatic. Then add onion, season with salt and sauté until translucent.
3. Add the drained rice to pan. Sauté until water evaporates from the grains and you hear a gentle snap, crackle and pop. The rice should smell ever so slightly nutty.
4. Add hot water and season with salt. Stir, cover the pan and turn heat to low. Cook for 15 minutes. Don’t take the lid off!
5. Meanwhile, pour peas into a bowl and cover with water. Microwave for 2 minutes. Set aside.
6. When your timer goes off, turn the heat off and fluff rice with a fork. Cover with a clean kitchen towel and place lid back on top. If the rice felt a little wet when you fluffed it, leave the saucepan on that burner so the residual heat cooks off the excess water. If the rice felt good, then pull the saucepan off the burner (keeping cloth and lid on). Allow the pot to sit, undisturbed, for 5 minutes.
7. Remove lid and kitchen towel. Sprinkle with peas, peanuts and cilantro. Sprinkle with a squeeze of lemon juice and a little more salt. Stir well with fork and serve.
I hope you enjoy this recipe! Let me know in the comments how it worked for you. I pray that God is touching your heart during this time. I am so thankful that he knows us and loves us. He sees us. He sees what stymies us. And he loves his children enough to help us flow at our full potential. That’s a comfort to my soul.