Review: Aarti Party
Well it has been one week since fellow food blogger Aarti Sequeira was named The Next Food Network Star and now her show is premiering. That’s not a lot of time, except when you consider that Aarti actually won months ago. The poor dear has had to keep that bottled up inside so as not to ruin the show. Next year when it is me Had it been me, I might have to sprint to the observation deck of the Empire State Building and scream it for the entire eastern seaboard to hear. I mean it is truly a life changing event.
NEWS FLASH: Aarti Party has already been renewed for a second season. Read more HERE.
Right off the bat it is clear the judges made the right choice. While the other contestants were hoping for their own cooking show, Aarti was born for it. She is so natural in front of the camera. It is refreshing after enduring some past winners who, even years later, still are painful to watch. Congratulations, judges, you have finally picked your second Next Food Network Star.
Watching the first episode the one thing I was struck by was that this is only the first episode. The grace and energy of the host made this seem like a show that’s been on for years. Aarti’s Indian spin on everyday American foods is just what was needed to introduce this amazing cuisine to the last country to give it a fair shake. Sequeira pulled off the menu to her first show without ever mentioning the word that sends Americans running for the hills, Curry.
Here’s some of the new things that Aarti taught us in the first episode about Indian food – kale used instead of lettuce in a salad can be tossed in the dressing and stored in the frig without breaking down. . . for days. And did you know that in India they have their own version of ice cream? It’s called Kulfi and it is actually richer and denser than our ice cream. The best part – no ice cream machine! I have got to start experimenting with Kulfi. With the exception of Guy’s Big Bite I have never had an NFNS winner compel me to try anything before.
Aarti Paarti kicks off the block of recent NFNS winners’ shows and after watching her it is startling how much smoother she is than last year’s winner Melissa D’Arabian whose show follows Aarti’s. Melissa is pleasant and amiable but still seems like a home cook who won a cooking show in a contest while Aarti comes across as a seasoned pro. If future episodes are as good as the first it will eclipse many of the tried-and-true franchises.
After several days of indecision the network has decided on a spelling for the name of the show. It was originally Aarti Paarti then Aarti Party, then back, then back again. It looks like Aarti Party is the final answer. Episode 2 was even better than the premiere. Gone was the nervous giggle that was the only negative about episode 1. Two episodes in and she has still not mentioned the dreaded C-word, curry. The next four episodes would have to be tragically bad to not justify a second season especially since they are still producing episodes of Big Daddy’s Kitchen.
In episode 3 Aarti made an Indian-inspired pulled pork sandwich with mango BBQ sauce, an amazing citrus/green apple cole slaw and a chocolate-ginger pudding pie. You can come out from under the bed, America, there’s still no Curry among the ingredients. The menus through the first three episodes have demonstrated exactly why Food Network needed this show, because most people’s opinion of Indian cuisine are completely wrong.
Aarti is so polished and natural on camera that it is hard to believe she actually had to enter NFNS to get a show on Food Network. It just shows you how out of touch Food Network is with what is happening on the Internet. There are lots of web-based hosts that need to be added to the FN line-up to replace some of those interesting-for-a-second-dull-for-a-decade shows that bog down a lot of their programming. If given proper venue it is a certainty that most viewers would prefer Average Betty to Sandra Lee or Jaden Hair over Paula Deen. They might even find room for a certain Wannabe TV Chef.
Aarti Paarti airs in the customary time slot reserved for the NFNS winner, Sunday 12/11 CT. Right now this seems like a great time slot but in three weeks it will be up against the NFL where it will get hammered regardless of how good it may be. If the show isn’t well received (like most NFNS winners) then they can hide it in this time slot until people forget about it. If it does well (Guy’s Big Bite) it will move to a better time slot. Even though the winner shoots six episodes they really only get three to prove themselves.
Aarti was nice enough to post recipes from the inaugural episode and here is one of them. The rest are available at the Food Network web site.
Sloppy Bombay Joes
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 tablespoon minced ginger
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 serrano chile, seeded and finely minced (save the other half for the turkey)
1 teaspoon garam masala
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1 (15-ounce) can tomato sauce
1 cup water
3 to 4 tablespoons vegetable oil
Small handful shelled pistachios, about 1/4 cup
Small handful raisins, about 1/4 cup
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/2 large white onion, finely diced
1 red bell pepper, seeds and membrane removed, finely diced
1/2 serrano chile, seeds intact (don’t chop it up unless you like things spicy!)
1 pound ground turkey
1/2 teaspoon honey
1/4 cup half-and-half
Small handful chopped fresh cilantro (soft stems included)
4 to 6 hamburger buns
Begin by making the sauce: Warm the oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat, until it shimmers. Add the ginger, garlic and serrano pepper. Saute until the ginger and garlic brown a little. Add the garam masala and paprika and saute for 30 seconds. Stir in the tomato sauce and water. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer, uncovered, until thickened, about 15 minutes.
Meanwhile for the turkey, in large skillet, warm 2 tablespoons of oil. When shimmering, add the pistachios and raisins. Cook until the raisins swell up and the pistachios toast slightly. Remove from the pan and set aside.
Return the pan to medium heat, add 1 to 2 more tablespoons of oil, and warm until shimmering. Add the cumin seeds and allow them to sizzle for about 10 seconds, or until some of the sizzling subsides. Stir in the onions and bell pepper; saute until softened and starting to brown. Add the serrano pepper. Saute for another couple of minutes, seasoning with a little salt. Stir in the turkey, breaking up the big lumps. Cook until opaque, about 5 minutes.
Meanwhile, your sauce should be ready. Pour the sauce into the skillet with the turkey. Stir and bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer until the mixture has thickened slightly, about 10 minutes.
Once the turkey is cooked and the sauce has thickened a little, remove the serrano pepper (unless you want to eat it whole, like my Dad does!). Add the honey, half-and-half, pistachios and raisins. Stir through and taste for seasoning. Before serving, garnish with fresh cilantro.
Toast the buns, fill with the turkey mixture and serve. Eat (with your hands!) and enjoy!
NEWS FLASH: Aarti Party has already been renewed for a second season. Read more HERE. Check back later this week for my exclusive interviews with runners-up Tom Pizzica and Herb Mesa.
Aarti made a beautiful and humble post to her blog, also called Aarti Paarti that gives a brief glimpse into her life the moment her victory was announced to the world. Read it HERE.
So, those of you who watched the show, what did you think? Leave your comments below.