Jaffrey was born in Manhattan, New York, the youngest daughter of actress, food and travel writer Madhur Jaffrey and actor Saeed Jaffrey. Her parents divorced when she was three years old, and she grew up estranged from her father who subsequently moved to the United Kingdom.
She graduated from Vassar College in 1984.
She studied Mandarin Chinese at the college, originally planning to be a translator before she became an actress. Jaffrey appeared with her father in the film Masala (1991) and with her mother in The Perfect Murder (1988). In 2002 she appeared in The Truth About Charlie starring Mark Wahlberg.
In 2014, it was announced that she would be appearing in the second season of Fox"s television series Sleepy Hollow as Leena Reyes, the new sheriff.