Wednesday, September 11, 2019

What's in the spice cabinet? A detailed inventory, and a spice giveaway

A corner cabinet in my kitchen is home to the spices. That motley collection of little jars and bottles does so much heavy lifting in the making of flavorful meals. Spices, unlike wine, don't improve with age. For weeks I have wanted to give this space a mini makeover, to clean it out and refresh it and look at what I really have on hand.

Last Friday evening, after dinner and kitchen clean-up, I suddenly decided that the time had come. Step one was to empty the entire contents of that little cabinet, plus some extra spices from the pantry- and here you see them littering the counter-top. Armed with a roll of adhesive tape and a sharpie, I was ready to channel my inner KonMari and sort out this mess.


The goal was to organize the spices for the life I have now. Not that fantasy life where I cook elaborate new recipes with exotic spices. I am in the family-centric, kid-centric season of life where favorite meals are made on repeat; dinners are simple because schedules are complicated. When I do try new recipes, they tend to be easy variations and extensions of what we already like.

I started by tossing out some things that needed to go. Food waste is terrible but once spices have deteriorated, there's no choice but to let them go. Among the spices that were discarded: pumpkin pie spice and poultry seasoning that were years old, pilau masala bought on a work trip to Kenya that has lost all flavor by this point, and powdered onion and garlic that I love using but they were caked into a block of concrete that I can't chip into any more.




The rest of the spices were organized, wiped down and labeled. Here's the detailed inventory:

Masala dabbas- squat round boxes with removable cups for spices- are a staple in the Indian kitchen. You get to keep your favorite spices handy so you only open one box instead of 7 jars. I own a stainless steel masala dabba that used to belong to my maternal grandmother. It is sturdy and the cups are tall so they hold a good volume of masala. My second masala dabba is a cheap little plastic one.

Metal masala dabba

1. Mustard seeds (rai or mohri)

2. Cumin seeds (jeera)

Mustard seeds and cumin seeds are mainstays of the tempering process that kicks off many Indian dishes, where you bloom spices in hot oil before adding the other ingredients. Cumin seeds are versatile; I often use them to make a quick jeera rice.

3. A mixture of two lentils- urad dal and chana dal
While lentils are used in large quantities as ingredients, small quantities are also used to add flavor and texture to dishes. This mixture is often used in tempering Southern Indian dishes like fresh chutneys for idli/dosa and simple vegetable sautes like cabbage thoran.

4. Turmeric- This is the bright yellow spice that adds the iconic color and flavor to so many Indian dishes. I also use it to make turmeric milk to soothe sore throats.

5. Red chilli powder- This spice also adds flavor and heat to an array of Indian dishes. My cooking is on the milder side so I stick to mild Kashmiri chili powder which provides a vibrant color without making food too spicy.

6. Goda masala- This is a traditional spice mix from Maharashtra. There's just nothing like it. I use it in simple usals (sprouted bean dishes), vegetable dishes and a rice dish called masala bhaat. (I have some goda masala to share- check the end of the post).

7. Fennel seeds- Used occasionally for custom masala blends.

Plastic masala dabba

8. Fenugreek seeds (methi) used for custom spice blends and tempering in certain dishes, but I most often use these to make idli and dosa batter.

9. Coriander seeds (dhania or dhane)
10. Cloves (laung or lavang)
11. Peppercorns (miri)
12. White poppy seeds (khus khus)
13. Ajwain (carom)
14. Badi elaichi (black cardamom)

All of these are used occasionally in various dishes or to make custom fresh masalas.


Indian basics

15. Tamarind paste- Adds tangy flavor to a number of dishes from Western and Southern India. Typically used in sambar and rasam. I also make a very quick and easy date tamarind chutney for chaats.

16. Asafetida or hing- A unique flavor in Indian cooking. You'd recognize that LG hing jar anywhere.

17. Kasuri methi or dried fenugreek. It adds that restaurant flavor to any number of North Indian dishes.

18. Dhania jeera or ground cumin and coriander- I use it in such quantities that I grind my own by lightly toasting cumin and coriander seeds in a 1:2 proportion by volume. Adds wonderful flavor (and no heat) to simple everyday Indian food.


The most valuable players in the masala division

A well-made spice mix is a wonderful thing- with one spoonful, you can add the right flavor that just "makes" the dish. In addition to typical uses of masalas, I play fast and loose with these mixes and use them in off-label ways. Don't call the food police on me, but that is my secret to quick everyday meals that taste good.

Most of these are commercial mixes, and I'll try to note the brands when I can. Many people suggest storing masalas in the fridge or the freezer but I find that doing that kills the flavor. I prefer decanting the masalas into clean glass bottles and storing at room temp and, ahem, using them up in a few months.

19. Tandoori masala- Used to make a quick marinade for paneer, tofu and vegetables. Then I pan-fry and used the tasty morsels in a tikka salad. I think the brand is Badshah.

20. Omelet masala- My sister introduced me to this, and I love it in egg dishes like omelets, scrambles and hash brown casseroles. R-Pure (MDH) brand.

21. Rasam powder- I recklessly use this to make rasam, sambar and simple vegetable stir-fries of all types. MTR brand.

22. Kitchen King masala- A tried and true all purpose masala.

23. Chana masala- Used for chhole which I serve as a curry and often in the form of aloo tikki chana chaat. MDH brand.

24. Kolhapuri masala- This one is for usal and misal and wherever a nice pop of garlic is needed. (I am giving some away- check the end of the post for details).

25. Pav bhaji masala- Used for pav bhaji, which just happens to be the most popular recipe of all time on this blog. Everest brand.

26. Punjabi garam masala- A good finishing touch to many North Indian style curries.

Other favorite dried herbs and spices

27. Italian herbs- An all purpose herb mixture which adds a quick boost of flavor to homemade pastas and sauces.

28. Sweet paprika- Decorative purposes. This adds a nice color to food without ramping up the heat.

29. Smoked paprika- People are always raving about "bacon bacon bacon" which I've never understood. But I know that smoked paprika has a similar smoky and complex flavor which is very nice in certain dishes.

30. Dried oregano- This is definitely the dried herb that I used most, in Mexican and Italian dishes.

31. Ground cumin- Also widely used in taco fillings and such.

32. Crushed red pepper- Primarily used to add some heat to pizzas and pastas.

One big ingredient missing here is Mexican chili powder. I've run out and I want to try making my own with dried Mexican chilies.


Seasonings

33. Frankie masala- A tangy and spicy seasoning blend to sprinkle on sandwiches and wraps.

34. Tony Chachere's seasoning- General seasoning (includes salt) for fried eggs and roasted or sauteed vegetables.

35. Chile Lime blend- This tangy and spicy blend is irresistible on sliced cucumbers and steamed corn.

36. Tea masala- Makes a good masala chai.

Other masalas

I love these spice mixes just as much as the ones above but don't use them often, in most cases because they are quite spicy.

37. Schezwan spice- Indian Chinese is a cuisine dear to our hearts. This spice mix makes a stellar homemade version of Indian Chinese fried rice.

38. Pani puri masala- Good for sprinkling on chaat.

39. MTR Puliyogare powder- This is designed to be mixed with steamed rice to make instant tamarind rice. Very versatile and tasty stuff.

40. Shan Bombay biryani masala- Shan is a renowned Pakistani line of spice mixes, especially famous for their biryani masalas. I bought this on a whim and haven't used it yet.

41. Malvani masala- This is from Anjali of the Anna Parabrahma blog- fiery and very flavorful stuff.


Packets

42. Taco spice- Bought this for travel cooking and never used it.

43. Kolhapuri misal masala- Given by my friend in Boston and I had forgotten about it.

44. Aleppo pepper- Being hoarded and needs to be enjoyed.

45. Berbere spice blend- Bought on a trip to Savannah when I stumbled into a spice store (aka candy store for cooks).

46. Maggi noodles spice sachet

All of these are first in line to be used up!


Whole spices

47. Peppercorns in a grinder- black pepper is one spice that is best freshly ground.

48. Cinnamon bark

49. Dried red chillies

50. Tejpatta or Indian bay leaves

All of these are good for making custom spice blends, fresh wet masalas and also added whole in pilafs and such.

Somewhat exotic ingredients

51. Nigella seeds- I use this in tempering for kadhi; have used it for a topping for naan in the past.

52. Kokum- This is a fruit that grows in coastal parts of Western Indian. The dried fruit is used in cooking and has a wonderful tangy taste. I use it to make solkadhi with coconut milk.

53. Sumac- This was a gift from a friend who visited Turkey. I need to use it more often!

54. Basil seedssabja. Like chia seeds, these plump up in water and are refreshing in summer. I need to make some rose drinks while the weather is still hot here.

The oddballs

55. Kala namak- Black salt. I've had this for ever but minerals don't really spoil so I'm keeping it. I don't remember the last time I used it.

56. MSG- monosodium glutamate. In India this is sold as "ajinomoto". My mother cooks us Indian Chinese dishes whenever she visits and she insists that it just doesn't taste the same without this stuff. I personally don't actively avoid MSG nor do I add it to any food that I cook.

57. Citric acid- I probably bought this at one point to make paneer at home. We don't eat paneer often and I just buy blocks from the store rather than making it at home. But it doesn't spoil and is good to keep around. On occasion, I've run out of lemons and limes and have used a pinch of this to add tang to a dish.

Baking supplies

58. Baker's Joy spray- This is the formula with the flour and I use it especially for baking in molds with nooks and crannies, such as bundt pans.

59. Oil spray- Used for greasing baking sheets and dishes, and also for idli molds before the batter is added.

60. Baking soda

61. Baking powder (missing because I ran out- it is on the grocery list)

62. Powdered sugar- Most often used to shower over baked goods, and for frostings on birthday cakes.

63. Cocoa powder- Most often used in Alice Medrich's recipe for cocoa brownies which is my go-to all-occasion treat.

64. Ground cinnamon- I used this in pretty large quantities and just buy a large box from the store.

65. Ground cardamom- I buy green cardamom pods and grind them myself, mixed in with some sugar for bulk.

Ground cinnamon and cardamom are used in my kitchen in everything from granola and oatmeal to smoothies and desserts.

66. Vanilla extract- Used in practically all desserts, especially great in vanilla custard. One of the more expensive bottles in the spice cabinet.

67. Lemon oil- I don't use it often but this is wonderful used alongside lemon rind and lemon juice in citrus flavored desserts and bakes.

68. Saffron- Well known as the most expensive spice. I use it in kheer and shrikhand and some savory rice dishes.

Not pictured, right by the stove is #69, the queen of seasonings and downright essential for life, salt. I use kosher salt for all my cooking because it has a coarse texture (easy to gauge the amount you pinch) and a clean flavor.

It took me an hour on Friday night and an hour or two early Saturday morning to get this done. Back went the spices into the freshly cleaned cabinet. It feels good to have everything organized and ready for the next cooking session.


Spice giveaway

I discovered that I have too much of some spices and I would love to share them. There's one packet of MTR puliyogare powder which makes a wonderful tamarind rice and can be creatively used in other ways too. I also have homemade Kolhapuri masala (redolent with chillies and garlic) and Goda masala which is uniquely Maharashtrian. I can split up the two masalas into smaller packets for several folks to have.

I can ship anywhere within the continental US. Drop me an e-mail at onehotstove AT gmail DOT com if you'd like any of these. Spices are meant to be used and I will be glad to find them a new home. 

* * * 
I promptly used the berbere spice (#44 in the list above) to make an Ethiopian-inspired stew on Sunday.

1. In Instant Pot, saute minced onion in ghee and oil.
2. Saute 1-2 tbsp. of berbere spice mix.
3. Add minced garlic, a box of baby spinach (this was one of my produce rescues at the supermarket that morning), some crushed tomatoes and rinsed, soaked red lentils (masoor dal).
4. Add water to cover the ingredients.
5. Pressure cook HIGH 4 minutes. Natural release.

While not authentic, this stew was very flavorful and very spicy, reminiscent of misir wot that I've eaten in Ethiopian restaurants. I served it with golden adai instead of injera.


Tell me about the spices in your kitchen. What are the ones you can't live without? What spices do you hoard? How many spices do you own- 7, 70 or 700? 

15 comments:

  1. Wow 68 herbs and spices is quite some amount of cooking. I have got to know what I love and must have - smoked paprika, turmeric, cumin, mustard are high on the list. I have also learned that the spices I don't use most are best purchased whole - like nutmeg, cloves and fennel seeds. I used to use coriander but recently could not even find any ground (am sure I will find it now I don't need it) and was glad to have whole coriander seeds. But my spices are in need of a good clean out. I saw a blogger who had a basket for things to be used soon and I am thinking this might be helpful for me. BTW I have black salt and use it regularly when I make vegan omelettes. I also made a dahl recipe that had a surprising teaspoon of the black salt and it was quite tasty.

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    1. Johanna- I made a mistake with the numbering and it is actually 69! Cleaning out spices is very satisfying and I highly recommend it :) Thanks for the tips on using black salt- I'll need to use it more.

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  2. Goda masala, Dhane Jeere pud, garam masala and believe it or not pav bhaji masala :)..feel like it gives a nice spice+tang to many gravy based dishes

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    1. Shilpa- I used to make a tava pulao using leftover rice, onions, tomato and lots of pav bhaji masala. So good. I've never added it to gravy dishes but I can see how that would work well!

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  3. Oh my gosh, I need to clear out my spice cabinet as well. I think I'm in the 70s category.. my weakness is whole spices. I definitely collect them but some of them don't see the light of day often. For example, allspice, moggu (kapok buds), chitharathai (dried galangal), arisi thippili (indian long pepper) etc. I have managed to resist purchasing pre-made spice blends. I pretty much only purchase garam masala, pav bhaji masala, taco seasoning, and herbs de provence, preferring to make the rest on my own (or my mother sends some over from India). I do have a zillion packets of those ( sambhar powder, curry leaf powder, lentil powders etc etc). I'm not counting things like sriracha or lao gan ma here. I am definitely interested in the spice giveaway since I'm out of goda masala. I'll write you an email. Thanks.

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    1. Inji- Clearing out the spice cabinet was lots of fun in addition to being a very useful exercise! Tell me what your favorite homemade spice blends are, and the recipes if possible. You have more spices than I do, and lots of exotic ones. Do e-mail me if you want some spices!! Quick because most of the spice has been claimed.

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    2. Thanks Nupur, I claimed some already :). I will send some favorite spice blend recipes.

      - Inji (Shubha)

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  4. Nupur, that is a feat!! I make dhane and jeere powders in small batches, my friend in Pune gives me a year's supply of goda masala she makes, MTR sambar masala. My spices are all stored in the fridge. And when we went to Spain in 2018, got lots of saffron. The extra is stored in the freezer! Store bought Italian spice mix. And of course, all the members of khada masala and phodinee items in my spice cabinet. Organic dark cacao powder also stored in the fridge. 69!!! I'm impressed. Good on ya for achieving this task.

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    1. Shubha- If you start counting your spices, I'm pretty sure you will have a similar number! Indian pantries are very heavy on the spice selection :) Saffron is divine.

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  5. Apart from the usual suspects of rai, jeera, dhania, turmeric and hing which feature pretty much everyday, my personal favorite is cinnamon powder. I use is massively (grind my own from well sourced cinnamon) in warm/cold oats, which is my standard brekkie, for making granola and for simply sprinkling on toast+almond butter. Your spice cabinet is impressive.

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    1. Neha- I too use cinnamon powder a lot! It is such a warm and comforting spice.

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  6. No za'atar? C'mon, Nupur. :) Kidding. It makes a lovely dip mixed with olive oil. I'd have loved to get your Goda Masala but we barely consume any chillies, red or green, and I assume your mix has it added?

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    1. I HAD some za'atar, Lakshmi, and had to toss it out because it was years old and equivalent to dust in terms of aroma. Mid-Eastern cuisine is really under-represented in my kitchen and I want to change that. The goda masala doesn't have any obvious chillies added, but I can't be certain of that. If you feel like trying it, e-mail me ASAP :)

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  7. Would love a little bit of the two homemade masalas- I am sure you have some recipe ideas on how to use these!

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    1. E-mail me ASAP, Abi, I have a little left of each.

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