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:
- 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
2. Cumin seeds
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.
- 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
10. Cloves (laung or lavang)
11. Peppercorns (miri)
12. White poppy seeds (khus khus)
14. Badi elaichi
All of these are used occasionally in various dishes or to make custom fresh masalas.
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.
- 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.
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
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.
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!
in a grinder- black pepper is one spice that is best freshly ground.
48. Cinnamon bark
49. Dried red chillies
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.
- 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.
- This was a gift from a friend who visited Turkey. I need to use it more often!
54. Basil seeds
. 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.
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.
- 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.
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.
- 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.
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.
The spices have found new homes!
* * *
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
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
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?