Well, I don’t know why I hadn’t written this before. Credit where it’s due, it was prompted by Manasi Desphpande, sending a photo of her masala dabba .
Then I remembered a sketch by Michael McIntyre about the spice cupboard and thinking what a boring bunch of unloved spices. It was shown to us by a marketing bod when I worked for Cole & Mason to get us all excited about spice . C&M are purveyors of excellent Salt & Pepper mills (please don’t offend by calling them pots, they are mills!) and spice racks. Other brands are available (I have to stay impartial now). However, I am sure an Indian spice cupboard would be a little more colourful, interesting and entertaining. Note – this is not a cookery lesson, just a little stroll through my cupboard.
So let’s start with what is a spice and what is a herb? Ok, so you don’t know and don’t really care, you just use and cook. But knowledge is power and great to impress dinner guests.
Good old Wiki says, ‘spice is a seed, fruit, root, bark or other plant substance primarily used for flavouring or colouring food. Spices are distinguished from herbs, which are the leaves, flowers, or stems of plants used for favouring or as a garnish’.
Storing spices has become a mission in my house. These big ones are for my tried and tested regular.
They are out when I’m planning lots of cooking on a day. Perhaps I should label the Lids. I thought I should just talk about the key ones I use again and again, otherwise this could end up being a long read (which I understand isn’t the done thing on these blogs).
The salt, excuse the heart disease but I can’t live without it. And perhaps I eat just a bit too much. Just remember you can’t take away but you can always add. And for those who want to push the boat out go for the additional varieties available – we have pink Himalayan and rock salt. Good old Saxa table salt never gets to go to the party.
I can imagine the haldi (turmeric) all dolled up saying “move out of the way, boys, I’m now the star of this show. I’m so much in demand I’ve had to franchise myself out into different forms 😂 All the Indians roll their eyes at inflated prices of turmeric infused milk/drinks/shots. Just find a an Indian grocer and treat yourself. Watch those posh white worktops though. When she finds you, she will stay with you!
And chilli powder. Shades of red, fiery and hot. I’m sure it would be a she. Don’t mess with her because too much will overpower and she will take control of the dish. The paprika is the gentler quieter cousin with a slightly sweet personality.
Garam masala is like the don of the spice cupboard. Don’t mess with him. A combo of many other spices. He is the answer to everything. Everyone has their own recipe for the perfect punchy masala.
Dhaniya (ground coriander) is the right hand man to the turmeric, I reckon. You can’t do without it. Again, coriander is such a show off! You can’t cook an Indian meal without the herb and then it ensures you have the seeds for certain dishes (!!!!) and powder as a staple.
Cumin seeds (jeera). They start the party going and once it starts sizzling you know it’s time to add Heeng or Astofoetida. Partners in crime.
Mustard seeds (rai) are a little like tiny shots of heat and, like cumin seeds, are used at the start. When they start popping, you can add the other spices.
Kasthuri methi or fenugreek Is a powerful beast. The fragrance lingers and also emirates from your pores – trust me. But I love it.Methi leaves fresh can be used for so many dishes and the dried version just add depth to a curry. Fenugreek seeds are a must for aubergine dishes. Also let me introduce you to Amchoor powder (dried mango powder). For any dishes that need a little tang..)
But basically, I have Indian, Italian, baking, Mexican, Middle Eastern ie Ottolenghi and randoms (One off recipes/used once eg …. marjoram? Mace?)
My spice cupboards need attention. Yes, they really do. I’ve tried to divide them into the following groups and now I’m in the new house it’s gone to pot!
Perhaps I should go back to the dabbas and create one for the following as a start
⁃ North Indian
⁃ Rest of India
⁃ Rest of world
⁃ Didn’t look before we bought it again tray
Happy cooking and buying! You never know when that is going to come in use. Hopefully, this will prompt you to have a little explore in your spice cupboard.
Remember Spice is for life 😂.
So a simple recipe shared with me by Simantee. It’s for a spicy tomato chutney. No measurements given .. just trial and error.
Ingredients : Mix equal quantities of fenugreek /cumin/mustard/nigella seeds in jar. This mix is called Panch Puran. Freshly chopped tomatoes (10 medium sized) chillies (I used fresh but you can use powder). Sugar – half a cup. A little salt
Method: Heat a little oil in a heavy based pot. Drop in a heaped teaspoon of mix and when they start popping add in the chopped tomatoes and sugar/chillies/salt. And just leave to cook away until the tomato juice evaporates . The longer you leave it, the better. Keep tasting and you will probably need to add more sugar. Eat with anything 😉