‘Indian Spice Box or Masala Dabba’
Often I get asked by people, “how do I organize a small Indian kitchen to cook more frequently”? The answer lies in buying two spice boxes (one for ground spices and one for whole). These Masala Dabba’s have been a common feature in our house for as long as I can remember. The spice box is round and made of stainless steel or plastic also nowadays with seven individual bowls. It comes with a small measuring teaspoon and must have a tight fitting lid in between the compartment for the bowls and the main lid. This ensures that the spices do not get all mixed up.
The Basic Spices
There are a few basic spices in Indian cuisine that go into most dishes.
Cumin seeds – whole and powder:
This is mainly used in North Indian food and is used for its strong distinctive taste. When roasted, whole cumin seeds release more of the aroma and gives the dish a sweet flavor. Cumin seed powder lends a sweet and mild flavor to a dish.
Hindi name – Jeera
Coriander seeds – whole and powder:
Mainly used for its fresh, soothing and cooling taste. Coriander seeds are very light in weight and have a mild flavor. Although they come form the same plant, they should not be mixed up with cilantro. In powder form it is an indispensable spice in the spice box.
Hindi name – Dhaniya
Turmeric powder:
This is mainly used in Indian dishes for its medicinal properties and for the gorgeous intensive color it gives to the dishes. It is mildly aromatic and has a delicate scent of ginger. Turmeric is a wonder spice and is used throughout Asia to treat cases of stomach and liver ailments.
Hindi name – Haldi
Chili powder:
The Indian chili powder is made from ground chilies and is often hotter that the chili powder available in the US/European stores. It has a pungent, hot aroma with a strong bite to it.
Hindi name – Lal Mirch
Black mustard seeds:
It has a strong but pleasing flavor and known for its digestive qualities. Mustard seeds are used in India to flavor vegetables, pulses and pickles.
Hindi name – Raai
Garam Masala:
The mixture may include a variety of ingredients from cumin, coriander, black cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, pepper, star anise, chilies and more. It can be used whole or in powdered form. It is often added at the end of cooking, so that the full aroma is not lost.