August 13, 2014

.. for the love of a Masaaldaani!

A Masaaldaani, or a Spice Box, is an essential part of Indian cooking and after many years of looking for the right (and reasonably priced) one, I finally am the proud owner of my very own Masaaldaani! My sister, bless her heart, will question my sanity at my excitement about a new spice box. Its just a silly old spice box she'll say ... what are you? Pregnant and tied to the stove? ... But the fact of the matter is that for both of us .. a Spice Box evokes memories of childhood days spent in the kitchen watching my mom fill the house with some delectable aromas. 

A traditional Masaaldaani is a round, stainless steel container that holds 7 or 9 small bowls for individual spices. Each one holds one's most commonly used and traditional Indian spices. The ultimate combination depends upon the region of India one might have grown up in. In Southern India, you might see split skinless urad dal (black lentils) and mustard seeds, while in the North, you might see Cardamom seeds and black peppercorns. They are usually small containers (mine is about 7 inches in diameter) and have a solid or glass-topped lid. Because most lids aren't completely air tight, spice boxes only hold enough spices to last a few days. Long term storage in a spice box is not advisable because they do lose aromatic essential oils when stored in open containers. The advantage however, of a Masaaldaani, is that it saves you from hunting for your favorite spices when you're ready to cook.

Traditional spice boxes can cost anywhere from $50 to $100 range at Indian Grocery stores. I've seen a few that cost that much and looked like they would break if I breathed on them wrong. I found mine for $10 at World Market and I knew I had to bring it home with me. It is sturdy, hammered steel, has a glass-window in the lid and is just the perfect size for me with its 7 compartments. I've started out mine with what I think are my favorite spices .. and I may switch some out as time goes on ... So what's in my Masaaldaani today?
  1. Salt .. because one needs to feel the salt as you dust it on your dishes. And no one can estimate salt with a spoon, or with a shaker. 
  2. Turmeric .. with its lusty ochre color is right next door. It is used to flavor and add color. It is a plant product (ginger family) and it is considered to have immense antioxidant powers. 
  3. Deggi Mirch .. has a bold red color and is right next to the turmeric. It adds color and flavor without much heat.
  4. Coriander Powder (Dhania) .. is the brownish powder on the other side of turmeric. It is the dried ground up seeds of the cilantro plant. This is a sweet, slightly tangy spice that adds depth and texture to Indian dishes.
  5. Black Peppercorns .. are used to add a ton of flavor and warmth to North Indian Dishes such as kormas and pulaos. They include all the essential oils offered by ground pepper, but often without the heat because the oils are trapped inside the peppercorns. 
  6. Cumin Seeds .. are an essential ingredient in Indian as well as Mexican cuisine. They add a distinctive and somewhat strong flavor with a warm perception on the taste buds due to the essential oils .. such as cuminaldehyde. Cumin seeds make a killer tortilla soup ;)
  7. Cloves and Cardamoms .. offer the same benefits as black peppercorns. Warmth on the tongue and their own distinctive flavors. These last 4 ingredients are the main ingredients of Garam Masala. 

Armed with this baby, I can cook up pretty much any Indian dish. Let the Hunger Games begin .. and may the odds .. be evahh in my fayvah!! :)

Be sure to check out my Recipe Index for Whole-Food, Plant-Based, No-Added-Oil recipes and my Herb & Spice Fact of the Day page for information about individual spices. You can also like Rugrat Chow! on Facebook. Thanks!

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