Basics of Indian cooking: This Indian Spice Box / Masala Dabba / Anjarai Petti is a must have in an Indian kitchen. Read on to find
out about what I store in mine!
Check my video for a sneak peek into the masala dabba in my kitchen
This spice box is traditionally found in most Indian Kitchens. It’s quite a pratical thing to have all your regularly used spices in one box, so that when the oil is hot and ready to be infused with the aromatic spices, one is not running after different jars for different ingredients.
Nowadays, you can find spice boxes with see through lids that looks quite colourful on the kitchen counter. You also get square carved wooden boxes, with 9 compartments to hold a variety of spices. Traditionally found in most Indian Kitchens, a spice box quite a practical thing to have with all your regularly used spices at arm’s length. When the oil is hot and ready to be infused with the aromatic spices, one is not running after different jars for different ingredients.
Here are the spices that I stock up in my Anjarai Petti
Turmeric powder – A pinch of this powder adds that flavour to curries, colours them a natural golden yellow colour and according to Ayurveda -is also a potent anti-bacterial which can kill any germs in the food.
Did you know that Sangli, a town in the southern part of the Indian state of Maharashtra, is the largest and most important trading centre for turmeric in Asia or perhaps in the entire world? Well I didn’t know that despite living in the same state!
Red chilli Powder – Add a teaspoon of this in your savoury recipes, and you will never want to eat bland food again. It also adds a natural red colour to curries and a depth of flavour.
Urad Dal / Udad Dal – It belongs to the lentil family and a teaspoon of this Dal is used in traditional South Indian cooking for ‘tadka’ to dry curries like Cabbage, Potato, Brinjal etc.
Doing ‘tadka’ with urad dal is a tactful affair where you remove it off the flame to early and you have a sorry looking whitish dal and remove it too late, you have a burnt bitter charred mess.
For the perfect tadka, heat 2 tsp of vegetable oil in a heavy bottomed ladle-once the oil is heated (as soon as you see it steaming)-take it off the flame, add the ingredients for ‘tadka’ ie-Mustard seeds, Curry leaves and the dal. Stir it around. The curry leaves will be the first to crackle and then the mustard seeds will begin to pop. Take the ladle back on a medium to low flame and stir the dal around till it turns a light golden brown. Immediately take it off the flame and pop the contents onto the curry / sambhar.
Cumin seeds– No Indian savoury dish would be complete without these seeds or it’s powder. Stir in a generous pinch of cumin powder into your dish, and you will discover what a depth of flavour is all about ! Something that the chefs on Food Network love to call a SMOKY flavour.Cumin is also considered an excellent digestive- most Indians will readily remember what we used to eat as kids- the _’jeera goli’ which_roughly translated means cumin pills.
Mustard seeds– As a child I would never like to see these little black seeds on plate. Whenever I would accidentally bite into them, they had a strange taste which couldn’t be classified as any of the tastes I was familiar with. Now, I’m so used to it, that if I don’t see the familiar black dots in my Upma / Chutney / Sambhar / Masala Mor, I get this feeling that something’s missing.
I don’t really know what is the health benefit of this common fellow. Crushed mustard seeds are used generously in Indian spicy pickles.
Panch Phoran– No self respecting Bengali cook would be seen without this spice in her kitchen. I got introduced to this one by my Bengali friend when she used it in a Matchstick Potato Curry. I was absolutely addicted to the melange of unknown flavours that tickled my tastebuds. One gets this pre-mixed in some supermarkets, or you could mix the five spices yourself. I’d rather you heard a more authentic line about this one than from me.
Dried Red chillies– They are the dormant volcanoes in my spice box. There they lie in the centre all curled up and benign looking. Add a few of them into hot oil and the pungent fumes can make the bravest of people smart and sneeze. I use them in masalas, a couple of them as part of the ‘tadka’ in dry vegetable curries etc.
Apart from these I have many other spices in their separate
containers- Dried Indian Spices like Bay leaf, Star anise, Cinnamon, Black peppers, Cloves, Cardamom.
Dried herbs on the herb rack- Basil, Thyme, Rosemary, Lemonbalm, Italian spice mix and many others.
I also use a homemade curry powder which I make each month.
So what’s in your Masala Dabba? Do tell.
Dr. Nandita Iyer, is a nutrition expert and food blogger from Bangalore, whose blog Saffrontrail.com has been featuring healthy vegetarian recipes since 2006.
This post first appeared on JUNE 27, 2006, (https://www.saffrontrail.com/indian-masala-dabba-anjarai-petti-spice-box).