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Food Matters

All about fresh, flavorful food

Herbal Spices: What's On Your Turntable?

by Ariel Tilson

Tags: Cooking, Spices, Indian Spices, Masala Dabba,


A while back I was at my friend’s house trying a recipe for buttered chicken that her sister-in law had recommended. I love cooking with friends because the food always turns out better than when I cook it alone. Before we began our gourmet adventure she pulled out a compact, circular tin. Inside it had seven identical, smaller containers each with a different spice. 

I was intrigued by this cute little container and asked her where she got it. As she dished out some salt with a miniature spoon, she explained that her mother had given it to her when she moved into her own apartment. Then she told me what each of them held: curry powder, red chili powder, chaat masala, jira or cumin seed, haldi or turmeric, salt and pepper. It’s called a masala dabba, and while you’ll find one in practically every kitchen in India, its contents are rarely the same.

Masala Dabba 1
Photo by escribirconlacabeza/Courtesy Flickr

My friend’s story remindeMad me of the red, plastic spice rack my mom and I got at a garage sale when I moved in to my first apartment. My mom was sure that I needed one. I was skeptical at first, but now I really appreciate it. She helped me fill up the containers with thyme, basil, tarragon, coriander, cumin, ginger and turmeric.

(What is the difference between an herb and a spice?)

Over the years I’ve added a few more spices to my collection as my taste in food has changed. Not all of my spices get used, however, there are a few that I’ve never even opened and probably contain more dust particles then spices by now.

Assorted Spices
Photo by heydrienne/Courtesy Flickr

It’s interesting what the spices we use say not just about our taste, but about our lives as well. Personally, I feel my mother’s love every time I spin the turntable on my spice rack or freshen up the herbs in the container. And even though my cooking rarely turns out as good as I would like, at least it’s always made with love.

What spices were you given when you first moved out on your own, or what spices can’t you live without now? Leave me a comment and let me know!