Well, my spices, actually.
It only took four months, but I finally managed to turn the binful of spicy chaos that followed my last binge at Penzey’s into something orderly, useful, and even a little bit elegant.
After much research, deliberation, and boggling at what people have the nerve to charge for spice storage solutions, what I ended up doing was shifting the whole lot out of the myriad zip bags and little jars into wide-mouthed magnetic tins with laser-printed labels. The tins were then put in orderly, alphabetized rows on a dry erase board, mounted vertically on my kitchen wall. After just one rainy afternoon’s worth of work, everything is now right at my fingertips and ready to be used at will. Every time I flip the light switch, which is right beside my fantastic new spice rack, I am filled anew with a smug sense of accomplishment.
It would have gone faster if I’d bought tins with magnets already on them, like the handful I already had, but I seriously balked at paying three bucks a pop. Instead, I bought three dozen non-magnetic ones for seventy cents apiece, plus two rolls of magnetic tape. A little more work and delay, yes, but when you consider that magnetic spice rack kits with 20 tins are currently going for $120 and up, it was totally worth it.
To celebrate the fact that all my spices are now out where they can be easily used, I improvised a dish of cauliflower, potatoes and peas that called for eight of my freshly-filled, readily-accessible tins to come off the rack. I’m not claiming it’s authentically Indian, but it does combine whole and ground spices common to Indian cuisine and stew and went smashingly with the batch of naan my pride-flushed ego also prompted me to bake. I especially love the crunch of the tiny brown mustard seeds and the lemony zing of the whole coriander.
As impressive as I think my new rack is, I will tease you just a bit by saying this is an intermediate step. I have even bigger plans for spice storage, but it’s going to take considerably more work than this did. You’ll just have to wait and see what I mean.
Cauliflower, Potatoes and Peas with Whole Spices
1 head of cauliflower, cut into small florets
3 Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and diced
3 tablespoons canola oil
1 1/2 teaspoons brown mustard seeds
3/4 teaspoons coriander seeds
1/8 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon Rogan Josh seasoning
1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 15-ounce can diced tomatoes in juice
2 cups vegetable stock
1 cup frozen peas
Salt to taste
Parboil the potatoes in lightly salted water until just starting to soften. Drain.
In a large pot, heat the mustard seeds, coriander seeds and fenugreek in the oil over medium-high heat just until the mustard seeds start popping. Standing back to avoid the sputtering, stir in the tomatoes and the remaining spices, and cook until the liquid has mostly evaporated. Add the stock, cauliflower and potatoes, cover the pot, and simmer until the vegetables are tender. Stir in the peas and continue cooking just until they have warmed through.
Serve over basmati rice, or in shallow bowls with naan.
You can vary the whole spices and the vegetables depending on what you have. For example, if I’d had whole cumin seeds, I would have used a teaspoon of them and lowered the ground cumin by the same amount. Similarly, if I’d been out of potatoes, I would have used a can of chickpeas instead.