11 May 2008

Spice Organisation

Directly to the left of my stove, there is a small drawer, which I think most people would use as a drawer for silverware, serving spoons, or generalised junk. I use it to store my commonly used spices! I got the idea to do this from the restaurant, where the spices are stored in large glass mason jars. I, however, don't like that setup, because those weird canning lids keep falling out of the ring when you open the jar. Also, if you drop one, it's a recipe for disaster. Finally, I don't need a container that large. And of course, a container that large would neither fit in my cupboards, nor would it fit in my drawer. 

I do, however, have quite a few of those deli containers. They're ubiquitous in any restaurant, and I'm sure you've all got quite a few of those lying around. Whenever I go to the store to buy spices, I buy them in bulk (about 1 - 5 lbs at a time). This means that they come in clear plastic bags, which are fine to transport the spices from the store to your house, but are utterly useless to store in your cabinet or drawer. Enter the deli containers. They're about 8 oz (mine are, anyway), and stand just tall enough to fit neatly into my drawer.

The lids are clear, so I can see what the spice is without having to open anything. Having a bird-eye view of all your most commonly used spices is a very handy thing. My mother has a masala dabba, which works just fine for her. I'd like one eventually, but I don't think it's as efficient as my method. I'm sure you can see that the masala dabba is basically a stainless steel container that's round, with a series of small (open) cups in it. My mother's doesn't have a clear lid, but some of the newer ones do. Unfortunately, the top is open. This means that when spices spill out, they're going to mingle with each other. You seriously want to avoid this, especially in cases like fenugreek or urad daal, where the spices are only meant to be used in specific applications so that they get cooked properly. 

I can fit almost all of the spices that I use in this little drawer, and I can keep the larger bags in less easily accessible storage, or in the freezer, depending on how much of that spice I have lying around. This frees up the cupboard just above the counter space next to my stove for spices that came in those fancy containers from the stores. These I don't mind having in the cupboard, because they're clear, clearly labelled, and are too tall to keep anywhere else. This is where you'll find my salt, pepper grinder (hint to all those out there who like to get me gifts: I'm seriously eyeing the Unicorn Magnum salt grinder), my tall jars of spices, and other tall stuff. This way, when I'm cooking, I just roll open my drawer, and pull out the spices I need. A quick open of the box lid, and I'm ready to roll.

When I want to use the box for a different spice, I just rinse it out with warm, soapy water, and let it air dry. 

I hope this gives you inspiration to get your spices organised in a way that works for you. Whether it be a masala dabba, Lazy Susan (and I hate those, because they don't let you see everything at once), stadium seating in your cupboard, or my method, having organised spices is what keeps things flowing smoothly while cooking. It also encourages you to improvise when you want to. If you see all the spices, you're more likely to use them!