A traditional spice box - "masala dabba," as it is known in India - is a must in every Indian kitchen. It is a round, stainless-steel box containing lidless stainless-steel cups, each holding one spice. The box has two lids, one to keep spices fresh and the other a decorative outer lid. The box also comes with a small spoon.
You fill the individual boxes with the main Indian spices that you use the most. I personally have cumin seeds, turmeric powder, garam masala powder, chili powder, coriander powder, dry mango powder and salt. The box, ever present in Indian kitchens, is to an Indian cook what a color palette is to an artist.
The cook can take a pinch of this or a pinch of that and improvise recipes according to his or her desires, moods and the seasons.
Stainless steel will keep spices fresh longer than acrylic or plastic jars, and it won't change their aroma. The box is practical because you can combine all your regularly used spices in one box, so when the oil is hot and ready to be infused with the aromatic spices, you won't have to run after different jars for different recipes.
The spice boxes are available at specialty Indian grocery stores, or they can be ordered through a friend who is visiting India.
Following is a great five-minute recipe that does justice to my spice box.
Gitika Baveja, a high-tech worker and fan of Indian cooking, recently published her first cookbook, "Indian Flavors to Savor - the Easy Home-Cooked Way." For more information, e-mail [email protected]