Masala Dabba: The backbone of Indian kitchens
Petit World Citizen, Pinterest
As a young girl, I spent a lot of time with my grandmother who spent most of her time in the kitchen. I would prop myself up on a kitchen stool and watch as she scrambled around creating what I’m certain is magic! Now, the one essential component of her kitchen that she always had handy was the “Masala Dabba” which can be translated to “Box of Spices” which was this beautifully maintained, circular brass box that belonged to my great grandmother. This box contained several smaller compartments that each had different and most frequently used spices. It also came with a dainty spoon that I often played with or misplaced - before I understood the importance of the apparatus.
It’s no secret that every single Indian household has this little treasure trove of spices enabling the chef of the house to create his/her magic. If you are someone who has a passion for Indian cooking, just starting out or simply curious, you should know that having one of these Masala Dabbas (even if it’s not a family heirloom) is the most essential and in my opinion, the starting point in the Desi Culinary experience. Most Indian Recipes will ask you to heat up some oil and add a variety of spices that somehow seem to recur in various recipes and are always available easily in a perfect sequence.
Assembling your Masala Dabba:
First and foremost, get your hands on a suitable box either circular or rectangular, containing smaller compartments. These are easier to find that you would think, as I mentioned before, the Masala Dabbas are an essential part of Indian kitchens. Typically, there would be about 6-7 little compartments in your box to fill up with the most commonly used spices.
Here comes the exciting part, the spices! You may use any spices you see fit, typically the masala dabbas contain the following spices: Turmeric, Dried Red Chilli, Cumin Seeds, Mustard Seeds, Asafoetida(Hing), Ground Coriander Powder, Clove, Bay Leaves, Cardamom, Cinnamon sticks, Dry Mango Powder, and needless to say, Garam Masala.
I know that is an overwhelming list of spices. The key is to have on hand the ones that you catch yourself reaching for when preparing your favorite Indian recipes.
Maintaining your Masala Dabba:
Anything that is functional needs to be taken care of well for it to remain functional. Same goes for the backbone of the Indian Kitchen (as I like to call it). You must ensure that when you add your spices, they are not too full so as to avoid them spilling into each other. It is best not to fill anything to the brim with spices. Every 2 weeks, the container must be washed thoroughly, so, to reiterate, fill it up only so that it can last you 2 weeks or so! Keep it away from moisture, these boxes and its compartments must be dry. Here’s an obvious one: try not to keep it exposed or too close to the stove.
That covers the basics of the Masala Dabba and how it is the most essential part of the kitchen in India. If you are a veteran Indian Chef (aka magician), do let us know what your Masala Dabba looks like and if you are a newbie, I hope this has set you up for a successful and magical Indian culinary experience!